Prison PUP Program

90-95% of NEADS puppies are trained in 7 correctional facilities throughout New England. Our statistics show that, under the guidance of NEADS staff, inmates are able to provide consistent training at a high level simply because of the amount of time they are able to devote to the dogs. This enables us to place dogs faster with people in need.

prison pup

Our Inmate Trainers

Each inmate that applies to be a puppy trainer must meet certain criteria in behavioral history and must make a 12-18 month commitment. A prison liaison selects appropriate inmate handlers, and then a NEADS trainer conducts additional interviews to ensure that they are right for our program. The men and women who are selected are usually described as model inmates with exceptional records. NEADS maintains consistent, ongoing communication with correctional officers, inmates, and prison administrators at all times. The influence of the Prison PUP Program on the men and women in prison is tremendous. Even the officers and inmates who do not participate in the program report that the presence of NEADS Dogs changes the atmosphere for everyone.

Prison Life

Each puppy lives with an inmate handler (a backup inmate participates in case the primary handler is unable to complete the program). Puppies spend most of their time with the primary handler going to classes, recreation areas, and dining halls. Each puppy sleeps in his or her primary handler’s dormitory-like room.

NEADS trainers make regular visits to each participating prison to conduct classes for the inmates in the program. In class, the inmates learn how to teach their puppy tasks and exceptional obedience skills. In addition, they learn how to groom and properly care for their puppy, provide basic first aid, and monitor canine health. The NEADS staff trainers assess each puppy to make training recommendations and assign homework for the handler.

Inmates provide the puppies with socialization by bringing the dogs with them whenever possible. Whether going to a medical appointment, the TV lounge, or the family and friends visiting room, the handler usually has the puppy right by his or her side.

Weekend Furloughs

To ensure that the puppies have a full range of experiences, volunteers help out by socializing the puppies on weekends. These weekend puppy raisers, specially trained in socialization skills by NEADS, are assigned to a puppy for the entire time the dog is in the prison program. Puppies spend their weekends at a volunteer’s home and follow the volunteer’s routine around town. This way, the puppies become accustomed to things like car rides, traffic, bus stations, movie theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, and all the typical experiences of life.

Our Prison PUP Program Partnerships

NEADS began the Prison PUP Program in 1998 at North Central Correctional Institution in Gardner, Massachusetts. NEADS currently has partnerships with 7 prisons in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There are usually six to eight (and as many as 12) puppies in every facility. Each prison administration decides how many dogs it can house and raise comfortably. Most facilities designate a section of housing for the program where handlers are given single rooms to accommodate the inmate and puppy. Our current Prison PUP Program partnerships (subject to change) include:

The impact that NEADS dogs have on inmate trainers is incredible.  Lasell College students conducted a study with one of our Prison Pup Program facilities, MCI Framingham, to learn more about the powerful effect of our program on inmate trainers. To read about the study, entitled: The Power of Prison Pups: The Impact of the NEADS Program on Inmate Dog Trainers, MCI/Framingham, and the Community click here.

Celebrating 20 years of our Prison PUP Program

The Route to a Lasting Partnership

  • Bonnie (3)

    The Dogs

    Most NEADS dogs are purpose-bred for temperament, health and personality traits best suited for service dog work. Some NEADS Hearing Dogs are acquired from animal shelters and rescue groups.

  • Jean (l) Banks (r) 1

    Early Learning Center

    Here staff work to housebreak the puppies and lay the groundwork for some beginning commands. Puppies have indoor and outdoor playtime, one-on-one time with staff and volunteers, and socialization sessions.

  • prison pup

    Prison PUP Program

    90-95% of NEADS puppies are trained in 7 correctional facilities throughout New England.

  • dogs in training

    Dog Training

    NEADS Dogs are trained to perform tasks and behave obediently through the use of positive reinforcement and clear leadership. We select dogs that are natural followers, so it is easy to guide them into choosing appropriate behaviors.

  • matching process

    Matching Process

    The more we understand about your lifestyle and expectations, the better we can pair you with a dog that fits with you. The matching process includes an online application and a comprehensive, in-person interview.

  • the trainers

    Client Training

    Clients spend one to two weeks at the NEADS campus learning how to work and live with their new Service Dog. Our trainers work closely with the new partners to ensure the match is a strong one.

  • (042918 Fitchburg, MA) Derek Blake, 9 1/2 kisses his social dog Jean during NEADS service dog graduation ceremony in Fitchburg on Sunday,April 29, 2018. Staff Photo by Nancy Lane


    Twice each year, we honor our most recent Service Dog teams, celebrating the partnership between a client and his or her Service Dog.