Puppies In Prison

Assistance Dogs of America, Inc. is proud of the success of our Prison Puppy Training Program, in alliance with Toledo Correctional Institute (ToCI) in downtown Toledo, Ohio. The program, the first of its kind in the Toledo area,  helps increase the number of dogs we have in training, sets standards for more involved training of our dogs, and helps inmates gain a sense of accomplishment. The program kicked off in November 2005, and we placed our first puppies with inmates in January of this 2006. We are excited to report that the first prison puppies through this program graduated with their partner clients in November of 2007. To read about these graduates click here.

We have been so pleased with the success of the Prison Puppy Training program that we are expanding the program. Assistance Dogs of America, Inc. is starting a new program in the Cleveland, Ohio area to extend our puppy raising program. The administrators of the Cleveland Pre-Release Center and ADAI are collaborating to implement this program. 

How does the Prison Puppy Program work?

Puppies live with inmates 24 hours a day and sleep crated in their single-person cells. They  live with their inmate-trainers until they are one year old, at which time they are be placed with one of our traditional foster families. Inmates work with the puppies on socialization and basic obedience skills.

This program was modeled after the Indiana Canine Assistant and Adolescent Network (ICAAN) program. According to ICAAN, benefits to the Indiana prisons are impressive:

  • 97% inmate-trainers demonstrated improvement in empathy and lessened depression
  • 87% inmate-trainers showed improvement in positive communication skills
  • Correctional Staff report overall decrease in general offender acting out in dorms where pups in training were assigned
  • 95% inmate-trainers passed test for Certification as Pet Care Technicians from the American Boarding Kennel Association.


Inmates are chosen based on a pattern of responsible behavior while in the facility.  They must have good reports from prior job assignments and not have a history of repeated violence. They cannot have committed crimes against animals or sexually-related crimes. The program is managed very tightly by administration at ToCI. A minor transgression will result in removal from the program. The program is designed to have alternate trainers observing the classes so that if an inmate is unable to care for a puppy, there is a skilled inmate to takeover.

Inmates in the program must go through a 6-week orientation program before they receive a puppy. Then they meet with ADAI staff trainers one to two times a week for structured class. During class, we assess the well-being and progress of the puppies. Puppies go on "furlough" with experienced ADAI volunteers (click here to learn how to become a furlough volunteer) so they can have exposure to things not available in prison environment, like car rides, restaurants, and children. It also gives us additional opportunities to asses the progression of the puppies.

The program in ToCI has been funded by grants from the Stranahan Foundation and the Toledo Community Foundation.  Donations of toys, treats and supplies are always appreciated.