Paws for Progress is a dog training course which operates at HM YOI Polmont, Scotland. It is the first prison based dog training rehabiliation programme in the UK. Our key aims for the young men taking part are to improve behaviour and employability skills, and enhance educational engagement. We also hope to assist in their personal development, thereby having a positive impact on their overall progress. Similarly, our aims for the dogs we work with are to improve their behaviour and wellbeing, and increase their chances of being successfully rehomed. You can find out more about how we operate by clicking on the ‘About’ link above.
We are pleased to announce that the course continues to operate successfully; we are now nearing the end of the third cycle of the course. Paws for Progress is under continuous comprehensive evaluation, and is the subject of a PhD research project at the University of Stirling. Whilst it is obviously too soon to report in any detail on the research, we are pleased to say that the early indications are overwhelmingly positive. And we thought you might like to gain an insight into the views of our participants so far….
What do our students think about their experiences in Paws for Progress?
Following the completion of the first two cycles of Paws for Progress, we reviewed the interviews, which were conducted pre and post participation in the course. A number of key themes emerged, and I have included an outline of these themes, with a couple of interview extracts to illustrate each one, so that you can hear our students views about taking part. This is not intended to be a full report on the research, as we are still in the early stages of the evaluation, but I hope you enjoy having a glimpse into the students’ experiences so far.
“See when I first started it, I was like, this is gonna be pure hard because I never had any patience at all, you know, I’m bad for patience. But now I’m alright with it man, because you’ve GOT to have patience to work with dogs, definitely. See if I had to wait for something, I’d hate it – I’d just walk out. But now, for me, it’s well better.’
“My patience. I’m a lot calmer, lot more patient because you need to be patient. You can’t just snap. So it’s definitely helping me with that side of things.”
“It’s revealed how much patience I can have – for myself, for animals and for other people too”.
“I noticed I gained a lot more patience and I wasn’t as quick and easy to judge others, you try to see their best instead. And I gained a lot more confidence in myself.”
Rewarding / Sense of accomplishment
“If you ask them to do it and they do it for you, it’s like, YOU taught the dog to do that. It’s rewarding, definitely.”
“It’s rewarding, working with the dogs, seeing the progress she’s made now to when she first came in. It’s been really good to watch her go from stage to stage. And seeing how close she is to me now, how much trust she’s gained with us. So that, that is the rewarding side of working with them, definitely.”
“I enjoyed training them the most. Being able to say, I taught this dog to sit, that was me that done that. That was what I liked best.”
“Seeing the difference in the dog, from the start and then later on, it’s good, it’s a good feeling. Knowing you taught them, you did that. It’s brilliant, to get that sense of accomplishment, it’s really good.”
“I’m a lot more confident in myself. I’ve seen myself change working down with the dogs. See when I first came, I felt all nervous, I was worried about what people would think about me, what people say about me. But now, I can’t stop telling people about it, about how much I enjoy it. I’ve got a lot more confidence in myself, to be who I actually am, I got more confident from working with the dogs.”
“I’ve got a lot more confidence in myself. I didn’t think it would be like that, didn’t think it could change me so much. But it’s good.”
Motivation / Aspirations
“It’s been brilliant, it’s been really, really good. It’s not something you’d expect to get in a jail. So it was a golden opportunity to be taken and I’m really glad I got picked. I was really lucky to get picked. And it’s been really good as well because of how well I’ve done, how much talent I’ve brought out about myself, so it’s given me a bit more confidence about myself for the future as well. I’ve fair enjoyed it.”
“It challenges you, it challenges you in a lot of different ways. But I’ve enjoyed the challenges.”
“A lot of folk in here, it’s like they’re noticing they’ve got wee hidden talents, like XYZ (another student) – they’re finding a lot of things they’ll be able to use outside. It improves your chance of employment.”
‘I’ll use this, definitely. It’s an area of work I’m determined to get into when I get out. I’ll make the most of the opportunities you’ve made available through the course. I know what it feels like now to have a job you look forward to going to in the morning – it’s a very different feeling.”
Working with others
“At the start I was a bit… just… you know, working with folk and that? But then you get used to working with folk in this kind of thing and working with the extra folk it is actually better, ‘cause it’s helping you and it’s advancing your training techniques, showing them and keeping on your toes about getting it right.”
“I ended up being a lot more confident, like talking to new people and that. Once the dogs are there everyone just gets on with it. You see the best side of people when they’re with their dog, and that makes it easier to talk to them.”
“You’re helping other people, doing the dog training, as well as helping the dogs. And it’s not just about helping your dog. You notice changes in other people’s dogs and you’re involved in that, helping them get better.”
“It’s more like a programme, because it teaches you how to team build, teaches you to have patience. Not just with the dogs, it teaches you to have patience with other people ‘cause at the end of the day, it depends on the other people for it to work, as well as you.”
“Working in a small group, it’s sort of helped me to get along with people. I wouldn’t have spoken to people before, but then when I did speak to them they were alright. It was good. I liked it.”
Problem solving / Working independently
“It’s a good work party, because you know what you’re going to do, you’ve got it planned, you plan it yourself the week before. Getting to work it out yourself, it teaches you more. It gives you responsibility, and makes you feel good that you did it yourself. You thought it up, planned it and it worked. It feels good.”
“The anger management side of things I would say. Because if you can learn not to be like that with the dogs, it’s gonna help you with other folk as well, just learning not to snap as much, learning to try and resolve the problem. It’s definitely helping my problem solving skills.”
“You’ve planned it, it’s up to you. Pre-planned, not just someone telling you to do it – so you have decided YOU want to do that. You’re not just being forced to do the same thing, week in and week out. You make your own targets to aim for and get a wee bit of independence.”
“Working with the dogs, thinking for your self – it’s good, it’s good that way, working out what to do for them yourself. It’s a bit of freedom. Some people have been banged up for ages and we’re not used to that. It’s good that way. Thinking about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it – it gives you this sense of freedom, solving the problem yourself.”
Mood / Well-being
“It’s seeing the changes in the dogs and getting to know them, that’s what I like best. When I teach him something new, he looks happy, it’s like he knows he’s got it right, and it’s good, it makes me feel good inside too, you know.”
“It’s different in here – I feel different now than I did before – everyone is enjoying it and getting on well. Maybe we’re not supposed to ever feel happy if we’re in a jail, but we’re doing something good, so that must make it okay?”
Change in attitude towards dogs / training
“The dogs – they change the way you think and the way you act. They trust you, it’s that mutual bond. You think you’re helping them but they’re helping you too.”
“It’s hard at first, working out how to get a connection with a dog, but once you’ve got that you’re sorted.”
“I didn’t think it would be as fun. I thought the teacher would have us lined up going ‘do this with your dog, do this with your dog’. But it’s not, it’s enjoyable and you actually learn how to train a dog yourself from scratch.”
“See ‘cause I’ve got this, it helps me cope with being in here AND keeps me out of trouble, because there is no way I want to be put off of it.”
“It’s useful, definitely. And it’s calmed me down a fair bit in all. See up in the halls, I’m not running about as daft, you know what I mean? I feel more settled and all that, because I’m just looking forward to when I next get to come to the dogs.”
Teaching / Helping others
“It changes how you approach things. Not that I’m really violent and that, but you think, you get them to do things by giving them a row. But we’re learning, we’re learning it’s not the best way.”
“Most of us, we just go for the shout and scream approach – do this, do that. And doing what we’re doing, you’re learning, that’s not helping or teaching, it’s just making them too scared to do anything.”
“It helps you think about things differently – I’ve got a wean, my wee man, he’s two. There’s a lot of it that’s the same – you learn not to give them a row, it’s better to encourage them for the good things, distract them away from doing something wrong. It’s helped me, think about how I can reward him. Instead of shouting at him for doing something wrong, reward him when he’s doing something right.”
“You learn not to solve things by shouting or threats or violence. It changes how you think about people, you think about why they’re acting the way they are. It’s helpful for families too, and for weans, raising kids – you approach things differently, think about it as teaching – positive reinforcement. And it stops you just reacting to a situation – you take a step back and think about it instead.”
Relations with families
“It’s helped me, ‘cause I could tell my dad about it. I really paid attention and then it gave me something to talk to them about”. (his family)
“I talk to my family about it all the time. My ma, she’s real pleased I’m doing it, and I tell her all about my dog and what we’re doing, it’s good.”
“It gives us something to talk to our families about, something positive. It’s all we have to talk to them about. So instead of avoiding talking to them, or not knowing what you can say, you can tell them about what you’re doing, about your dog, about the folk who come in teach us, all of that. And it gives them something to be proud of you for, ‘cause you’re doing something good. And then we feel better too, knowing they aren’t worrying so much. Before you know it, you’re phoning them up ‘cause you want tell them something funny or clever your dog did that day or something. You could phone any of our families and they could tell you everything about the dogs and the course!”
And enthusiasm for the course!
“It’s the best thing I’ve done so far. It’s the thing that has helped me the most. And it wasn’t as boring as everything else!”
“Thanks for giving me the opportunity to take part in this – it’s been an experience, I`ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks a lot.”
“It’s been brilliant, definitely.”
“I expected to learn something but I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much and to learn as much things – but I did, and I enjoyed it a lot.”
“Thanks for giving me the opportunity to come on the course, I’ve enjoyed it a lot.”
“This is the most enjoyable thing I’ve done, I’d say. I really enjoyed it and I’d do it all again, starting tomorrow!”
“It’s brilliant. I love it. It’s the best thing they’ve got in the jail. I get excited to come down to it.”
“It’s the best. It’s healthy. It’s the only thing I’ve liked. I’d do anything to be kept on.”
“I love to do it. I just love it. And I’d love to stay on it as long as I can.”
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, definitely.”
What do our partnering organisations think of Paws for Progress?
Scottish Prison Service
“This has been a mutually beneficial project for all involved. The young men at Polmont have enhanced their employability and literacy skills and, as a result of their involvement in Paws for Progress, have even been awarded an SQA certificate. I look forward to reading Ms Leonardi’s findings in the future and seeing how this research can be utilised to improve the efficiencies of the prison estate.”
Kate Donegan, Governor at HM YOI Polmont
I hope you have enjoyed hearing the opinions on the project so far. Keep checking back for new updates – we will be posting adverts for our current dogs very soon! And look out for us in the media – there have been lots of great reports recently, with more to come in the May issues of Your Dog and Dogs Today magazines. Thank you to everyone for the wonderful support – it is really appreciated.