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preparing animals with service abilities

Dogs with Prisoners

Service Dog Training


inspiring PAWS'abilities

Preparing Animals With Service Abilities is our prison puppy raising and training program in partnership with the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute (WMCI) in Torrington Wyoming.

PAWS’abilities offers tremendous opportunities for both the WDOC Canine Training Program and Paragon. With canine training programs in over 200 prisons throughout the United States, there is a great deal of, at least anecdotal, evidence of how such programs can benefit incarcerated individuals and assist service dog training programs like Paragon deliver on our mission. In part because of the structured environment that they live in, inmate handlers can work with puppies in a uniquely consistent and orderly way that offers a more significant amount of focused training time with the pups over other training environments. Consequently, puppies raised in intentionally designed prison puppy raising programs by well-trained and supported inmate handlers demonstrate high success rates in becoming certified service dogs.

Master Inmate Handlers provide a crucial foundation through daily care, enriching experiences, and behavioral training that Paragon puppies need to become future service dogs. Then they build upon the foundation with behavioral and service task training.

master inmate handlers

Master Handlers take the lead with puppies around eight weeks old. They live with, guide, and train the puppies daily in early learning positive experiences to build confidence, learn manners, execute basic commands, and gain exposure to various environmental settings over 10 to 12 months.

To become a Master Handler for one of Paragon’s pups, an inmate must meet rigorous criteria. The prison's Canine Program Coordinator selects qualified applicants that are model inmates with exceptional records. Applicants must then participate in interviews and evaluations conducted by the Paragon staff to ensure a good fit for all parties involved – including the puppies. Paragon trainers make regular visits to the prison – providing bi-weekly on-site training and support and virtual training sessions on the off-weeks. During the training classes, the Master Handlers learn and practice training techniques and appropriate cues and work with Paragon trainers to problem solve any behavioral challenges that may arise. Additionally, Paragon trainers routinely assess each pup to make training recommendations and assign homework for the Master Handlers. Master Handlers are also offered instruction on grooming and proper care for their puppy, basic first aid, and monitoring of canine health.

PAWS’abilities is a powerful program that brings tremendous benefits to everyone involved – the Master handlers, the pups, Paragon clients, the prison staff, and other inmates. We are grateful to WMCI’s Canine Program Coordinator, Officer Bethany Sanders, for the tremendous dedication, support and problem solving she brings to our partnership. And we are grateful to the Master Handlers who demonstrate enormous commitment, skill, compassion, creativity, and dependability. They work tirelessly to mold exceptional and successful service dogs.

life of a prison raised puppy

What is prison life like for a puppy? For the most part, our pups can be found experiencing daily life at the side of their Master Handler – going to classes, visiting recreation spaces, attending group training, and occupying common areas. Even at night, the pup remains close, sleeping in a crate in the Master Handler's cell.

Socialization is critical for our pups. Master Handlers provide puppies with and support them in a bevy of socialization and novel experiences by bringing a pup with them whenever possible. If the Master Handler is entering an area in which the puppy is not allowed to accompany them – cafeteria, infirmary – the puppy spends that time in their crate developing confidence and settling skills.

worldly adventures with weekend puppy raisers

Because a Paragon service dog will be required to accompany their d/Deaf person in every setting (home, work, school, in public) once matched, it is crucial for the pups to experience and become comfortable in the world at large as they are growing up. And that is where Weekend Puppy Raisers come in! Weekend Puppy Raisers open their heart and homes to one of our amazing puppies in training over the weekends for the duration of its training in the PAWS’abilities program.