What is Pawsitive Change?

Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change Prison Program is an innovative and progressive program that pairs incarcerated men with rescued dogs for mutual rehabilitation.

How It Works:

Marley’s Mutts partners with California state prisons, to select 24-30 inmates and 8-10 at-risk shelter dogs for each prison program cycle. Over the course of 14 weeks, the inmates complete very challenging blocks of course work which involve weekly homework assignments and personal goals.

Program Goals:

The goal of the Pawsitive Change Program is to aid in the rehabilitation of both man and canine. We measure success by the following metrics:

Inmate metrics:

  • Increased willingness and ability to cooperate and engage positively in team-settings
  • Increased ability to tolerate and experience and express emotional discomfort in a constructive manner
  • Increased awareness of the needs and emotional states of self and others, and appropriate behavioral responses
  • Increased reported sense of camaraderie among inmates
  • Increased reported sense of self-esteem and social value
  • Increased willingness and ability to engage in honest self-reflection
  • Increased understanding of canine behavior and how canine-handling principles can be applied to interpersonal relationships in and out of incarceration
  • Procurement of canine-handling skills for professional application after incarceration

Canine Metrics:

  • Completion of Canine Good Citizen Certification
  • Increased signs of trust and respect with handlers and other humans
  • Decreased symptoms of nervousness, insecurity, and fear
  • Decreased tendencies toward possessiveness and territoriality 
  • Increased balanced social behavior toward other dogs
  • Increased obedience to handlers

The Curriculum:

Program curriculum is designed to ready the men and dogs for the Canine Good Citizen Certification, a test which is by no means easy and which 99% of the world’s dogs could not complete without rigorous and consistent training.

The curriculum is a phenomenal guide to understanding energy and emotion—both human and canine–as well as how to process that energy and those emotions. The curriculum provides valuable vocational training but also allows and promotes spiritual betterment.

Inmate Selection:

Inmate selection is based on conduct while incarcerated and demonstrated interest in the program. Inmates must have zero, or very few points accrued, and are required to fill out a survey and write an essay outlining why they want to participate in the program. We do not discriminate against violent offenders but do exclude sex offenders and any with a history of animal abuse. Most of these men have been in prison for a long time, but ALL of them will get out, and some of them soon. This program is set up to establish compassion, develop skills, combat recidivism, and prepare the inmates for healthy and productive lives after incarceration.

View from the Inside

Zach Skow, Founder/PR Director of Marley’s Mutts writes: “Let’s rescue 10 at-risk dogs from high-kill shelters, then turn right around and send them inside a penitentiary for 14 weeks to live with 30 inmates—what could go wrong? How about what could go right?” The answer will amaze you.

I first learned about inmate programs when my sponsor shared about conducting NA/AA meetings inside. Since then, I have been determined to establish an effective program by which inmates learn real-life skills in the field of pet care and welfare, which can help them achieve employment upon release and reduce recidivism, or reoffending.

"We live inside a place where we can't show our emotion--it's considered a weakness. But with this program, we can feel--give and received affection. We become cold in here, much more cold then when we entered. But these dogs give us a chance to be human."
- Inmate Participant, Cycle II


When the Supervisory staff at CDCR California City came calling in 2016, we were ready. Lisa Porter, our Lead Trainer and energy specialist, took the point position and worked tirelessly on assembling a team and the necessary components for a successful program. With Lisa at the helm, we set out to build a training team, create a curriculum, a list of essential supplies, requirements for entry into the program and a timeline for the #PawsitiveChangeProgram.

The supplies were bought, and the timeline set at 14 weeks—2 using demo dogs and 12 with the dogs living inside. After 12 weeks living side-by-side, within penitentiary walls, the dogs and their men are given a challenging test involving many points of demonstration. This tests the men, just as much, if not more than the dogs. Racially interwoven trainer groups are tested together, each man being responsible for 5 of the testing points. If proficiency is demonstrated, the men and dogs are certified and graduate together! 

Since our start in 2016 at California City, our program has grown to include Corcoran State Prison, Wasco State Prison, North Kern State Prison and Tehachapi, allowing us to train over 400 inmates, and save almost 150 dogs a year!

"I have laughed more in the last three months then I have in the last 13 years I've been incarcerated."
-Inmate Graduate, Cycle I

Pawsitive Change is affecting positive change, there is no doubt. These men and these dogs are being rehabilitated. They are learning a skill, learning about themselves and learning to hope for a better life when they get out.

"Rehabilitation, hope, consciousness and positively is born from this program and all whom have been a part of it have reaped the benefits." -Zach Skow, Founder/PR Director

If you like what you see, what you read and what we are accomplishing with these men and dogs, please donate. We are struggling to keep this program funded and need your help. The only revenue we generate to cover these programs are from public donation. Please donate and be a part of something special. 



Former Inmate From San Fernando Valley Shares How Dog Rehabilitation Program Turned His Life Around Post-Incarceration

POSTED 12:03 AM, NOVEMBER 19, 2019, BY 

A former inmate who had initially faced four life sentences in prison is now the owner of a successful dog training business after being inspired by Marleys Mutts, an organization the San Fernando Valley native participated in behind bars that matches inmates and shelter dogs with behavior problems for mutual rehabilitation. Kacey Montoya reports for the KTLA 5 News at 10 on Nov. 18, 2019.

For more information about Daniel Robinson’s dog training, visit his website.


Program Pairing California Convicts With Shelter Dogs Gives Former Inmates a Path, Purpose on the Outside

POSTED 11:19 PM, NOVEMBER 19, 2019, BY 

A nonprofit working in California prisons to pair unadoptable dogs with incarcerated trainers helps give convicts a path and purpose after their release.

Jason Mori — once featured on America’s Most Wanted — now runs K9BreakThru, an Orange County-based dog behavior rehabilitation and training company.

And after serving seven years, Troy McDaniel of Oakland learned from famed “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan before founding his own business, Packrunner.

The Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change Prison Program is currently operating in four California correctional facilities but hopes to expand.


Lieutenant’s Testimony

Inmate’s Testimony

Media Story