Category Archives: About the STAR Program

19 May

S.T.A.R. Team Training and Testing

Our S.T.A.R. Team Training and Testing Planrecognizes and addresses progressive levels of S.T.A.R. Team development, and provides support at each stage.

Ready for some fun? Our S.T.A.R Team Training and Testing Plan recognizes and addresses progressive levls of S.T.A.R. Team development, and provides support at each stage. Petco Foundation - 2018 Training Sponsor

Petco Foundation

We are proud to report that Petco Foundation has for FIVE YEARS years awarded us a Helping Heroes grant to fund team training!

S.T.A.R. Team Training and Testing Plan

Our plan addresses progressive levels of S.T.A.R. Team recruitment/development, and provides support at each stage.

We recognize that a dog/handler pair may:

    1. Be interested but not sure if our program is a good fit for them (Try-It-Out Workshop REGISTRATION NOW OPEN
    2. Be engaged and preparing for the Basic Qualification Test (Test Prep series – cost includes test) REGISTRATION FOR THE NEXT CYCLE STARTING SOON
    3. Be a NOVICE S.T.A.R. TEAM – Has passed the basic qualification test, but is not ready for field work.  (Program-Specific workshop series)
    4. Be an APPRENTICE S.T.A.R. TEAM – Has completed the program-specific training and is working in the field under the supervision of an assigned mentor
    5. Be an APPROVED S.T.A.R. TEAM – May work alone, but would benefit from an occasional “refresher” workshop or group practice.

Questions?  You can reach us at

All Classes


Introductory “Try-It-Out” Workshop

Target Audience:  Handlers and dogs who want to explore the notion of becoming a S.T.A.R. team. Participation does NOT commit you to going any further in our program but it does give you “first dibs” on the limited number of spots in the full Test Prep Series.

Before registering for the workshop, all applicants are asked to pour a cup of coffee/tea, sit back, and watch “Warts and All” – an unsophisticated but honest 25 minute video describing several of the environments in which we work. We want you to be very clear what’s in store. While fun, our work is NOT a casual commitment, and we need your complete buy-in.  At the end of the video is the URL for the form for those who wish to register for the workshop. You may also want to review the description of what we’re looking for in both handlers and dogs.

  • What: 1-1/2 hour hands-on workshop for those handlers + their dogs.
  • Where:  Probable location is West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship  (map)
                     8470 SW Oleson Road Portland, OR 97223
  • Cost:  $15 for the actual workshop (covers site rental)
  • Content:  Includes but is not limited to:
    • Part 1: We will give a quick overview of the science behind what we’re doing, starting with how to “charge the clicker” given to you as you sign in. For the balance of this section, we will talk while you quietly charge
      the clicker in preparation for the following section.
      10 minute break 
    • Part 2: Training a simple new behavior using the clicker
      • Demo of two basic behaviors (“put this in that” and “touch”) that particularly lend themselves to our work. Demo of how to teach the “touch” behavior.
      • You will select one of the props and – using JUST the clicker – teach your dog to touch it with its nose/paw.
        10 minute break 
    • Part 3: Changing handlers – each dog/handler will teach one of their dog’s current cues to another person. OK to use verbal cues, better if hand signals.
      10 minute break
    • Part 4: Mini‐Rally course – can you keep your dog’s attention for a short obedience rally course? We will demo, then one at a time you will select which rally signs you want to try and we will set up your course.
    • Wrap‐up: Q & A time, going both directions – we may have questions for YOU based on the material covered and what you learned when you looked at the side displays.

S.T.A.R. Team Basic Qualification Test Prep Series

S.T.A.R. Team Basic Qualification Test Prep Series

Target Audience:  Handlers and dogs who want to brush up on their skills and domain knowledge before taking the S.T.A.R. Team Basic Qualification Test.

Note: This series is not required before taking the test — experienced therapy teams are free to challenge the test.

    • What: series of seven 1-1/2-hour classes + the Basic Qualification Test
      Enrollment limited – priority given to those who have already indicated interest in becoming a S.T.A.R. team by taking the Try-It-Out workshop.
    • When:  REGISTRATION OPENS SOON. Class schedule dates/times will be set once we confirm exactly when everyone can attend.
      One on-line session will be on a Thursday.
    • Cost:  $225.  Thanks to fundraising efforts on the part of current S.T.A.R. Teams, a limited number of need-based scholarships are available. This $225 fee – the only fee  S.T.A.R. Team handlers will ever be charged – covers:
    • Where:   Locations in SW Portland
    • Content:  Includes but is not be limited to:
      • Clicker Training 1 Pre-foundation Skills   Handlers only  
      • Clicker Training 2 – Foundation Skills   Handlers and dogs
      • Clicker Training 3 A – Building on Foundation Skills    Handlers and dogs 
      • Clicker Training 3 B – Building on Foundation Skills    Handlers and dogs 
      • Clicker Training 4 –  Game components   Handlers and dogs –
      • Working with Children – ONLINE
      • Working with Children  – Handlers and dogs 
        Includes applied practice with the assistance of young volunteers .

S.T.A.R. Team Basic Qualification Test

S.T.A.R. Team Basic Qualification Test

Target Audience:  Dog/Handler teams who have completed the test prep series and/or dog/handler teams with at least two years experience as a therapy team who wish to challenge the test.

  • What:   1+ hour practical test of basic skills needed by a S.T.A.R. team, part written,  part active role-playing with adults and children. Teams that pass the basic qualification test are eligible to prepare for field work with 5 more program-specific classes (see below) to become APPRENTICE S.T.A.R. TEAMS
  • When:  TBD.  Applicants will be scheduled one at a time. Written tests will also be due at this time.
  • Where: West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship  (map)
    8470 SW Oleson Road Portland, OR 97223
  • Cost:  Free for those who took the test prep series, $35 for challengers who can prove they have at least two years active therapy team experience with another organization.
  • Content: The test will be loosely based on on existing Canine Good Citizen (CGC)  tests plus other therapy organization tests, with an additional focus on working off-leash, working with children, and being comfortable using a clicker to train. The test will include, for instance, a demonstration of the team’s ability to:
    • teach the dog a brand new, simple “target” behavior with an unfamiliar object
    • politely greet and interact with a child/children (our trusty Girl Scout allies again!) for 10 minutes.

Preparation for Field Work: Program-Specific Training

Preparation for Field Work: Program-Specific Training

Target Audience:  dog/handler teams that have passed the basic qualification test AND for volunteers who are interested in participating as a non-handler.

New this year: thanks to a technology grant from an anonymous donor, we  now have the ability to move those classes that do not involve dogs on-line. This will allow us to cover more information in a significantly shorter time and save the need for a cross-town communte for the classes that require hands-on participation.

  • What:  a five-workshop series covering material specific to the S.T.A.R. program; required to become a S.T.A.R. team
  • Where:   TBD SW Portland site; on-line for handlers-only classes;
  • Cost:  free for those that took the test-prep series and passed the test, $100 for anyone else
  • Content: To include but not be limited to (order may vary):
    • Lessons Learned Part 1 –  handlers only – online
      Sensory abilities of dogs and how this informs your training choices. Reading/interpreting what a dog is saying with their bodies.
      Reference book provided: “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals”
    • Building Games  – handlers and dogs
      Half of the time will be demos + explanations of what’s going on, and half will be us practicing creating a new, silly game with your own dogs. We will focus on what needs to happen in your own head rather than on what your dog can flawlessly accomplish. How to explain behavior chains to a child and why you want to. Where do you go from here.  A short session of “PVC is your friend” – we will supply all necessary bits needed to create a highly-portable prop (e.g., a jump, a soccer goal, a basketball stanchion, etc.) that you will incorporate into your game.
    • The Effects of Trauma on Children and other selected topics – handlers only – online (work at your own pace)
      Available through the  Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (sponsor: Raphael House of Portland)
    • Working with Children – Keep Calm and Carry On – handlers and dogs
      Rehearsing what to do when things go wrong.
      Presented by Linda Keast and the Girl Scouts
    • Lessons Learned Part 2 –  handlers only – online
      How to choose activities that support specific behavioral goals. “How you say it matters”.   Presented by Linda Keast

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S.T.A.R. Team Levels

Apprentice S.T.A.R. Teams

Apprentice S.T.A.R. Teams

On completion of this focused training, the new APPRENTICE S.T.A.R. TEAMS will receive:

  • One S.T.A.R. team soccer shirt (additional available at cost)
  • A supply of temporary tattoos, good-bye kits, and trading cards for their dog
  • Organizational business cards
  • A 10% discount at a growing number of pet supply stores in the Portland Metro area
  • A laminated photo ID badge with our insurance information on the back
  • A starter set of props and program supplies
  • Assistance identifying a client and setting up a schedule for visits
  • Liability insurance coverage for authorized S.T.A.R. Team activities
  • A dedicated mentor (an APPROVED S.T.A.R. team handler), who will arrange for them to:
    • shadow (without dog) the mentor at an existing client facility for at least three visits
    • work solo with their dog (mentor now just observing and supporting) for at least three visits. NEW: Two of these visits may be replaced by one “Lightning Round” session. This is a video-taped series of three 15-min back-to-back sessions with a volunteer child, enabling the team to demonstrate their ability to plan for and successfully manage sequential visits with the same child.

Approved S.T.A.R. Teams

Approved S.T.A.R. Teams

APPRENTICE S.T.A.R. Teams that have both (a) been nominated by a mentor who has observed the requisite solo sessions, and (b) gets a “thumbs up” from the client, will become APPROVED S.T.A.R. TEAMS.  Approved S.T.A.R. Teams:

  • will NOT need to be accompanied by a mentor for future visits to Little Dog clients unless they specifically request it. Caveat: Any approved S.T.A.R. Team handler may, with advance notice and the permission of the client, observe any other handler at work.
  • will  help finding a sponsor for additional trading cards featuring their dogs
  • will mentor an incoming apprentice team at least once every two years
  • will assist at training classes for new S.T.A.R. handlers
  • will attend at least one refresher workshop (described below) per year
  • will attend optional, free practice sessions at least 4 times a year 
  • will actively contribute ideas and experiences to help our organization grow
  • will NOT need to retest to maintain their status. Caveat: teams that do no S.T.A.R. Team field work for over a year will be asked to re-test before they restart field work

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On-going Support

Thanks to the City of Beaverton (SW) and Personal Beast (SE) we have two potential practice locations. Scheduling these practices has proved to be an on-going challenge, but we’re doing our best.

We also plan several “refresher” and skill-building events each year to share ideas and props. This may be as informal as a round-table-everyone-contributes affair, but whenever possible we will have a specific focus and bring in different professional trainers. Note: The cost of these opportunities does NOT come out of community donations. Our handlers work together on fundraisers dedicated to our continuing education expenses (e.g., garage sales).

  • In 2019 we sent SEVEN of our handlers to the 3-day 2019 Portland ClickerExpo (and we were chosen by Karen Pryor Clicker Training as the local partner charity – woo hoo!).
  • In 2018 two of our handlers attended an online TagTeach seminar, and we started saving our money for the 2019 ClickerExpo in Portland.
  • In 2017 our first seminar (on-line) was on Errorless Learning. Three of our handlers attended the 2017 Clicker!Expo in Portland, one of our favorite training events!
  • In 2016 we had a Barn Hunt workshop, a Teamwork Seminar with Grisha Stewart, and the opportunity to attend Terry Ryan’s Chicken Camp.
  • In 2015 we had a 2-session workshop on working with reactive dogs (thank you, Rosie Stein!) and a 4-session class on Rally FreeStyle Elements (thank you Carrol Haines!).

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08 Mar

What is a “Good-bye Kit”?

“Good-bye kits” are for the kids we’ve been working with as they leave the shelter. These tiny 2″x2″x3″ boxes contain a temporary tattoo and a sticker, both with Eli’s laughing face, a “Hands and Words Are Not For Hurting” sticker, a clicker, and a tiny but powerful flashlight inscribed “S.T.A.R. Trainer – See, Tag And Reward”.

Our "good-bye" kit

This is our current answer to two needs:

ONE: Children in shelters live in a frighteningly chaotic time of too many abrupt changes with no closure. Our teams will never know when a visit with a child is the last, and we don’t want to become just another perceived abandonment. Goodbye kits give the shelter personnel the option of giving departing children a gift “from Eli”.

TWO:  It is common in behavior modification protocols to create an “anchor” object to re-ground the learner when the coach can’t be there. In our case, we’re using tiny flashlights engraved with “S.T.A.R. Trainer – See, Tag, And Reward”. Perhaps this choice is also an unspoken modern-day echo of Galadriel’s parting gift to Frodo: “May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

21 Feb

I don’t get it! What is “clicker – training”?

Let’s start by looking at this question from a totally different angle:
Think about the act of training LESS as “do what I say” and MORE as “explaining to a good friend what you need done”.

  • No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, dogs do not really understand human speech. Their own communications system is based primarily on scent and body language, not vocalizations. They understand posture and patterns of movement when we make “that sound”, and the places we usually do these actions; but it is as difficult for them deduce the meaning of a spoken command as it would be for an average American to understand Swahili.
  • So how can we possibly communicate with such an entity? By building a shared language one “word” at a time. And the first word is “click”.  The clean, intonation-free sound “click” is immediately followed by something the dog loves – a treat, a ball, a tuggy.  Very quickly the dog realizes that “click” means “Woo hoo! Good thing coming!” Then by clicking exactly as the dog does something the trainer likes (say, going into a sit position) the trainer marks/tags that behavior with a click as something the dog can do to get a reward (marker-based training). The dog can choose or not choose to do that behavior – there is no punishment if it doesn’t. But the odds are very very great that the dog will want to continue this marvelous game in which he can get treats just by sitting.

basic box clickers clickers2

  • There’s nothing magic about the clicker itself  – it is just a convenient, inexpensive device that is readily available and easily manipulated by child-sized hands.  The audible marker used to tag the behavior we want to encourage just needs to be uniform, no matter who is delivering it, and quickly and easily produced.
  • The effectiveness of clicker-training is based on the trainer’s ability to build a trust relationship with the trainee, working in a training environment that is free of fear. There is no room for lies, punishment, threat/dominance displays. What we humans are calling “training” is, for the dog, a fabulous game to which they return joyfully (“the little dog laughs!”).

What about “The Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan? Is clicker-training like that?

No. In fact, quite the opposite.

This sounds easy! Will the kids be actual dog trainers after the class?

No, that takes more time than we typically have with a child. We are confining our focus to the portion of training that best supports the goals of behavioral therapists – the “ah ha!” moment when the dog and the child start communicating without words, without coercion. Referencing the STAR Training Guidelines given to older students (CLICK HERE to open a copy in a new browser window), elementary school children will actively work in Zone 1. For older students, or as appropriate to illustrate a point, the children will dip into Zone 2 and Zone 3 behaviors so they have a clearer view of how the dog will progress.

20 Feb

Why Does This Approach Work?

What might be some of the reasons the STAR program has been successful with at-risk children?

  • Positive, marker-based training is 100% about building a relationship based on earned trust and clear, timely communication between two different entities – humans on one side, dolphins, orcas, monkeys, chickens, dogs, etc. on the other side. There is something both exhilarating and empowering about having a dog not only do what we ask, but also be clearly enjoying itself.Eli, works with kids, learning to trust the skateboard
  • We learn/remember best if we are actively rather than passively involved in what is being presented. Because STAR engages the kids in the training process, they are (unknowingly) active participants in their own therapy.
  • We all tend to feel more positively about a situation if we feel we have choices and that they will be honored. STAR builds in opportunities for participants to make choices, and to recognize that right in others.
  • Dogs have been bred for centuries to interact intelligently with humans. The have very readable emotional reactions to what is happening to them – they provide real-time feedback on interactions.  STAR participants are taught to “read” what the dog is saying and adjust  their own behavior accordingly. Having the “little dog laugh” is a sincere and unambiguous signal to children training a dog that they are doing a good job.
29 Jan

How Is S.T.A.R. Being Validated?

Phase 2 complete! We've received the Formative Evaluation Report from Pacific University! CLICK to learn more...

Pacific University Oregon is helping us validate the effectiveness of our program.

In a world rightly pursuing evidence-based intervention, we started off with a handicap: we had no hard, objective evidence to validate the effectiveness of our program. S.T.A.R. was a new model, and our successes fell in the realm of “anecdotal”.  The Psychology Department of Pacific University is changing this.

As part of Pacific University’s multi-year commitment to the program, since September 2013 year we have worked with seniors under the guidance of Dr. Heide Island, Associate Professor, Comparative Biological Psychology at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Phase 1: Piloting Methodology for Evaluation and Interpretation of results

Since September 2013 students have accompanied our S.T.A.R. teams to physically assist the handler, and to act as non-participating Field Observers who impartially collected data for outcome assessment.

The collected data is being used to create a program evaluation that will be used for grants, government certifications, and of course for their senior thesis presentations.

Equally important has been the weekly feedback provided by these scholars on pacing, terminology, and props. They have been valued allies in moving our program forward.

Phase 1 Findings

In April 2014 their findings were presented at multiple levels, from Pacific University to the Western Psychological Association Conference.

  • CLICK HERE for a .pdf copy of the Power Point presentation where they describe how they solved the tricky issue of collecting meaningful, clinically relevant data in such an erratic environment.
  • CLICK HERE for a .pdf copy of the final report of their findings.
  • Conclusions in a nutshell: We encourage you to read their full report, but the following quote from the Discussion section at the end of the report contains a major take-away (bolding  and use of color are for emphasis, and not part of the report):

    This data demonstrates that brief bouts of Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) can be evaluated in a meaningful, clinically relevant way. The within-block behavioral improvement can be used to compare differences in both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs. Data from individual points in time throughout the session were simultaneously compared to data from the beginning of a session to then end of a session. This methodology could be used for transient populations in clinical settings with brief bouts of animal assisted activities including hospitals, schools, and assisted living facilities. All of these settings would benefit more from shorter, less structured AAA’s, as opposed to the long-term, more structured nature of animal assisted therapy.

    Results indicate that a child attending a single session with TLDL will show significant improvements in five of the six learning and behavioral realms (i.e., Engagement, Following Instructions, Concept Recognition, Attitude and Affect).

Phase 2: Revising and Collecting Data of Revised Methodology and Interpretation of Results

The students did some fine tuning of their observational methodology, and again accompanied our visits to two shelters.  In May 2015 Dr. Island and the students prepared a formidable 73-page technical Formative Evaluation Report The Little Dog Laughed (TLDL) Animal-Assisted Therapy Program. The Summative (final) Evaluation Report will be published in July 2016.

  • CLICK HERE for a .pdf copy of the full Formative Evaluation Report.
  • CLICK HERE for a .pdf copy of the poster presented on November 19, 2015 at the Chicago Program Evaluation Conference. (This is for a large display poster)
  • Vastly condensed from their conclusions (again, the bolding is not part of the report):

Since a mission statement is a formal summary of the values and goals of an organization, it was also necessary to evaluate how well the program actually met the objectives of its mission statement. The Little Dog Laughed, Animal-Assisted Therapy mission statement asserts, “Our volunteer dog/handler teams work with therapists/counselors/teachers in their effort to nurture empathy and non-violent problem solving skills in at-risk youths. We offer a carefully structured set of short classes that teach behavioral skills by engaging the children in actively training our dogs using positive training techniques.” From this statement, there were essentially three constructs we could measure: 1.) empathy, 2.) nonviolent problem solving, and 3.) teaching behavioral skills through reinforcement.

Based on the observational data, The Little Dog Laughed, Animal-Assisted Therapy Program did appear to achieve behavioral improvements among their target population in all three constructs associated with the mission goals… TLDL model is adaptable to a number of other contexts and target populations. It is conceivable that the seven behavioral outcome categories for child residents of domestic violence shelters could be modified for a variety of other populations. For example, TLDL model could be adapted for rehabilitation centers, to assist patients with motor damage, assisted living facilities to help residents with attention, memory, and loneliness, and inclusion facilities to help residents with developmental disabilities. 

Phase 3:

Dr. Heide Island, Associate Professor of Comparative Biological Psychology at Pacific University reports that due to the hard work of the students, they will be able to wrap up what was expected to be a five-year effort in three! From her summary of their calendar:

November 19, 2015
New data – cumulatively evaluated with the old data was presented at the Chicago Program Evaluation Conference in November.  [CLICK HERE for a .pdf copy of the poster].  You will note that the Concept Recognition category is now significantly different pre/post (this is what we were hoping to see after last summer’s formative evaluation), this is consistent with all behavioral outcome categories.  So nice job in facilitating and promoting the behavior among the kiddos this last semester so the outcome could be better measured.
February 27, 2016
Students will be giving an oral presentation as the Oregon Academy of Science at Pacific the third weekend in February of these results as well.
April 27th, 2016: Senior Projects Day, 
TLDL Seniors (all of the students) will be presenting the 5-year project, that through collaboration with TLDL in making small adjustments to program recommendations, was completed in 3!

dMay 1, 2016
Students will be presenting there poster on the final data set at the Western Psychological Association in California.
June, 2016
Sometime in July, I will have the final Summative Evaluation (much like last years’ but will be summative rather than just formative) for your review.  This will be the culmination of our project, as you should have more than enough to demonstrate evidence-based programmings. There is no need to continue further since the Concept Recognition and Social Civility categories are now significantly different in the direction we would expect, from Block 1 to 4.  

Summative Evaluation Report The Little Dog Laughed (TLDL) Animal-Assisted Therapy Program Portland, Oregon Prepared by Heide D. Island, Ph.D. Pacific University Oregon July 2016Phase 4:

As of July 31, 2016 The full Summative Evaluation Report has been published, and proudly posted on our site – CLICK HERE for a .pdf copy (warning: it’s 174 pages long!).

Here’s one of my favorite parts (bolding is mine):

Bottom Line: Based on the observational data, The Little Dog Laughed, Animal-Assisted Therapy Program demonstrated efficacy for child residents of two domestic violence shelters. Evidence was established through statistically significant behavioral improvement for each of the seven behavioral constructs (as represented by TLDL mission) within a single 15 to 20-minute animal-assisted activity session. TLDL Animal-Assisted Activity/Therapy model is adaptable to a number of contexts and target populations. It is conceivable that the seven behavioral outcome categories for child residents of domestic violence shelters could be modified for a variety of other populations, including but not limited to assisted living residents, youth and adolescent life skills training, and adults or children with physical or intellectual disability.

26 Jan

Who Are Your Partner Organizations?

While we have on occasion worked with foster care programs and a juvenile evaluation and assessment shelter,  we partner primarily with professionals in the following organizations:

  • Domestic Violence Shelters – Since January 2013 we’ve made weekly visits to two DV shelters (Raphael House of Portland in Multnomah County and Monika’s House in Washington County), working closely with their juvenile counselors. In late 2015 we added a third shelter (Clackamas Women’s Services in Clackamas County). We prefer to work with one child at a time so that we can support what each particular child needs without distraction. To stay in sync with each facility’s intervention strategies, the visiting handler joins the shelter staff in all relevant training so that goals and language used with the children are kept consistent.
  • Summer Day Camps – The summer of 2016 we added support for  Good Neighbor Center’s 10-week summer camp. We are now in our third year of this happy relationship.
    • Past  Examples
      • In the Summer of 2011 a team provided twice-weekly dog-training classes to youths at Harkins House,  a short term temporary residential shelter care and evaluation  facility for Washington County in Hillsboro.
      • In the Summer of 2012 a team worked weekly with Pet Club youths  resident in a foster care facility in Newberg.
      •  In the Summer of 2015 a team taught daily age-appropriate animal training modules at the annual Frog Hollow Girl Scout camp in Champoeg State Park.
      • In August 2016 we supported the Portland Police BoyStrength summer camp, and that Fall we provided support for their after-school programs in Portland elementary schools (SUN).
  • Residential Treatment Facilities – In 2014 we established a relationship with Parry Center (Trillium Family Services). This is a more challenging environment, so we are deliberately taking it slow as we add new children to the schedule. In Spring 2018 we launched a trial series with Morrison Child & Family Services.
  • Elementary Schools – What started as “test of concept” series at McKay Elementary School in the Beaverton School Districts has blossomed into a strong, ongoing relationship. In this more structured environment, a team works with the counselor and four to six children at a time. The focus is, of necessity, less intensely on the individual on this setting, and more on group dynamics/teamwork. In each four-session series we work on themes identified by the counselor. After each S.T.A.R. session, the counselor picks up a thread introduced while working with the dog and weaves it into a further discussion on how that concept applies to people:
    • Learning empathy: how to read signals from the dogs and also from people in order to understand and get along with others
    • Positive Influence: training the dog in positive ways helps the students learn how to get along with others without bossing or bullying
    • Social Skills: students will try new skills with the dogs, such as assertiveness, that are difficult to try with people, since the dogs are non-judgmental.
  • Organizations that support domestic violence survivors – We love working with the energetic and innovative group called SCARS – Survivor Collective Alliance, Reaching Society.  We joined the United Heroes for Hope in supporting SCARS’ 2nd annual SurvivorCon at Beaverton City Park on October 1, 2016.
  • Organizations that support homeless youths – We have formed an alliance with HomePlate Youth Services. To stay in sync with this facility’s intervention strategy of fostering work skills, we employ interested youths in a small-scale pilot program. Theye assist in training our dogs for home-grown videos promoting adopting dogs from shelters.

CLICK HERE to read comments from professionals at our community partners.

26 Jan

How Is This Different?

How are your S.T.A.R. Teams different from more traditional therapy dog teams that we see in hospitals and libraries?

The beneficial effect of traditional therapy therapy dogs is well documented — they provide comfort and emotional support for the duration of their visit.

We, on the other hand, have a behavioral modification agenda: we do want to give children moments of joy and personal empowerment, but perhaps even more importantly we want to gently arm them with tools and knowledge that can improve their chance for a safe, healthy, happy life long after we’re gone.

It is the active nature of our engagement with the children that most visibly distinguishes us from other groups:

  • Within a session, our dogs are off-leash underscoring the fact that they are not compelled to work with the youth – they can CHOOSE to work with a youth based on the youth’s behavior. We actively engage the children in thinking up and teaching our dogs an amazing assortment of games. This does not sound unusual until you recognize that traditional therapy organizations (e.g., Pet Partners, formerly Delta Society, or Alliance of Therapy Dogs, formerly Therapy Dogs, Inc., or Gabriel’s Angels) at a minimum do not allow animals off-leash. Consider the difference to children between an on-leash dog obeying a command and an uncompelled, off-leash dog CHOOSING to work/play with them!
  • Traditional therapy dogs are specifically screened to gently tolerate ANY behavior on the part of the child. Our dogs are encouraged to safely but clearly react to a child’s behavior. One of our goals is for the children to learn to “read” what the dog is telling them so they can begin to understand how one’s behavior affects others.
  • Our dog/handler teams do not operate as S.T.A.R. teams outside of our supervision – although a handler may suggest a potential client and ultimately be assigned there, all of our clients must be approved at the organizational level, with great attention paid to safety and support on both sides of the relationship.

Why are you using therapy dogs instead of shelter dogs, as some programs do?

  • Our local county human services, school districts, and animal services all prohibit the use of shelter dogs. Substituting registered, seasoned therapy dogs answers their safety concerns and enables us to move more quickly to the “fun stuff”. And our handlers no longer think of the dogs as pets. As Linda tells the kids, “Eli is my partner – I do things WITH him, not TO him.” This mindset allows us to talk honestly about what it means to be a friend.
26 Jan

Why Dogs?

  1. Dogs are not little humans. They are marvelously different, and the ways in which they are different and how this affects our actions as trainers is fertile ground for later discussions on respecting and enjoying differences. We are not all the same, and isn’t it great!
  1. Dogs have no “secret agendas” or thoughts – they wear their emotions on their surface, readable by anyone who cares to learn. Part of our goal is to teach the children how to read these emotions and understand how their own actions impact them.
  1. Dogs are spontaneous – they live “in the moment”. Their perception of causality is very narrow by human standards. What is happening at any point in time is perceived to have been caused by what immediately (and this means within ½ sec) precedes it. This means that dog provides immediate feedback on handler activity. It also means that a punishment inflicted on a dog for an infraction more than ½ second ago does not have the effect intended.
  1. Dogs have been genetically selected for centuries to be tuned to the emotional states of humans. They mirror what they perceive our emotions to be: if we are tense, or frightened, they will be tense or frightened even if they don’t understand the source of our concern. This provides a highly visual external bio-feedback mechanism to the emotional state of the handler – and an opportunity to use personal self-control as a requirement for working with our dogs.
  1. Dogs have parallel but sometimes very different social constructs which invite later discussion about the human version:
    • Dogs have a strong sense of “manners” – but it is many times just the opposite of what would be appropriate for a human.
    • Dogs, for the most part, are social animals and feel safest and happiest when with they are with their “pack”/family – to the point that even if members of that pack mistreat them, they will suffer the mistreatment rather than be alone.
  1. Dogs perceive the world in a very different way than do humans. In many ways their senses provide them with a far richer view of reality. For instance:
    • Their visual perception very different from our own. They are red/green color-blind – that red ball in the green grass is harder to see than you think! For most breeds, their distance vision is less than our own, but their peripheral vision is wider. True to their predator ancestry, their eyes are optimized to detect motion (moving ball) rather than stationary objects (ball at rest).
    • Their hearing is more acute, with a range that goes almost as low as humans can hear, but goes WAY higher. This means that their world is filled not only with natural sounds, but all the electronic hums from lights, appliances, etc. of which we are blissfully unaware and dogs can’t escape.
    • But their strongest sense is without a doubt SMELL! They “see the world through their nose”, so to speak. On a scale of 1 to 10, with humans’ ability to detect odor = 10, dogs are 10,000. Where human noses become inured dog noseto a specific odor over time, or “blend” fragrances into a single smell, dogs smell every single odor individually until it dissipates into nothingness. This gives them the ability to “see into the past” – a dog that meets you is aware not only of your unique smell + indicators that tell it your emotional state, it can detect what you had for breakfast, that this is the 2nd day you’ve worn those jeans, that you walked across the grass on the way to the bus, stopped to pet a cat, and sat next to someone who lives with a cigarette smoker. Scent-based tricks look like magic, and the children are in on the secret!


The Little Dog Laughed Animal-Assisted Therapy | © 2018
7410 SW Oleson Rd. #323 Portland, OR 97223
A 501(c)(3) charity, Tax-ID 35-2431818