The Application and Effects of Service Dog Training by Inmates to Self-Perception and Self-Other Overlap as a Rehabilitative Approach to Incarceration
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Prison Animal Programs that bring inmates and dogs together consistently report improvements to inmates’ self-esteem, ability to empathize, and helping behaviors with no understanding of why these improvements occur. With similar improvement documented in relationship closeness literature, this research examines the felt inmate dog connection and self-reported closeness as a possible explanation for the three reported benefits. Introducing relationship closeness scales that substitute a dog for another person, 37 inmate handlers at three correctional facilities completed survey and interview questions measuring self-esteem, self-expansion, and self-other (dog) overlap.Research findings strongly support that inmate-dog connectivity is consistent with documented dyadic human connectivity to close family and friends. The self-reported connectivity between handler and dog is furthermore suggested to strongly influence the three areas of improvement with additional research recommended. Findings also suggest that working with dogs in prison initiates a healing or restorative process for both inmate handlers and the outside community.