Inmates train service dogs
JACKSON - There are lots of lessons to be learned from the three puppies roaming Dixon Correctional Institute. The inmates who are teaching the puppies learn patience. The dogs learn all the skills they need to serve as a service dog to someone with special needs.
For 16 months, the lab and golden retriever mixes learn how to sit, stay, roll over, speak and walk backward. They learn how to listen intently to their owners, how to resist begging for food, and how to refrain from getting excited around kids and when they get attention.
Then, they will be sent to Orlando where they will go through two weeks of intensive training before they'll be handed off to their new owners.
"He might be an assistance dog to someone in a wheelchair. He might be an assistance dog to someone who's deaf," Kevin Christensen said. He is one of five inmates at Dixon who took classes and watched DVDs about how to train these four-legged friends.
"It doesn't require a whole lot of experience, just a willingness to learn," Christensen said.
Christensen spends all day long with his puppy, Valdez. He's been training the pup for two months. Each morning, Christensen wakes up at 4 a.m. to take the puppy to the bathroom. Then he feeds the canine, trains Valdez in three ten-minute sessions, plays with him, washes him, brushes his teeth, sleeps with him and bonds with him.
"Some days the dogs have a bad day, and the handler has to see that, step back, and learn how to be patient with the dog," Master Sergeant Keavin Tanner told News 2.
"The offenders-- they don't realize it, but when they were in the world, they didn't have balance in their life, any structure," Tanner said. "It's really gonna change their life." Tanner said.
The inmates say their lives have already changed. Jason McClure says he's happier.
"[Before I trained the dog I'd] get angry quick. One thing the dog taught me is to be a lot more patient," McClure said.
He and the other trainers will have plenty of that as they finish the 14 more months with their puppies.
And when the puppies leave, "I think it will carry on with them in the world, so it'll help them be a better person," Tanner said.
Dixon is the first prison in Louisiana to experiment with inmates training dogs. Anyone can volunteer for the program.