CANON CITY, Colo. (KDVR) — Teaching your dog to be obedient can be a difficult and expensive task. That's why hundreds of Coloradans turn to a unique program the state offers each year.
It's a program that pairs pups up with prisoners. The prisoners spend weeks, sometimes months teaching the dogs new tricks and skills. At the same time, the prisoners learn a lot also.
"I did it to save dogs. But what I didn't realize is that in starting the program I didn't realize we were saving people too" program supervisor Debie Stevens said.
Since 2002, the K9 Companion Program has helped hundreds of prisoners and more than 9,000 dogs.
"I've seen this program change a lot of prisoners," said Christopher Vogt, who used to partake in the program.
Vogt is serving a 48-year sentence for murdering a man in Grand Junction. He says partaking in the dog program helped change his life.
"He turned into a human being who has a heart that beats that you can see on the outside," Stevens said of Vogt.
Vogt helped train a ton of pups during his time with the program, including a few high-profiled ones like Governor Hickenlooper's dog Skye.
"To a person they [prisoners] all seemed like they were trying to get their lives back on track and training dogs was part of that process," Hickenlooper said of the program.
When Skye returned from the program, she had a different demeanor to her. She was less hyper, more relaxed and picked up a few tricks.
"When we started the dog program if you would have told me we'd see these changes I wouldn't believe you," Stevens said.
Prices for the program vary, but for 4 weeks-worth of training it will cost $600.
For more information, see the K9 Companion program's brochure.
If you can't afford the program, here are 10 free tips from PetFinder.com:
LISTEN TO YOUR DOG
Learn to listen to your dog. If your dog appears to be uncomfortable meeting another dog, animal or person, don't insist that he say hello. He's telling you that he isn't comfortable for a reason, and you should respect that. Forcing the issue can often result in bigger problems down the line.
BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR AFFECTION
Most people don't have a problem being very clear about when they are unhappy with their dogs, but, they often ignore the good stuff. Big mistake! Make sure you give your dog lots of attention when he's doing the right thing. Let him know when he's been a good boy. That's the time to be extra generous with your attention and praise. It's even okay to be a little over the top.
DOES HE REALLY LIKE IT?
Just because the bag says "a treat all dogs love" doesn't mean your dog will automatically love it. Some dogs are very selective about what they like to eat. Soft and chewy treats are usually more exciting for your dog than hard and crunchy treats. Keep your eyes open for what he enjoys.
TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT HIM TO DO
There is nothing inherently wrong with telling your dog "no," except that it doesn't give him enough information. Instead of telling your dog "no," tell him what you want him to do. Dogs don't generalize well, so if your dog jumps up on someone to say hello and you say no, he may jump higher or he may jump to the left side instead of the right. A better alternative would be to ask him to "sit." Tell him what you want him to do in order to avoid confusion.
Whenever you're training your dog, it's important to get as many family members involved as possible so everyone's on the same page. If you are telling your dog "off" when he jumps on the couch and someone else is saying "down," while someone else is letting him hang out up there, how on earth is he ever going to learn what you want? Consistency will be the key to your success.
HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Changing behavior takes time. You need to have realistic expectations about changing your dog's behavior as well as how long it will take to change behaviors that you don't like. Often behaviors which are "normal" doggie behaviors will take the most time such as barking, digging and jumping. You also need to consider how long your dog has rehearsed the behavior. For example, if you didn't mind that your dog jumped up on people to say hi for the last seven years and now you decide that you don't want him to do that anymore, that behavior will take a much longer time to undo than if you had addressed it when he was a pup. Remember it's never too late to change the behavior some will just take longer than others.
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE BENEFITS OF FEEDING A HIGH QUALITY FOOD
Feed your dog a high-quality diet with appropriate amounts of protein. If your dog spends most of his days lounging in your condo, don't feed him food with a protein level that is ideal for dogs who herd sheep all day. The money that you will spend on feeding an appropriate quality food will often be money that you save in vet bills later on. I recommend you always check with your veterinarian for the right diet for your dog.
YOU GET WHAT YOU REINFORCE – NOT NECESSARILY WHAT YOU WANT
If your dog exhibits a behavior you don't like, there is a strong likelihood that it's something that has been reinforced before. A great example is when your dog brings you a toy and barks to entice you to throw it. You throw the toy. Your dog has just learned that barking gets you to do what he wants. You say "no," and he barks even more. Heaven forbid you give in and throw the toy now! Why? Because you will have taught him persistence pays off. Before you know it you'll have a dog that barks and barks every time he wants something. The solution? Ignore his barking or ask him to do something for you (like "sit") before you throw his toy.
BRIBERY VS. REWARD
The idea of using treats to train is often equated with bribery. Truthfully, dogs do what works. If using treats gets them to do what you want, then why not? You can also use the world around you as a reinforcement. Every interaction you have with your dog is a learning opportunity, so when you think about it, you probably don't use food very often except during active training sessions. So why does your dog continue to hang out? Because you reinforce him with praise, touch, games and walks. Just remember, the behavior should produce the treat; the treat should not produce the behavior.
Let your new dog gradually earn freedom throughout your home. A common error that many pet parents make is giving their new dog too much freedom too soon. This can easily lead to accidents relating to housetraining and destructive chewing. So, close off doors to unoccupied rooms and use baby gates to section off parts of the house, if necessary. One of the best ways to minimize incidents is to keep your dog tethered to you in the house and by using a crate or doggie safe area when you can't actively supervise him.