Dog Training Program Symbolizes Hope For Florida Inmates

UNITED STATES - JUNE 30: Inmates prepare to head back to their cells after training the dogs for the day. Training the dogs is akin to a full time job for the men, with a fixed schedule and routine happening everyday. The men must care for, exercise and feed the dogs - giving them a sense of responsibility for living creatures, or as the many of them noted, "as if they were our kids."

(Picture Credit: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

Training programs for at-risk or rescue dogs are becoming creative and resourceful in finding ways to make canines more adoptable. In Florida, one program aims to rehabilitate both at-risk dogs and inmates who are looking to go back into society as reformed individuals.

Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills–also known as TAILS–is the program that Florida Department of Corrections approved to put institutionalized men in charge of training dogs. TAILS takes in dogs who are about to be euthanized or those who were rescued from brutal backgrounds.

According to Jen Deane, the executive director of TAILS and Pit Sisters, the organization chooses the dogs that require the most help. This is so they can accommodate the dogs to live in the facilities during their training period.

Proper Training Of Dogs

Dogs undergo organized training. There is “count time” where the dogs go to the kennels while inmates line up. They also know how to “pray,” where the dogs join paw-in-hand with the inmates. Inmates also teach dogs simple commands like “sit” and “lie down.”

The program doesn’t just benefit the dogs, but the inmates and the jail staff, as well. TAILS assigns two inmates for every dog, one to act as a handler and the other to be the trainer. TAILS is also strict about the inmates they allow into the program. Inmates with a history of violence or animal-related crimes cannot participate, and they must have a record of good behavior. Inmates get to interact with the dogs throughout the day.

The program trains anywhere between four to eleven dogs. Ideally, the men and dogs complete the program in two or three months.

What It Teaches Inmates

“They see themselves in the dogs,” said Deane. “A lot of these guys had early lessons in masculinity. They learned through very abusive behaviors that they could never show weakness. They had to kind of shut down that aspect of their identity in order to survive.”

With TAILS, the men are able to learn how to look deeper into themselves as they engage with the dogs. The way they connect with the pups develops a certain sense of affinity and opens them up emotionally–qualities that go beyond training. At the end of the program, it appears that training dogs for forever homes is only one benefit that is equally matched by another–training the men to assimilate back into society by rebuilding their own self-worth and concepts of masculinity.

“The program teaches the guys empathy, patience, responsibility, teamwork, and it teaches them about love,” added Deane. The wonder of TAILS’s training program is that it touches on a deeper level with the bond between man and dog. It teaches unconditional love and allows the inmates to re-calibrate their views to become better men–and even fathers–when they step back into the world.

Inmates And Dog Training Programs Find Success

Programs like TAILS are not alone in aiming to reform and save incarcerated men and rescue dogs. A big benefit of these programs involves behavior and mental health. A study found that inmates experience a decrease in depression and aggression with such programs. They boost positive morale and increase social sensitivity.

“Many of those we interviewed believed that the strongest positive they receive from the program is the change it effects in their attitudes and emotions. For these men, the dogs are truly therapeutic,” said the researchers of a Massachusetts Department of Correction study.

What are your thoughts on correctional programs such as this? Let us know in the comments below!

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