(Editor’s note: Two inmate handlers with New Life K-9 program at the Correctional Training Facility penned the following piece. Inmates Aaron Carter and Greg N. Faulk also work on The Retriever, an internal educational K-9 newsletter they developed for the inmates at Facility B. This story was submitted to Inside CDCR via CTF’s Lt. Roland Ramon, the institution’s administrative assistant and public information officer.) 

By Aaron Carter and Greg N. Faulk, inmate handlers
Reprinted from The Retriever

It may come as a surprise to most inmates and staff at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) that a dog “training” program does not exist in the institution. CTF is one of only two prisons in the entire country that employ a revolutionary approach to educating – not training – service dogs. Jennifer Arnold, Founder and Executive Director of Canine Assistance, created Bond-Based Choice Teaching to reframe the human-canine relationship in love rather than domination.

Ctf K9 Program Edited

Handler David Hanley educates Roofus using Bond-Based techniques.

Housebreaking uses an extreme, yet common, punishment technique in which some owners will rub their dog’s nose in his own excrement when the dog eliminates in the house. On the less severe end of the spectrum, other pet owners will tell him he is a “bad dog” and exile him outside.

In both examples, your dog has no way of knowing what he has done wrong; he only knows that you are mad at him. Just like a child, you must teach the dog without injuring his well-being or your bond.

This kind of training is inefficient and does not build his capacity for learning. He is merely responding to a cue in hopes of a tasty treat or praise. He is not learning about the context in which he could use a skill; instead, he is relying on his person to make decisions for him.

Bond-Based dogs learn to navigate a human world without a human making every decision for them.

The Bond-Based Choice Teaching philosophy moves away from the domination, manipulation, and conditioning characteristic of training methods and replaces it with a bond forged in love and trust. We give our dogs treats and praise them because we love them and not because we ask them to perform.

We use our loving bond, not commands, as the basis for teaching our dogs how to behave in public. Playful teaching tools help them learn how to imitate our body language so that they will relax in a restaurant, for example, rather than exhibit anxious behavior likely to lead to disruptions.

If anyone asks if there is a dog training program at CTF, the answer is no. We educate service dogs. We love our dogs for the individuals they are, and we treat them with the respect they deserve.