Why Dog The Bounty Hunter Was Never The Same After Prison

Those who had tuned in into reality TV in the noughties doubtlessly found themselves face-to-screen with the U.S.' most massively-mulleted, canine-themed bounty hunter: Dog, aka Duane Chapman. From 2002 to 2012, Dog dogged bounties across eight seasons of his original show, the self-titled "Dog the Bounty Hunter," before appearing in two spin-off shows, which he also produced. According to Dog, he caught over 10,000 fugitives — that's more than one per day over 27 years. He also said God made him famous. 

Dog takes his relationship with the Almighty pretty seriously, and started doing so after serving an 18-month stint at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas in 1976. According to the New York Post, it all began when Dog and three buddies busted into a house in Pampa, Texas looking for pot, and one of his friends wound up shooting and killing the person inside, Jerry Oliver. The Kansas City Star, however, says that Dog was convicted of first-degree murder, i.e., the premeditated kind. Elsewhere, The Guardian says that Dog was sitting in a car outside while the killing went down inside, and despite a Pampa police officer saying he played a "minor" role, he got convicted.

No matter what happened, Dog's time in the doghouse left a permanent mark on him. On "The Prodigal Stories Podcast" he said of prison, "I realized right then that, at the end of this rainbow of crime and all that is not a bucket of gold, it's a cell." That's when he rethought his life and turned to bounty hunting.

Dog did time in the 70s

Duane Chapman was born in Denver in 1953. At 13 years old he dropped out of school and joined a biker gang. TV Insider identifies the gang as the "Devil's Disciples" and says that by 15 years old Dog had run away from home. His father — whom he later learned wasn't his biological father — was a welder whom Dog says physically abused him to the point where he couldn't shower at school because of bruises. In other words, Dog wasn't exactly set up for success. In a 2020 interview with The New York Times, he said he was convicted of robbery 18 times. And at 23 years old he received his five year sentence for first-degree murder, for which he served 18 months.

While we don't know precisely how Dog fared behind bars, or what he experienced, his time spent in Texas State Penitentiary was apparently enough to knock some sense into him. Speaking of his crime to the Guardian in 2012, he said, "I should not have been there, that's that," which sounds like he came to terms with his actions. His former wife Beth Chapman, though, said, "It's just incredible that something that he did 33 years ago is just haunting him. ... No matter how many good things we do." Those "good things" include Dog's charitable ventures, bounty hunting, and his adoption of Christianity — all stemming from his time in prison.

He found faith in prison

According to Dog, he had a lot of Christian influences in his early life that wound up coming to the forefront later on. In a 2022 interview with CBN, he said his great-great-grandmother was a "pastor," and his mom carried on the tradition. "All day long, her whole life, all she did was pray for us," he said. According to the bounty hunter, he was forced into a Christian role and made to go to church as a kid, "or [my mom] took the keys away from my motorcycle." Dog says that he didn't take any of it seriously, thinking that, "He's [God] not going to care really what I do as long as I say the blessing and keep God kind of first."

While Dog's time in prison didn't change him overnight, he told CBN that he "started acting nice." "I started thinking," he continued, 'What would Jesus do right now?' ... I started pretending to be good and, all the sudden, I started being good." When he captured some of his bounties, he would tell them, "Listen, man, I've been there, done that ... we need supernatural help."

Nowadays, Dog acts as a kind of traveling preacher, even to hardened criminals like those of Western Missouri Correctional Center, as we can see on YouTube. "I'm not a preacher, I have a message. ... The last thing Christ did was to take a criminal, a convict, to heaven," he said of his work. "So, I'm following in Christ's footsteps."