Skip to main content

Preparing Animals With Service Abilities

Hearing Dog Program

Prison Puppy Raiser Program - PAWS'abilities (Partnering Animals With Service Abilities)

IHDI is excited to announce the launch of PAWS'abilities (Preparing Animals With Service abilities) – our prison puppy raiser program in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Correction (WDOC) Canine Training Program at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute in Torrington.

PAWS'abilities offers tremendous opportunities for both the WDOC Canine Training Program and IHDI. 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 IHDI 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.

IHDI and Master Handlers provide a crucial foundation through daily care, enriching experiences, and behavioral training that IHDI puppies need to become future service dogs.

Master Handlers

Who are Master 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 IHDI's pups, an inmate must meet rigorous criteria.
  • Be actively involved in the prison's canine training program for at least two years.
  • Have assumed the role of Master Handler within that program (i.e., providing training of new inmate handlers).
  • Meet specific criteria in their behavioral history criteria.
  • Be willing and able to make a 12 to 15 month commitment.

The prison's Canine Program Coordinator selects qualified Master Handlers that are model inmates with exceptional records. Candidates for the PAWS'abilites program participate in additional evaluations conducted by the IHDI staff to ensure a good fit for all parties involved – including the puppies. IHDI 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 IHDI trainers to problem solve any behavioral challenges that may arise. In addition, the IHDI trainers routinely assess each pup to make training recommendations and assign homework for the Master Handlers. Master Handlers are offered instruction on grooming and proper care for their puppy, basic first aid, and monitoring of canine health.

IHDI is committed to PAWS'abilities being a beneficial and life-enriching experience for the Master Handlers by supporting each step of the journey. For instance, when a hearing service dog is placed with its d/Deaf partner, the Master Handler is invited to attend the Passing of the Leash and Graduation Ceremony virtually. Master Handlers can witness firsthand the profound difference their work as a puppy raiser has made in another person's life.

Meet the PASW'abilities Teams
Life of a Prison Raised Hearing Service 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 room.

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. Therefore 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 or learning from a Respite Handler.

Worldly Adventures with Weekend Puppy Raisers

Because an IHDI 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’abiliites program.