About the Pen
Pals Program

Jonathon Cox revitalized the Pen Pals program in Holdenville, Oklahoma from Buckaroos 360 Dog Care by teaming up with inmates at the Allen Gamble Correctional Center, a medium-security men’s facility in Holdenville with a capacity of 1723 inmates.

 To become part of the team, the inmates dedicated nine weeks of their time to train and help the dogs to meet their ideal families. During this period, they shared their lives with 10 shelter dogs and a trainer. The inmates were responsible for house and obedience training and correcting any negative behavior the dogs exhibited like barking or house soiling. 

They worked in shifts, taking care of the training, and socializing the animals. This effort wasn’t just about dogs; it was about building a connection for the inmates with the outside world. At the end of the program all dogs who successfully completed the training were certified with the “Canine Good Citizen” (CGC) certification from the American Kennel Club and were up for adoption. The inmates were also given the opportunity to introduce these specially-trained shelter dogs to their new families.

Overview of the Prison Dog Program at Holdenville, Oklahoma

1. Training Program Structure

The prison dog program at Holdenville is a transformative training initiative, where dogs and inmates get a second chance for redemption and self-discovery.

The core philosophy of the program revolves around developing trust. So, before diving into commands and tricks, the dogs and their handlers first build a foundation for mutual trust. 

The dogs become more than just trainees; they become the inmates’ roommates sharing their days and nights with two inmates who work together to care for and train them. 

The training starts with basic commands and tricks and then moves on to obedience and house training. As the dogs become proficient in these essential skills, the men earn the privilege of introducing a bit of fun into the curriculum. It’s not just about rules; it’s about creating a positive and enjoyable learning experience for both dogs and the inmates.

2. Curriculum for Shelter Dogs at Holdenville

Once the dogs settle in, the training starts by learning the basics – fundamental commands that form the building blocks of good dog behavior. From sitting patiently to mastering leash walking, crate training, and essential house manners, each lesson is a step towards a well-behaved and happy pup. 

Throughout this curriculum, positive reinforcement takes center stage. Dogs are motivated and rewarded using a variety of incentives, including delicious treats, engaging toys, heartfelt praise, and access to enjoyable activities. This approach not only accelerates the learning process but also creates a positive and uplifting atmosphere for both dogs and their handlers. All treats are supplied by Buckaroos 360 Dog Care for the prison dog program at Holdenville, Oklahoma.

3. Role and Involvement of the Inmates

Grooming and Kenneling- Inmates are responsible for grooming kenneling and accompanying the dogs, ensuring they feel safe and comfortable in their environment.

Empathy Improvement- Inmates’ interaction with dogs increases their empathy, and belongingness to humans thus simplifying the training process for both the dogs and the inmates.

Training- Inmates take on the responsibility of teaching these dogs essential commands such as sit, down, wait, stay, come, leash walking, crate training, housetraining, and good manners. 

Connecting with Adopters- The inmates are responsible for connecting these well-trained companions to their new families.

4. The facility at Allen Gamble Correctional Center

Dog Runs- The heart of the facility boasts 10 spacious dog runs, providing both indoor and outdoor spaces to accommodate up to 20 dogs. This environment allows the dogs to engage in essential exercises, play, and socialization, promoting their overall well-being.

Classroom Oasis- A dedicated 625-square-foot classroom serves as the hub for knowledge and skill development. Equipped with media capabilities, this versatile space serves as the backdrop for dog training lessons and extends beyond to cover crucial aspects such as reading instruction, recovery programs, GED preparation, and vocational license training.

Grooming Room- Complementing the prison dog program at Holdenville, a specialized grooming room offers participants the opportunity to hone their skills as dog groomers. This vocational training opens avenues for potential employment upon their release.

Educational Library- A well-stocked library, featuring books on dog care, training, and various educational materials, creates an enriching learning environment. This resource center extends beyond the canine curriculum, supporting inmates’ academic pursuits and personal development.

Exterior Training Yard and Obstacle Course- The exterior training yard, complete with an obstacle course, provides an open and dynamic space for hands-on training sessions with the dogs. This purpose-built area allows for diverse training scenarios. 

How Do Inmates Benefit From the Prison Dog Training Program at Holdenville, Oklahoma

1. Healing Power of Paws

Dogs are like magical therapists with fur! They have this fantastic ability to make people feel better. During the prison dog training program, those inmates who were accompanied by a dog were found to have reduced stress, and anxiety at the end of the program. 

2. Reduce Recidivism

In the prison system at Holdenville, Oklahoma, a fantastic thing happens when people work with dogs. One of the coolest benefits is that it helps them not go back to doing bad things after they leave prison, also known as recidivism. 

3. Effective Rehabilitation

The dog training programs in prison make the people inside feel better about themselves, give them a sense of purpose, and help them believe in having a better life. Take the example of Jake, who trained Bella. After the training is completed Jake believes he’s a completely new person and wishes to be out of jail for a good reason. 

4. Skills Acquired

Working with dogs isn’t just about pats and play; it’s a crash course in responsibility, patience, and empathy. Inmates become skilled dog trainers, learning how to understand and communicate with the dogs. Working in shifts teaches them the value of consistency, teamwork, and the rewards of hard work. As the inmates gain these skills, they aren’t just preparing dogs for a new life; they’re also building a foundation for their own brighter future.

5. Statistical Proof

A recent research by Melissa Beseres aligns with Sable’s scientific data, affirming the positive impact of the Pen Pals program on inmates’ psychological well-being. The study introduced the concept of unintended rehabilitation, putting forth the psychological improvements that inmates get from the program beyond their primary goals, thus contributing to their overall well-being.

How Do Shelter Dogs Benefit From the Prison Dog Training Program at Holdenville

1. Home Away from Home

Most dogs in the prison dog program at Holdenville are abandoned dogs rescued from high-kill shelters. Due to the program, they get a chance to experience a loving environment within the prison walls amongst people who fill them with love and attention. 

2. Training for a Better Tomorrow

In the prison dog training program at Holdenville, Oklahoma, dogs don’t just laze around; they get a crash course in being the best dogs ever! Inmates work with them, teaching good manners and commands. After completion, all dogs are rewarded with a certificate and sent out for adoption. 

3. Finding Forever Families

From being abandoned on the streets to meeting their forever homes, the Oklahoma dog training program helps them to become the best version of themselves so they get adopted easily. Some dogs even go on to become service dogs, or therapy dogs for people in need. So this program benefits both the inmates and the dogs to live their best lives. 

4. Increased Adoption Chances Better Tomorrow

The prison dog training program at Holdenville, Oklahoma, enhances the overall adoptability of shelter dogs. Potential adopters are more likely to be attracted to dogs with basic obedience skills and good manners, increasing the likelihood of successful adoptions and long-lasting homes.

5. Positive Representation of Shelter Dogs

The prison dog training program turns shelter dogs into ambassadors, challenging stereotypes and showcasing their potential for love, companionship, and good behavior. This positive representation contributes to changing public perceptions about shelter animals.

Pen Pal Oklahoma

How are Dogs Selected
at the Holdenville
Dog Training Program?

The Holdenville, Oklahoma prison dog training program exclusively selects shelter dogs, highlighting their commitment to providing a second chance for these deserving animals. This choice aligns with the program’s mission to ensure that every dog, regardless of their background, finds a forever home. 

A key criterion for selection is the dog’s drive, be it for food or toys. This drive serves as a motivational factor during training sessions, making the learning process enjoyable and rewarding for both the dogs and the inmates. 

Other things taken into consideration include the dog’s temperament level, medical examination, and diversity in breeds. Diversity ensures that the program serves a wide range of adopters looking for their ideal canine companion. Aggressive dogs do not pass the criteria and are excluded from the prison dog program at Holdenville, Oklahoma.

How are Inmates Selected for the Holdenville Prison Dog Training Program?

Inmates for the prison dog program at Holdenville, Oklahoma are chosen by prison authorities who carefully evaluate candidates based on various factors, including behavioral history, past charges, and a willingness to participate in the program.

Trust in the inmates is established through a system of rigorous oversight. Trainers maintain close contact with the selected inmates, fostering communication channels and building a foundation of accountability. Inmates log daily notes about the dogs’ progress and behaviors. These notes serve as a detailed record of the interaction, allowing trainers to closely monitor the progress of the training.

Beyond the trainers, prison officials also actively oversee the inmate’s activities. 

Transformative Journey after the
Holdenville Prison Dog Training Program

The program benefits shelter dogs in various ways helping them become an important part of the families they get adopted into. After training the dogs go on to become either of the following

1. Family Dogs

The training focuses on essential commands, good manners, and positive behaviors that seamlessly integrate shelter dogs into family life. These dogs learn to thrive in various domestic situations, making them well-suited for adoption into loving homes. From understanding basic obedience to displaying affectionate and gentle behavior, the prison dog program at Holdenville instills the qualities that families seek in a furry member. 

2. Service Dogs

For some dogs, the Pen Pals program at Holdenville, Oklahoma helps them serve as service dogs. Training is tailored to equip these dogs with skills essential for assisting individuals with disabilities. From guiding the visually impaired to providing mobility support, service dogs undergo specialized training that enhances their adaptability and responsiveness. 

The program’s emphasis on obedience and positive behavior ensures that service dogs are not only highly trained but also well-behaved in both public and private settings. 

3. Therapy Dogs

Another avenue the prison dog program at Holdenville explores is training shelter dogs to become therapy dogs. These dogs undergo specialized training to offer emotional support and companionship in various therapeutic settings. The emphasis is on developing calm and gentle demeanors, as therapy dogs often work with mental health patients suffering from depression, Alzheimer’s, and much more. By becoming therapy dogs, shelter dogs not only find purpose but also bring moments of joy to individuals facing challenging circumstances.

Jonathan Cox
Jonathan Cox

Why Did Jonathon Cox Relaunch
The Prison Dog Program at Holdenville, Oklahoma?

Jonathan Cox had a deep passion for the well-being and rehabilitation of shelter dogs. By relaunching it, he expressed a deep commitment to providing inmates with a second chance for personal growth, skill development, and improved well-being. After the program’s previous successes, Cox relaunched the dog training program to build upon those positive outcomes. He also views this as his opportunity to fulfill a sense of social responsibility. 

How is the Prison Dog Program at Holdenville, Oklahoma Funded?

The prison dog program at Holdenville, Oklahoma, relies solely on the support of donors and volunteers to sustain its operations. We accept all forms of donations through our website. Additionally, we are open to volunteers who are eager to participate in our adoption events, distribute event posters, and share on social media about the training program and adoption drives. 

To learn more about the dogs currently in training or available for adoption, you can visit this link. To support the prison dog program at Holdenville, Oklahoma you can donate here.


Let’s make a difference, one paw at a time. Adopt, donate, volunteer – be a part of the solution!