Sunday, May 3, 2015

Relaxation with a twist

March 30, 2015

This is only our second time back to the prisons together since September. Tammy and I still have our routine down. On the drive up we brainstormed how we'll execute Tammy's lesson plan:
  • puppy presentation
  • paperwork (Tammy) / meet & greets, handler's exams, questions (me)
  • group discussion
  • relaxation protocol
  • exercises with treat delivery and impulse control using a ground tether
  • obedience practice for all and In-For-Training (IFT) assessments for FLDs Bandit, Andie, Adell and Teysen
  • rally course, ladder and distractions exercise (teams) / finish IFTs (Tammy and I)
  • "blind" touch
  • musical chairs
  • Bandit's good-bye

It always amazes me that we manage to get through the entire list.

After the puppy presentation Tammy takes care of the paperwork with Rial. I circle the room to practice meet and greets and handler's exams. I ask each team, "Tell me something good about your puppy and then tell me something you are struggling with." Their answers should drive the group discussion, but there are no big issues.

Everyone in the room is interested in hearing an update on FLD Ashley. The black lab returned to Leader Dogs for the Blind in December for formal training and now she's ready to move into an "advanced" level. At the next step she'll be matched with her new partner. (No one knows it yet, but Ashley is destined to be matched at the end of April.)

Tammy starts off with a twist on the standard relaxtaion protocol. Normally the puppies sit, down or stand in heel position with the handler standing during the exercise. Tammy instructs the handlers to stay seated. "Tell your puppy under," she says, "or have your puppy lie down at your side."

A light colored golden retriever and a yellow lab are lying on a tile floor in between the legs of two men. The first man with the golden is weraing green pants and the second man is wearing maroon pants. Both puppies are looking up at their handlers (who are mostly out of view).
FLDs Andie and Diesel look at their handlers like they are thinking, "What are you doing? We usually do this with you standing up!" The idea of trying this while sitting is to simulate situations where their handlers are sitting, like at restaurants or meetings.

Four men are seated on lunchroom stools. The man on the far left is sitting up and looking at the other three, who are bent over at the waist and touching their toes. There are three puppies lying on a tile floor beneath the men. The puppy on the far left is a yellow lab and is looking back at his handler, the next puppy is a german shepherd and his facing out, the third puppy is a light colored golden retriever and he is facing out too. Three of the men are wearing with t-shirts, the third man is wearing a maroon sweatshirt.
The seated relaxation protocol has the handlers do things like touch their toes, turn to the right or left, stamp their feet, or cross their legs. The puppies stay in position throughout the entire exercise.

With the relaxation protocol finished, Tammy puts me to work demonstrating the treat delivery and ground tether exercises, and helping her with the IFT assessments. I'm too busy to get any photos, but once the music starts for musical chairs I am free to shoot away. 

In this game, there are chairs for everyone. When the music stops, the men must sit with their puppies "under" the chairs...last puppy down is out!

A group of men and their puppies cirlce around two lines of light blue plastic chairs. A woman wearing a grey t-shirt and blue jeans is on the far left.
Tammy's CD has dog-themed songs, like "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and "How Much is that Puppy in the Window?"

A low shot of a golden retriever/lab mix puppy walking toward the camera with a loose leash and looking up toward his handler. The man handling the puppy is only visible from the waist down and he is wearing the blue prison uniform. There are a few men sitting down on the right side.
FLD Henry keeps a nice loose leash and a keen focus on his temporary handler.

Now the men are sitting on the chairs with their puppies "under" the chairs facing out. The woman is in the background on the left side.
The music stops...who is out?

A low, close up shot of a small stuffed weiner dog in the foreground and a larger black lab puppy walking by trying to sniff the stuffed dog. In the background on the right side is a german shepherd puppy also looking at the stuffed dog, being held back by a man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants. The black lab is being held back by a man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants. The lab is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana.
I set a distraction down for the puppies. FLD GeeGee is very interested in "Travel Deacon," as is FLD Chance in the background.

A group of men and their puppies are sitting in the background and right side on lunch room stools facing the room. Two men are sitting in the light blue plastic chairs, facing opposite directions. The man in the foreground is an african american man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants, his black lab puppy is lying under the chair. The man behind him is almost out of view, his german sheperd puppy is on his way to lying down under the chair, but is not all the way down.
We have a winner! FLD GeeGee is under her handler Ro before FLD Chance hits the tile under his handler Eric.


  1. Hi there!
    Puppies Inside is such a great program run in Michigan, we have one similar in Australia that trains guide dogs called Pups In Prison and is doing a phenomenal ob in training these puppies for people who need it most.
    It strikes me to see that only very few prisons have these types of systems in place, surely we need more trained dogs for the wider community?
    My page focusses on these foundations, yet instead of training dogs for useful purposes, we focus on training dogs deemed 'un-adoptable' in pounds to make them more attractive to families wanting a new dog in their home. By pairing inmates with these dogs, they both form close interpersonal relationships, learning new types of skills from one another that effectively - and further testimonials have proven - rehabilitate the offenders to the point that when leaving the prison system, they have a much less likely chance to re-offend and go back. In Australia we are having a huge spike in people leaving prison and re-offending, placing significant strain on our prisons to the point of over-crowding. This notion leads to more prisons being build and more tax-payer money spent on rehabilitation programs that do not effectively work well enough to keep these criminals out of prison when they leave.
    Do you think your program could expand to include not just dogs being trained for purpose, but for all dogs being given a second chance that would effectively chance inmates lives for the better?
    Please get behind my cause as we will yours!


    1. Thanks for checking us out. Love your idea of "A new leash on life." Keep up the good work!

      There are several prisons here that work with rescue dogs, but our program is specifically designed for inmates to raise puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Our puppies stay with their raisers from the age of seven weeks to about one year, just like our "outside" puppy raisers do. The dogs then go back to Leader Dogs for the Blind for guide dog training before being matched with their handler.