AK DOC Dogs in Training

Dedicated to the Alaska Department of Corrections Cell Dog and Service Dog Training Goals and Accomplishments

Who is the Cat?

Currently, five dogs are being trained by inmates at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center to assist Alaskans with disability. Here are the latest photos of these are young students!

The cat is Emmy, a long-time resident given the task of providing a disincentive to shrews and mice to reside in the greenhouse. The cat is with Cooper, a service dog trainee donated to the program by a breeder in Illinois through connections made with Arctic Paws for Service and Sr. Pauline Quinn. The black lab is Bella. The other trainees are Sophi, Madison and Baylee. It will be as long as a year before the first of these young students graduates and begin a new life as a valued assistant to a disabled owner.

Click on THIS LINK to see Sr. Pauline Quinn’s work with a prison dog program in Poland.

Service Dog training at Hiland Mountain Correctional Cntr.


Working with the Mat Su Animal Shelter, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center (HMCC) began the Special Pet Obedience Training (SPOT) program in May 2006. The program is governed by a letter of agreement between the institution and the Mat-Su Borough Animal Care & Regulation Division

The program has been successful since its inception. HMCC prisoners have trained over 250 dogs, and the public has adopted just about every dog that successfully completed the program.

Selected prisoners partner with shelter dogs for intensive eight to 10-week obedience training program, resulting in dogs that are more desirable for adoption by the public. Dogs live in kennels that are kept in the rooms of inmates who train them. The dogs learn basic obedience skills including sit, stay, heel, shake and roll-over.

Staff at the Mat-Su animal shelter assesses each dog for suitability of temperament and the potential to be trained.


HMCC inmate trainers work with a service dog in training

In 2007, SPOT staff and inmates have developed the skills necessary to begin the process of specialized training for specific types of service. HMCC particularly geared the dogs for post trauma stress and mobility for wounded warriors. The program was based on a very successful service dog training program at Camp Lejeune. It is estimated that without volunteer time and labor from inmates, it can cost up to 38,000 to train a service dog of this type.

The program has demonstrated its ability to succeed as its first graduate; a lab mix named Wyatt, completed training and is now a service companion for a wounded warrior. The Military Order of the Purple Heart Alaska Department helped facilitate the match between Wyatt and wounded warrior Sgt. William Ondell Ft Richardson.

The second graduate, Levi a golden retriever/ shepherd mix who arrived at HMCC at the age of 6 months, shy and skittish although he had a certain something the lead trainer liked so he was carried over from the SPOT program as he was not yet adopted. Levi completed his training and was matched with wounded warrior, Specialist Martin K. Moxley Glennallen, Alaska.

The most recent graduate of the service program is Sha-Ren, a SharPei/Labrador mix who arrived at HMCC at 6 weeks old and was slated only for the service program. Up to the age of 9 months she advanced quickly and excelled in her basic obedience but could not be bothered to retrieve or hold items in her mouth. At what seemed like the eleventh hour of her service training she decided she could hold items in her mouth and she basically snowballed forward in her training. Being only 55 lbs and 22 inches tall she was smaller then her predecessor but still was capable of bracing for a human as well as carrying any objects asked to any destination requested. Sha Ren was matched with her wounded warrior PFC Garrett, Ft Richardson Alaska.


SHA REN, a chow mix, arrived at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in January, 2009, age six weeks. She was a stray in the Mat-Su Valley, rescued during a cold snap and brought to the animal shelter, and then to Hiland Mountain for the cell dog “SPOT” program. At first, Sha Ren did not seem to be a suitable candidate for service training, however at age nine months small but key changes were noticed in her demeanor – mainly an ability to retrieve.

With that willingness, Sha Ren’s inmate trainer to put her through some extra paces, and then she mastered “return and paws” (which means the dog brings objects to its owner at a raised height). Sha Ren learned to pick up keys, return a remote control and other objects, including her own leash. Sha Ren can now open doors for her owner, carry a wide range of objects from paper to metal to plastic without damaging the object. Recently she carried a one pound can of cocoa in a paper bag for ¼ mile without stopping.

Sha Ren is able to assist her new owner including wearing a pack while they are out in the community. She has become adept at staying away from doors and other people’s feet without pulling the owner while all the time maintaining a heel. Sha Ren is task-oriented and excels at companionship and loyalty to her human owner.


Sha-Ren, master of ‘return and paws.’



Governor Sarah Palin speaks with members of Sgt. Ondell’s family at the formal transfer event of the first service dog trained by inmates at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center.

Wyatt became the department’s first inmate-trained service dog. Wyatt, a 90-pound yellow lab mix was trained at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center for 17 months and was presented to his new owner, a wounded soldier, in March of 2009. Although he was a large dog, he displayed a calm personality, intelligence and a keen ability to learn new tasks.

Wyatt got along well with other dogs and displayed no aggression towards cats. He loved to play ball and chase, and while he could get overly enthusiastic when player he could calm down when told to “knock it off” or “leave it.”

Wyatt was trained in all areas of basic obedience such as ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ ‘stay,’ ‘come,’ ‘leave it,’ ‘heel,’ ‘let’s go’, and ‘swing and come around.’ Wyatt could retrieve items that were pointed at. He learned certain items by name such as: ‘remote,’ ‘keys’ and ‘leash.’ If he didn’t know know the name of the item, he can be taught by repeating the name of the item and pointing.

Wyatt learned to turn the light on in a room by flipping the light switch with his nose. The command used is “light on”. Wyatt also learned the phrase “light off” and performed the function well. Wyatt learned to heel when being walked by an individual who is in a wheelchair or using a walker for assistance.


Wyatt is presented to his new owner in March of 2009