When Wiremu first started training his dog Muzza his hands blistered and bled from the dog's wild behaviour and constant straining on the lead.
The young prison inmate has been training the ex-pound pup as part of a unique programme at Northland Region Corrections Facility, where man and dog learn valuable skills from each other behind bars.
Earlier this month, having done his time, Wiremu proudly walked through the prison gates and tasted freedom for the first time in two years.
And after a few days getting settled and back on his feet, his new best mate Muzza - who is now well behaved - joined him.
Wiremu spoke to the Northern Advocate during a visit to the prison to highlight the benefits of the Dog Fostering and Training Programme.
"I'm stoked he's coming home with me," Wiremu said.
"He was really wild when he came here, the skin on my hands ripped off [from the lead]. Now look at him, he's doing so well. I just love him."
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It's not only the dogs who are being positively transformed due to the new partnership between Bay of Islands Animal Rescue and the prison.
Inmates going through the programme using dogs from the rescue charity are also benefiting from having man's best friend close by.
Wiremu, 27, taught the unruly male bearded collie basic commands like "sit" and "stay" and how to walk quietly on a lead.
Along the way, taking care of Muzza helped him too, and made him feel more human.
"It's something to make you feel not so bad about being in jail," Wiremu said.
"It's makes you feel like being a person instead of a prisoner. This is a really big positive in a negative place."
Two inmates from the prison's Kea youth unit are delegated as handlers to two dogs throughout each five-week training programme. The first scheme started in early November.
The dogs live in kennels on site, and the young men learn how to look after them, which includes their feeding, exercise, grooming and cleaning their kennels.
Twice a week they are visited by animal rescue volunteer and expert dog trainer Jo Tucker who teaches the men basic training skills which they practice with the dogs.
Tucker, a former chief instructor at All Breeds Club in Sydney and welfare officer for the German Shepherd Dog League NSW, said the lads also learn responsibility and patience.
Though the other 25 inmates in the unit get to socialise and play with the dogs, only the dedicated handlers get to train them.
Nikau has relished his time with Mia, a staffordshire cross who's also a former council pound pooch.
Though the 25-year-old has owned pig and farm dogs all his life while growing up in Kaitaia, he has learned "heaps" of new skills during the programme.
He is even considering dog training as a career when he is released in two months following his year-long stint in prison.
"It's rewarding," he said.
"She [Mia] went from zero skills to now being capable of following commands.
"It's given me more responsibility, like how to look after something that needs your help and training it for the family that gets her next. This is awesome, it's a nice privilege to have."
NRCF volunteer co-ordinator Porsha Anderson said the change in the men going through the progamme has been "quite drastic".
"They weren't showing their caring side before, but with these dogs, now you can see that coming through.
"The dogs have gone through a massive change, they had come straight from the pound and were quite apprehensive. They're quite at home now they've been here a few weeks, they love the interaction.
"It's a win-win for everyone; the animal rescue were desperate for foster families, and it's a win for us because it's therapeutic for the guys."
The programme follows on from a similar scheme led by the local SPCA.
A prison spokesperson said the SPCA programme ran for a number of years in the Kea unit and ended in 2016 due to an operational change.
The prison then approached Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, who were delighted.
Spokeswoman Summer Johnson said it's a "fantastic opportunity for both the dogs and the handlers".
"I'm ecstatic, I'm so proud of the opportunity for the dogs and for the boys," Johnson said.
"The dogs get constant companionship and training which sets them up for the best opportunity for the next step – rehoming them to loving homes."
Of the 590 prisoners currently at Ngāwhā about 15 per cent are aged 18-25.
The Kea youth unit provides an age-appropriate environment for young prisoners who can be more vulnerable due to their age.
The units allow Corrections to provide education and programmes that are specifically developed for young people.
Anderson said the men must meet certain criteria to become dedicated dog handlers.
They must have been through an "offender treatment programme" which addresses their specific offending, and have good file notes and behaviour.
They must also have a genuine interest in dogs. Those with any history of animal cruelty are not allowed to participate, she said.
Over the years there have been numerous studies published proving the positive effects animals have on humans.
Having companion animals around reduces blood pressure and anxiety, encourages social interaction and enhances emotional wellbeing.
Principal Corrections officer Neil, who did not want his surname published, said he has also noticed positive changes in the men.
"The unit is a lot calmer with the dogs," he said.
"There's a bit more compassion from the handlers and from the other guys as they all get to interact with the dogs."
Wiremu officially adopted Muzza on December 7.
After he was released, another inmate was looking forward to stepping up and taking on another dog for training.
Anderson said the programme has been a big success so far - and it looks set to stay.
"You can see how the dogs look at the guys - they just love them," she said.
"And the handlers themselves, you can see they love the dogs as well. Even when they're not training them they're sitting with them.
"This was a bit of a pilot programme but we'll definitely be going forward with it, I have no doubts about that."
*The inmates' names have been changed to protect their privacy.