Diamonds in the Ruff is a proud partner of the Airway Heights Corrections Center prison dog training program
by Carol A. Byrnes, CPDT - trainer for the Pawsitive Dog prison training program
A second chance for a new life, a better life than where you started. Perhaps, a chance to live at all.
The reasons people end up in prison or animals end up in shelters can be similar in many ways. Many of the faces behind bars, in animal shelters or in prisons, come from similar disadvantaged starts in life: Parents fighting their own battles who couldn’t give their child or puppy a safe environment in which to thrive; Failure to provide rich and varied positive learning and social experiences early in life; Lack of proper guidance and a good education.
Attentive and focused parents take great care in teaching children and puppies proper manners and self control. To make eye contact, say “please” and “thank you” and how to take turns. To share. To wait quietly while adults are speaking. To do their homework. How to work to earn what they need.
Great parents make sure their kids and pets have healthy choices. A healthy diet, free of fillers, pesticides, and chemical preservatives. Exercise, fresh air, activities that expand their minds and help them grow mentally as well as physically. Soccer, dance, gymnastics. A chance to play in the park. Frisbee, freestyle, agility. Toys. Games. A sandbox to dig in. Moms and dads teach their kids to catch a baseball and their dogs to play fetch.
Animals and children who live in impoverished environments without proper guidance struggle. Poor diet, lack of stimulating activities, absent (physically or mentally) or disconnected parenting all contribute to lack of self control and making poor choices. We aren’t talking about treatment as damaging as abusive parenting or those who hang, kick, and beat their dogs. Luckily those cases are rare. Harsh, punitive parenting filled with shame and blame and “rubbing their noses in it” damages relationships with kids and dogs. The adult who yells and yanks their kid by the arm in the grocery store also yanks their dog by the collar. Violence begets violence. The child observes that it is okay to have power over someone smaller or weaker than himself. He mimics what he experiences. Dogs who are regularly bullied by other dogs, learn to bully as well. The Cycle of Violence.
Normal kids and animals do what they need to do. Explore. Discover. Test. Try.
With guidance and supervision, these are great traits. Without guidance and supervision, basic needs for stimulation and learning can get them into trouble. The kid learns to get what he needs and avoid punishment by stealth and lying. Bullying a smaller kid for his lunch. The principal calls. The bored dog left for hours in the backyard barks and annoys the neighbors and tips the trash. The kid sneaks out to be with his friends. The dog digs under the fence to explore the neighborhood. More punishment ensues. The dog kills the neighbor’s chickens, chases cars, and bites the mail man. Animal control steps in. The kid gets in with the wrong crowd. Lifting a candy bar from the store. Stealing a bike. Gangs, fights, drugs. Kids end up in juvenile hall. Repeat offenders land in jail. Three strikes your out. Prison. Dogs end up in the pound. Dangerous dog citations get issued. Sometimes lack of anger management and self control in either species leads to death sentences.
Puppy owners give up on their young dogs and re-home them, on average - worldwide, at around seven or eight months of age. Adolescence. This is about the same corresponding age that young humans go through a really tough patch - 7th or 8th grade. This is the age when any deficits in early socialization and structure really begin to show up. Even kids and dogs with a great start with fabulous parents and teachers struggle at this age. Growing up is hard. We’ve all made stupid choices. We don’t all get caught.
Really nice dogs in the wrong place at the wrong time end up biting people. Good people do really stupid things and end up in jail.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
No kid or dog answers, “I want to go to prison” or “I want to be homeless in a shelter.” Incarceration is lonely and depressing. It’s frightening. Sitting in a kennel run or sitting in a cell, surrounded by strangers. Missing your family and friends. The common denominator is that these facilities should be places of rehabilitation and a second chance to do better. To become better members of society when they get out.
Programs like the Pawsitive Dog prison training program do just that. They teach pro-social life skills for both ends of the leash. One of the most amazing things that I’ve witnessed while working with the Pawsitive Dog prison training program at the Airway Heights Corrections Center is the change in the faces of both the men and the dogs. Day one, the men are stone faced. There is no trust. Trust must be earned. There is no connection. Connections can be dangerous in prison. They are guarded. Dogs in the shelter are stressed. Their faces are strained. Their eyes, large and darting. They may be shut down or they may be frenetic. They pant and pace. Frantically looking for a way out, a way back home.
And then they meet. The magic begins to happen.
They look into each other’s faces.
They are guarded at first, but soon the faces soften. They begin to trust. Connections are made. Pretty soon both are smiling. Lines of communication open. Hardened criminals gently cradle their worried charges. They whisper, “It’s going to be okay.” Through their weeks in the Pawsitive Dog prison training program they learn and use only positive training methods with their dogs. Force in any form is forbidden. They provide the loving and respectful guidance that some never learned from their own parents. They help dogs who are bullies learn better ways to communicate and in so doing, learn how to better deal with anger and frustration in themselves. They learn cooperation, kindness, and how to work together as a team for the common good of the program.
As the weeks go by, the men and dogs gain confidence. They smile and laugh and cheer their dogs’ successes - and each other’s. They help one another; they problem solve. The dogs who hid under chairs and strained against their leashes now trot confidently, sit proudly, and gaze attentively into their handler’s eyes with tails wagging. They blossom - on both ends of the leash.
OUR HOPE IS THAT EVERY PROGRAM GRADUATE WILL HAVE A HOME WAITING
AND THAT NO DOG OR HANDLER WILL EVER BE BEHIND BARS AGAIN.
Dogs for the program are provided by the Spokane Humane Society
Donations are always needed!