Puppies Behind Bars is a program where prison inmates learn how to train therapy dogs as first responder service dogs and for wounded war veterans, and canines trained for explosive-detection for use in law enforcement. Puppies enter the prison at the age of eight weeks, living with their inmate puppy trainer for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-behaved and well-loved dogs, their trainers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring healing and love to hundreds of individuals using therapy dogs every year. The dogs bring pride and hope to their trainers while providing security and independence to those they serve.
The Real Impact of Therapy Dogs
Health care is “going to the dogs,” according to new research. Studies have shown that a 12-minute visit with man’s best friend has helped lung and heart function by lowering pressure, reducing the release of harmful hormones, and decreasing anxiety among patients suffering from heart failure. The benefits were greater than those resulting from a visit with a volunteer.
Animal-assisted therapy has been proven to reduce blood pressure in healthy and hypertensive patients and decreases anxiety in hospitalized patients. Some say the therapeutic approach of using dogs to relax people’s minds and improve physical and mental health in a skilled nursing home environment is considered a nicety rather than credible science. To determine the possible benefits of animal-assisted therapy on health, the researchers studied 76 patients hospitalized for heart failure and their reactions to a human volunteer and dog team visit, or just a human volunteer or no visit. The patients were randomly assigned to one of these three approaches. The intervention lasted 12 minutes. Using the volunteer-dog team, specially trained dogs of 12 different breeds would lie on the patient’s bed so the patient could pet the dog while interacting with the volunteer.
Researchers monitored patients’ heartbeat, blood volume, and resistance of the blood vessels before, during, and after the intervention. An anxiety test was administered before and after the intervention. Anxiety scores dropped 24% for participants who received a visit from the volunteer and dog team. The volunteer-only group dropped 10%, and the last group’s score did not change. Stress hormone levels of epinephrine dropped an average of 17% in the volunteer and dog group, 2% in the volunteer-only group, and rose 7% in the last group.
This study has demonstrated that even short-term exposure to dogs has a beneficial psychosocial and physiological effect on those who are receptive. This therapy should be used as a serious alternative medicine to be used with regular medical care, physical therapy, or other forms of therapy. Dogs are a great comfort, as they make people feel calmer, happier, and more loved. This is a huge benefit if you are feeling unwell and scared.
The Goal of Puppies Behind Bars
At Puppies Behind Bars, their goals are to train the best working dogs possible, keep them happy and healthy, instruct the inmate puppy raisers to learn how to train therapy dogs, and maintain a high graduation rate. They have a rate of 75% of dogs going through the training then graduating to become successful and productive. The dogs that do not graduate are released for adoption into good homes.
The inmates go through rigorous instruction and guidance to learn how to train the therapy dogs. The puppies receive attention 24 hours a day from their inmate dog raisers from the age of eight weeks until graduation between the ages of 12 to 24 months. They are constantly adapting their instruction and training methods based on experience and input from experts and feedback from the veterans, first responders, or law enforcement professionals paired with the dogs.
Their high graduation rates are achieved by selecting dogs with the ideal characteristics for two different types of programs. This allows for a switch in a dog’s career path if it is apparent in early training that a change may lead to greater success. In this case, the dog is choosing the career for which it is best suited.
The group also trains the dogs to be emotional support animals helping children or individuals with emotional disabilities such as anxiety or depression. The dogs provide support and comfort to students in middle schools, for example. They may require an emotional support animal to be with them daily but should ensure that all their pet vaccines are in place prior to taking the dog to school. It is a good idea for the dog to visit a veterinarian before going to school just to be safe.
Service Dogs for Those Who Have Served Us
In 2006, PBB began to offer service dogs to combat veterans returning home from the military suffering from a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a physical injury.
Labrador retriever dogs are raised in prison by the inmates who learn how to train therapy dogs beginning at the age of eight weeks until they are ready to be given a home with a veteran. This usually occurs when the dog is 20 to 28 months old. When the puppy is matched with a disabled veteran, there is final training when the dog continues to be trained based on the veteran’s specific needs.
If the disabled veteran is living independently, it is essential to create a safe and comfortable environment to preserve his sense of self-reliance. This will usually require modifications and home repairs. Modifications such as kitchen remodeling will be required. That will mean kitchen cabinets will need to be lowered. Kitchen countertops, grab bars in the bathrooms, changing knobs to lever handles will all need alteration. As it may be challenging to reach the water sources, water dispensers could be added. Service dogs can help disabled veterans with many common tasks around the home.
Presently, 50 service dogs are being trained in four prisons by inmates who learn how to train therapy dogs. The service dogs learn the 85 standard commands, such as turning on and off lights, retrieving objects, opening doors to accommodate a wheelchair. They are also trained to learn specific commands associated with the wounded veteran’s conditions, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
Service Dogs for First Responders
Police dogs are dogs that help the police solve crimes and have become a significant part of law enforcement in years past. Police dogs are not treated as police officers and attacking a police dog is not punishable in the same way as attacking a police officer would be.
They are protective, loyal, and watchful of their officer counterparts and are considered an essential and irreplaceable part of the police department. The dogs do not get pay as their expenses, such as shelter, food, and medical care, are provided by the police department. The police officer who works with the dog may get additional pay to cover incidentals, as the dogs usually live with their handlers. The dogs do receive rewards, however.
Police dogs need to remember hand gestures and verbal cues. The most common breeds used as police dogs are the Dutch Shepherd, German Shepherd, Bloodhound, Belgian Malinois, and the retriever breeds. Recently the Belgian Malinois has become the chosen dog for military and police work due to its focus and intense drive.
More Than Service Dogs – Explosive Detection Dog Training
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Puppies Behind Bars began raising dogs trained to detect explosives for use of law enforcement. Instead of those trained only to become service dogs, the puppies used for this career path have higher energy, display a more independent nature, and have a strong prey drive.
Those puppies are tested at six weeks of age to gauge whether they possess the factors needed. The results and their natural propensity will tell the trainers where the dog will likely succeed. The puppies chosen to become trained by the inmates who learn how to train therapy dogs are sent to one of three prisons specializing in that specific training. They will live there for 12 months, after which they will be tested by law enforcement.
Breeds Most Commonly Used for Service Dog Training
Anyone who wants to learn how to train therapy dogs will be working with one of many beautiful breeds.
Labrador retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds and make exceptional service dogs. They are good-natured and ridiculously friendly. They have a strong bond with their owners and love having a job to do. They are especially helpful to mobility-impaired owners who require help grabbing or manipulating things. This is in part due to their retrieving instincts and their soft mouth, which means they lightly grip things with their teeth.
Because they are similar to Labradors, it should not surprise anyone that Golden Retrievers make exceptional service dogs.
They are intelligent, train easily, are friendly and enjoy having something to do. They are large dogs but look extremely sweet and gentle, which helps put people at ease, even those who are afraid of dogs. Goldens are ideal for emotional support work, making them the best service dog for PTSD and an excellent breed for reducing anxiety. But they can handle physical work, such as fetching things for those who use wheelchairs or guiding blind owners.
German Shepherds are most associated with protection and guard dog work. German Shepherds have all the things you would require when choosing a service dog. They are well-behaved, intelligent, and easy to train. They bond very strongly with their owners. They were likely among the first dogs to be used for service work because they can do it all. Many have strength and size enough to help their owners who are mobility-impaired get around. Their attention span is strong to enable them to notice when their owner is feeling upset or anxious. Their sense of smell is powerful, which makes them well-suited for monitoring blood sugar levels.
Many people erroneously think that Poodles are prissy dogs with fancy haircuts. However, poodles are very smart, capable and love having a job. Poodles are fabulous for service work and easy to train. If considering a Poodle for service work, a standard size Poodle would be best, as they are bigger and stronger than the smaller varieties of miniature or toy. If you do not require your service dog to perform physical work, the smaller varieties are easier to take into crowded locations.
Boxers exhibit most of the traits you would like in a service dog. Although they are not commonly used for service dog work, they are large enough to perform physical tasks but small enough to navigate crowded locations comfortably. Boxers are very good-natured and love both adults and children. They have high-energy levels, like Labs and Goldens, so they need plenty of exercise. They adapt to life very well in small homes and apartments.
Border collies are often considered the most intelligent dog breed in the world, so it should not be surprising that they would make excellent service dogs. Note that the other brainy breeds, Labs, Poodles, German Shepherds, are also on this list. Border Collies are remarkably easy to train and, like the others, love having a job to do. Border Collies are a high-energy breed and can be mischievous if under-stimulated. Be sure to provide physical exercise and brain-stimulating toys for them prior to bringing one home.
Puppies Behind Bars are proud that their dogs have served in Presidential security details over the years, have been on the scene of some newsworthy events in the country, and work day-to-day around America with law enforcement to help solve crimes.
PBB is also proud to allow inmates to learn how to train therapy dogs, enabling the inmates to contribute by doing something positive for society and possibly providing them with a career upon release.