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Sometimes a smart prison reform program comes to the surface. Intelligent reforms stoke intuitively good ideas. Case in point: several state prison systems have prison trained dog programs for inmates. I recently learned about such programs from Laura, a friend who benefited directly from a prison trained dog program in Colorado.


What Is a Prison Trained Dog Program?

Prison trained dog programs have several common elements and impacts:

  • Qualified rescue dogs are trained as service dogs and thus removed from euthanasia lists; the animals go from being discarded to being desirable and loved.
  • Inmates are trained to instruct dogs in ways that reap myriad societal benefits. The dogs range from being a companion to individuals with PTSD to enjoying the life of a family pet. Inmates spend twenty-four hours a day with their charges for several months. Inmates are given responsibility for someone other than themselves.
  • Inmates’ self-esteem is improved. Dogs don’t judge a person. Unconditional love can change anyone for the better.
  • Inmate aggression is reduced, and inmates develop a sensitivity to the norms that govern what constitutes appropriate societal behavior.
  • Adoption fees are charged, so the programs are not a line item in prison budgets.

Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) has a program called the Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program (PTKCP) that “allows offenders to learn new skills, improve self-esteem, and earn a salary that is based on their work performance. Inmates from the PTKCP are eligible to earn vocational certification in Canine Behavior Modification.”

Do you see where I’m going with the notion that intelligent reforms generate sensible ideas? Anyone who has experienced the comfort and love of a pet may have a “light bulb moment” about this one. You don’t need a scholastic study to see the virtues of prison trained dog programs, but the Massachusetts Department of Correction published report in December 2012. Look at one of its findings:

While further systematic research and analysis are needed, the anecdotal reports from staff, inmates, and recipients of the service dogs are overwhelmingly positive; therefore, not surprisingly, animal training programs are becoming increasingly common in correctional facilities.

Some other states that have similar prison trained dog programs include

  1. . Also read about death row dogs saved by Ohio’s prison trained dog program.
  2. . Also see the DAWGS in Prison program.
  3. . All Washington prisons operate some kind of animal training or adoption program. Prison Pet Partnership is one example.
  4. . Twelve prisons, including the California Institution for Women, have prison trained dog programs.
  5. Watch the compelling USA Today report about canine cellmates.
  6. CBS Baltimore quotes an inmate participant: “To be incarcerated and have a dog, man, this is like no matter how bad my day is, that dog is always wagging its tail.”
  7. New York. The Puppies Behind Bars program trains inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans.
  8. Read about Camp Canine Kentucky.
  9. Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Prison Pup Partnership is in a total of eight facilities in these states.
  10. Texas. Patriotic Paws service dog training program is a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

Other states may have prison dog training programs. If you know of any or of programs that use other animal species for rehabilitation purposes, please let me know so I can share the information with my readers.


So, What’s Going On?

I’ve experienced the need inmates have to care for animals. The California prison in which I served my time—Ironwood State Prison in Blythe—did not have a prison dog training program; I wish it had. In place of dogs, inmates were always finding substitute pets in the Sonoran Desert—lizards, grasshoppers, and spiders and the like—to nurture with food and startling affection. I’ve known men to bond with ants kept in a jar as though the ants were members of some higher evolutionary species. These inmates spend hours watching and interacting with their pets. Imagine the good that could be harnessed with a prison dog training program that would end up being a win-win-win situation for the inmates, the dogs, and members of society.

A June 30, 2015, article in Kosmos Journal explains the psychological human/pet connection in a very intelligent and intuitive way:

Because our pets are entirely dependent on us, they probably trigger some of the same protective and nurturing instincts as do our own children. It is rewarding and “validating” to us to have another being be so dependent on us.

This concept of validation is extremely significant throughout the field of human psychology. Essentially, it means that we derive psychological comfort and satisfaction from being perceived positively by others, and especially, from being perceived the way we perceive ourselves.



I mentioned that my friend Laura brought the Colorado prison dog training program to my attention. Her dog, Gracie, is a graduate of the CCI program. Laura told me that adopting Gracie through the program turned out to be a blessing for Gracie’s inmate trainer, for Laura’s family, and, of course for Gracie.

Photo of Gracie courtesy of her owners




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