NICST has entered into an innovative partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to train service dogs inside Solano State Prison in Vacaville, Ca.  This partnership not only helps NICST train more service dogs and expand our mission, but it also creates a unique path for inmate rehabilitation.

Our Paws On A Mission program teaches our volunteer inmate trainers to train rescue dogs and puppies to become service dogs. This program creates a training environment in which the inmate trainers dedicate significant time toward training of our dogs and puppies, ensuring the best possible outcomes. This special partnership  is transformative for both humans and canines.  

Using a principle-based approach to training with both the inmates and the dogs, the goals of this new partnership are to:

  1. Provide a pathway to expand our ability to train more dogs for placement in one of our programs: Dogs4Diabetics, First Response K-9’s and Scent Detection Dogs.
  2. Improve inmate behavior and respect through positive reinforcement provided by creating relationships and building trust with dogs and people.
  3. Provide a source of rehabilitation and well-being to reduce recidivism
  4. Provide vocational skills to inmates.

Combining highly effective dog-training methods with proven rehabilitative models, our dogs are truly saving lives on a new level.  


Paws On A Mission Program Staff screen applicants and reviews institution adjustment which includes a review of offense history, disciplinary records, and work history.

In order to be selected as dog trainers, inmates are required to have these minimum qualifications:

  • Submit a Paws On A Mission Application and an write an essay stating why they want to be in the program and what they hope to gain from participating in it.
  • Pass an oral interview with the Program Director, Correctional Counselor and Correctional Captain.
  • Must be 100% drug free
  • Must have a minimum of 24 months remaining at Solano.
  • Must not have any history of violence towards animals or children.
  • Must not have any history of sex offenses, “R” suffix etc.
  • Must be disciplinary free for a minimum of 12 months.
  • Must be able to work cooperatively outside their race.
  • Must be able to have a basic ability to read and write.
  • Must physically be able to handle and manage a dog.
  • Must have the ability to lift a minimum of 50 pounds. Inmates not meeting this criteria may be eligible for a dog sitter position.
  • Must maintain positive conduct while in the program.
  • Must sign the POM Agreement/Contract upon selection for the Program.
  • Must sign a Participation Consent and Waiver of Responsibility Form.
  • Must be able to work well as part of a training team and follow instruction from the Inmate Leaders.
  • Must treat others with respect.
  • Must possess good communication skills.
  • Must be able to take direction and follow through with assigned tasks.
  • Must make participating in the Dog Training Program a priority. Dogs come FIRST.
  • Must agree to be housed on the Program Unit (18) while in the program.
  • Must maintain good personal hygiene and the dog’s hygiene.
  • Must maintain a clean and sanitary bunk area.
  • Must agree to clean up after the dog in all areas of the institution.


Prior to handlers being assigned a dog for training, they must complete a 90 day service dog training curriculum and must past both a hands on and written test to become a Paws On A Mission Trainer. New trainers are paired up with experienced ones to help facilitate daily mentorship. Dogs can enter our program for a few months to train a specialized skill, or they can enter as puppies and be raised in our program for approximately one year.  Many of our dogs get their advanced skill training in our program and can be issued to a client after our training staff does a final skills evaluation.

When a dog enters Paws On A Mission, they are assigned a training team of two handers. The dogs do not live in cells. All Paws On A Mission dogs live in a dorm-style housing unit that most resembles a home environment with large outdoor grassy areas. The vast majority of each dog’s day is spent outside the housing unit, attending classes, programs, church, appointments, observing recreational activities, as well as going to work with their handlers. These daily opportunities provide varied socialization experiences for our dogs.   Paws On A Mission instructors travel to the prison facility twice a week to provide instruction on how to train the dogs,  conduct evaluations and create training plans for the dogs.

Handlers not only teach basic obedience but service dog tasks as well, such as retrieving dropped items, deep pressure therapy, getting help, episode interruption, social barriers, and alerting.


The Paws On A Mission program benefits everyone involved in the program: inmates, correctional facility staff, weekend socializers and of course, their new handler and partner.  We are thankful that many of our Weekend Socializers are supportive staff at Solano State Prison.  However, we are still in need of more Weekend Socializers!

When puppies are about 4 months old, they go to live with specially chosen inmates at Solano State Prison.  For the next year, under the direction of a Paws On A Mission instructors, the program pups will follow a service dog curriculum, which means inmates will teach them not only basic obedience, they will also teach them how to do specific tasks.

On weekends, the pups live with weekend socializers to gain the socialization experiences not found within a prison environment.  Weekend socializers are responsible to provide age-appropriate socialization. When the pup is ready, they bring it to restaurants, libraries, the mall and as many different environments as possible.  They also expose the pup to as many different situations including schools, busy pedestrian areas, traffic, other animals, and interaction with children.

How do I become a weekend socializer?

Prospective weekend socializers are interviewed by the Paws On A Mission training staff. After the interview, one of our Paws On A Mission trainers will do a home visit to make sure the environment is safe for a puppy and to evaluate any other animals in the home. Once accepted, the Paws On A Mission instructor’s provide an orientation, training manuals, videos, classes, and one on one assistance as needed.

Click the button below to fill out our short application to begin the process of becoming a Weekend Socializer.

Still have questions about Paws On A Mission? Please email our Program Director –