Pups Help Veterans Behind Bars
Prisoners gain insight into service dog training and handling
Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) Alaska’s twice monthly visits with Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) who are incarcerated at Fairbanks Correctional Center (FCC). As part of the FCC Educational Programs, prisoners participate in Paws for Purple Hearts Canine Assisted Warrior Therapy, learning to train and care for Paws for Purple Hearts service dogs. The service dog training concepts developed initially by Bergin College of Canine Studies are leveraged by PPH instructors as a core component of the therapy program PPG provides. The prisoners gain new and deeper insight into dog training and handling while the therapeutic effects of the sessions reduce the severity of their PTSD and/or TBI symptoms. The program also helps show the inmates new, more positive behaviors and can help steer them on a new path in life, reducing recidivism rates and improving their prospects to live law-abiding productive lives upon release.
We all know that dogs provide many therapeutic benefits, but in extreme settings such as jail, dogs can offer a needed breath of fresh air and an opportunity for Veterans to express appreciation, compassion, and understanding. PPH’s Canine Assisted Warrior Therapy program is based on the bond developed between canine and human, using a training philosophy and method developed by Bonnie Bergin, which challenges the trainers to respect and appreciate the dogs as thinking, feeling beings and to offer praise to the dogs for performing service dog tasks and for positive behaviors. To do this, the Veteran trainers are required to harness their own positive energy to motivate the dogs to practice tasks or to learn new commands. Through hands-on training experiences, the prisoners learn just how intuitive and observant the dogs are. The dogs naturally demonstrate their connection with their trainers, knowing just what to do when their trainer is truly engaged.
“It’s never the dog; it’s always the trainer” is a key training concept which holds the human (trainer) responsible for creating a supportive, productive and positive training experience. The prisoners immediately perceive the remarkable effect they have on the dogs’ success and satisfaction. This in turn motivates the trainers to create a supportive, positive environment for their new four-legged friends. In places like jail, it can be a challenge to find your positive energy, but with the dogs as their mentors, the trainers have learned to “find their happy voices” in the face of a highly stressful environment. This experience, repeated during multiple sessions, has a cumulative effect on the Veterans, who soon often experience a noticeable reduction in their PTSD and/or TBI symptoms. Participation in PPH’s Canine Assisted Warrior Therapy program benefits the Veterans in other ways too. It is especially helpful to the Veterans as they increase their ability to form healthy relationships with other people, including friends and family. This is an important step along the road to recovery and the whole Paws for Purple Hearts crew is proud to be part of such a worthwhile program.