Prison dog training programs are becoming quite popular throughout the United States. Through these programs, supporters say that prisoners help homeless shelter dogs learn basic obedience skills who in turn help prisoners learn a marketable trade that can lead to employment upon release. Backers of such efforts believe it to be a symbiotic relationship that gives a second chance to at-risk offenders, both human and canine.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2011. Today, that number is estimated to be over 2.4 million. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 3.9 million dogs enter shelters every year, of which 1.2 million are euthanized. By pairing prisoners with shelter dogs, two at-risk populations are given a life-changing opportunity.
Miami-Dade County has its own new and little-known jail dog program, the Second Chance Dog Training Program.
The Second Chance program has two simple goals: teach non-violent inmates a marketable job skill they can use upon release and provide behaviorally-challenged homeless animals from Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS), a second chance at life, free from the threat of euthanasia, through an intensive eight-week basic obedience training program.
The Second Chance program, which kicked off in September 2014, is a collaborative effort between MDAS, Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Services and Applause Your Paws, a dog training and boarding company based in South Miami.
“Second Chance Dog Training Program is a win-win for all,” District 4 County Commissioner Sally A. Heyman said in a press release. “The people in custody and dogs are better socialized and trained for adoption.”
MDAS built a special 2000 sq. foot dog shelter at the Corrections Department Treatment and Training Center and provide all veterinary care, food, bedding and supplies during the 8-week program along with monthly inspections of the facility and care of the dogs.
Participating inmates must express interest in the program, have no history of violence and a minimum of 60 days left on their sentence. The Corrections Department staff selects and supervises all inmate participants.
Dee Hoult, owner and lead trainer of Applause Your Paws, is the Training Director for Second Chance.
Hoult selects candidates from MDAS based on the behavioral history or training needs of each individual dog. To keep the inmate handler, staff, trainers and other dogs safe, any dog with a history of aggression is ineligible for participation.
Once at the Training and Treatment Center, the dogs are assigned to an individual inmate who is responsible for all daily care of his dog, including feeding, walking, bathing and daily cleaning of the dog’s kennel.
Each inmate has four supervised sessions with their dog each day; morning feeding, cleaning and exercise, late morning playtime and training, afternoon playtime and exercise and an evening feeding, training and exercise session.
Hoult conducts weekly training sessions at the jail, teaching the inmates proper dog handling techniques and training skills. The dogs are exposed to a formalized training plan designed to meet all requirements of the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test.
At the end of the 60 days, dogs are eligible to take their CGC exam and earn their title.
In the program’s first eight months, 6 inmates have participated in the program. Of these, one asked to be removed from the program, two were replaced by Hoult and one continues to participate. His dog graduated last week and earned his CGC title.
Two additional inmates successfully participated in the Second Chance program, served their remaining sentences and have been released. Since their release, both men have found employment working with animals. One is an animal daily care supervisor while the other is a kennel worker. In both cases, Hoult assisted with job placement in the industry. Neither one was available to speak withRise Miami News.
Of the six dogs who have completed the program, each one has earned his or her obedience title, though not always on the first attempt.
Hoult said that the biggest challenge to successfully earning the CGC title in a jail environment is a lack of human and canine distractions during training sessions and progress evaluations. As a result, some dogs don’t perform well during testing when other dogs or new people are brought in to function as a distraction, a key component of the CGC test.
“Dog training is a lifelong process and a two-way street. It is a dance between two partners who must be equally committed to each other.”- Dee Hoult
Two dogs did not pass the CGC test during their final week in the program. In both cases, the dogs were given supplemental training at Hoult’s facility with a special emphasis on working in a distracting environment. Both earned their title within two weeks.
Upon completion of the training program, each graduating dog is placed up for adoption. The dogs are housed at Applause Your Paws training and boarding facility, where Hoult facilitates all adoptions on behalf of MDAS and in accordance with their adoption process and criteria.
All six have been adopted, though two were returned shortly after adoption. They were subsequently adopted again. Based on this experience, Hoult now offers all adopters two complimentary training classes to provide the adopters important information to help ensure the adoptions stick.
“Follow up training is a critical step in creating long term success because the humans need coaching in order to understand how to maintain the training their dogs received for the life of the dog,” Hoult said. “Dog training is a lifelong process and a two-way street. It is a dance between two partners who must be equally committed to each other.”
With the recent graduation of the third group of dogs, new dogs and new inmates will soon start working again, continuing the cycle of dog and man helping each other, a relationship that has been ongoing for thousands of years.