Youthful offenders learn to train dogs - and themselves

n Looking for love in all the right places

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Four Lab-Rottweiler pups trained in obedience by residents of Johnson Youth Center, the Juneau correctional facility for juveniles, will be available for adoption in four weeks at the Gastineau Humane Society.

The new program is the idea of professional dog trainer Gail Haynes, and it's having noticeable results in the youths as well as the puppies.

"The animals are kind of hyper, and seeing the kids discipline them and seeing them care for something else except themselves is great," said JYC youth counselor Vince Yadao.

Dogs trained a month earlier by the residents already have been adopted, Yadao said, "and the kids get a little down about that. But when they get a new dog, they get right back in it again."

For nearly 15 years, Haynes, 72, has volunteered to hold monthly church services at Johnson Youth Center. But it wasn't until two months ago that it occurred to her that she could use her 50 years of experience as a professional dog trainer.

"Sometimes I would bring my dogs (three toy Italian greyhounds) along on Sunday because the kids need something furry to cuddle," Haynes said. "In September I happened to show them something I was working on in Romeo's agility training, and trouble I was having with a particular exercise. All of a sudden it went click: Kids, dogs, training!"

It took about a month to piece together a coterie of aides, permissions from the humane society and 4-H. "Everyone was saying, 'Yes, we want it,' and it was just a matter of working out details," Haynes said.

Haynes' program takes place in the fenced yard on good days, or in the gym during foul weather.

"Listen up!" Haynes said Wednesday as socializing for the 7 1/2-week-old pups began. "How is the behavior of these puppies different from older behavior? Are they showing any sign of stress?"

"Yes, because they don't know what's going on," a resident called out from the tumult of greyhounds, older dogs (who are modeling behavior) and squirming pups and kids. Youths could not be named for this article.

"Good answer," Haynes said. "They are still in the 'everything is safe' stage; 'this is a good world.' "

Haynes explained that dogs enter a fear period by eight to 10 weeks. They begin backing off from men with beards, wire spools - anything they haven't encountered before. So pups need socializing to a variety of different breeds, strange sights and various activities before they turn shy.

The teen-ager who named Keasha is letting her nip her fingertips. Training dogs "really brings out your true self," she said. "It brightens your day; it helps a lot."

The boy who named D'Loc said training dogs is "cool." The name D'Loc comes from a film, "The Wash," starring hip-hop star Snoop Dog.

"Today I am just going to get to know my dog and get it used to my smell and the taste of my hands," he said, coaxing her onto his chest.

Haynes' aides include Mo Marshall, Lynne Parker and Beth Kerttula, Juneau's member of the state House of Representatives.

"It's wonderful to see the kids play," Marshall said, observing kids and dogs rolling joyfully on the gym floor. "They don't want to look daft - but they don't care now."

Haynes demands more than rough-housing. Dogs learn to sit, stay down, walk on leash, come and not bite. Earning academic credit, the junior trainers write an evaluation of their dog after each session and, at the end, recommendations for future owners.

"It teaches them to observe and what to observe," Haynes said. "One of the boys was training an 8-month-old that must have been husky crossed with giraffe. He wrote that future owners should be aware that the dog has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder."

Greg Roth, superintendent of the youth center, said the program is admirably suited to the 20 teens who live in the long-term treatment unit for an average of 12 to 14 months.

"Because of Gail's connection with the humane society, she was able to move the bureaucracy so she could bring the dogs here, and we don't have to worry about transporting kids or have to decide which of them is having a tough day and should stay home," Roth said. "It's a great idea."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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