The Dog Inmate Bond

Puppies learn — and teach — good behavior in prison training programs.

By | Posted: Tue May 29 00:00:00 PDT 2001

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The program appears to be successful for Pilot Dogs and prisoners, based on observation of dogs and inmates. "Prison-raised pups are calmer and respond more easily and quickly to training and commands, probably because of the 24-hour-a-day contact with their raisers," Brennan said.

"It gives the men a better sense of responsibility," said Jerry Peterson, Pilot Dogs training coordinator at the London, Ohio, Correctional Institution. "They learn to think of someone besides themselves. And it has the same effect on any of the prison population who come in contact with the dogs." If inmates think a dog is being mistreated, if they hear even a whimper, they report it immediately to be investigated, he added.

At the Oregon Women's Correctional Center, Officer Michele Blackburn said the entire prison environment has improved as the inmates have learned about responsibility and good work ethics. "The puppies have a calming effect on everyone, and the atmosphere is much warmer here, thanks to our CCI [Canine Companions for Independence] puppies," she said. "Inmates who have caused problems in the past work hard to improve their behavior because two years of good conduct are required to be eligible for the program."

Hard-to-place dogs from the Willamette Valley and Portland humane societies enter Project Pooch at MacLaren School, operated in Salem by the Oregon Youth Authority. There, the students, ages 17 through 25, spend at least six hours a day teaching the dogs basic obedience and providing grooming and basic health care. They can earn high school credits by demonstrating what they have taught the dogs - house manners, obedience commands and beyond.

"They have to clean kennels and poop scoop the grounds because that's what society expects," program administrator Joan Dalton said. "They must put away leashes and toys or the dogs will chew them up, and keep track of the dog food supply or the dogs won't eat. They also have to keep charts on what they do each day."

By working with dogs that don't always give them peak performance, the students also learn teamwork, patience and anger management.

Project Pooch helps the students value achievement, Dalton said. Some students have ventured into pet-related fields when they're released.

Salem is also home to prison puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence, a nationwide assistance-dog organization.

The dogs arrive at 8 weeks old and live inside the prison until they are old enough to begin advanced training at CCI, about 12 to 18 months of age. A CCI trainer comes to the prison each week to conduct group obedience classes. The dogs also receive obedience training as they accompany their caregivers throughout the day from dining hall to jobs. That social time allows other inmates to interact with the dogs.

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