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Prison Programs: An Interview with Canine Companions SER

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Many organizations utilize prison programs to raise and train future assistance dogs. Prison programs are at a unique advantage for training due to their ability to monitor and train the dogs 24/7. They have exceptional experience addressing a wide array of behavioral challenges and provide great structure for the dogs. Additionally, the inmates involved in these programs gain valuable knowledge on how to train dogs, lowers the rate of recidivism and gives them an increased sense of purpose.

Canine Companions is one of the numerous organizations that utilize prison programs. We spoke with a representative from the Southeastern Region who works closely with this program and the inmate handlers involved.

Two yellow labs and a black lab all in yellow and blue vests and and blue leashes and gentle leaders sitting in front of plastic sunflowers smiling.
Three Canine Companions Prison Pups

Can you explain how your prison program works?

The three facilities in our area receive puppies at 8 weeks of age. They care for the puppies until they are about 6-9 months away from matriculation before the puppies are assigned to a puppy raiser in the general population. There is a coordinator at each facility that oversees the program and takes the puppies to their vet appointments, approves the handlers for the program and communicates with the puppy program manager.

Why does your organization use prisons instead of just using the general population?

We have used the prisons as it is a win-win for us as well as the prisons. Raising puppies helps with inmates having responsibility while they serve their sentence. Having a puppy to raise helps show unconditional love towards the inmate and many inmates have mentioned the difference in themselves. As an organization that sees the effect the dogs make on our graduates, it is just as amazing to see the difference that a puppy can make on an individual prior to the dog officially working.

What are the expectations of the inmates while they are working with the puppies (as far as training, grooming, etc.?)

The same expectations apply to the inmates that apply to those raising in the general population. They have puppy classes, socializing the puppies around their facility (when able) as well as grooming the puppies at least weekly. Many inmates have other jobs or attend meetings within their facilities, therefore the puppies get socialized to different sights and sound.

A black lab in a blue gentle leader has his head through a trick or treat cat cutout.
Canine Companions Prison Program pup on an outing

Do the dogs spend their whole time in training at the prison? Do they get out on the weekends? Or for a few weeks at a time?

For our region, the puppies generally go in at 8 weeks of age, then come out to a puppy raiser in the general population about 6-9 months prior to matriculation into professional training. They come out of the prisons for about three week socialization trips with other puppy raisers to gain exposure to riding in the car, people in plain clothes as well as children.

If there is any other information you would like to share, please do!

For our three programs, it is amazing to see the camaraderie with those in the puppy raising program in the correctional facilities. They work as a team and take puppy raising very seriously. The stories from those on the teams regarding how a puppy has changed their life and the outlook on their life is touching. I have personally seen the transformation of individuals through my visits over the past few years.

You can learn more about prison programs in our Raising Resources!

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