Our First Year Review and Exciting News!
Wow – can you believe it has now been over one year since we introduced the ‘Paws for Progress’ course at HM YOI Polmont, in August 2011? It seems to have flown by, and yet when we look at what we have achieved in our first year, it has been a very productive period!
We have been so busy with the end of year reports and the exciting new changes to the dog training course, but we will be now be able to share all our news with you again… so watch out for more blog updates coming soon!
The impressive development of the Paws for Progress project is due to the fabulous support we have received; from our project partners, the Scottish Prison Service and the University of Stirling, and from so many other great organisations too. Our thanks go to our funders, The R S Macdonald Trust, The Robertson Trust, the Robert Barr Trust, The Cross Trust, John Watson’s Trust and the Nancie Massey Charitable Trust, all of whom made it possible for us to put our plans into action and improve the outcomes of the young people and dogs who are involved. We hope you enjoy hearing about the positive impact it is having.
Our key aims for the young men taking part are to improve behaviour and employability skills, and enhance educational engagement. We also expect 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. For more details on the project format, please look at the ‘About’ section of this page.
Our First Year Review
Within our first year (August 2011 – August 2012), we completed four cycles of the course at HM YOI Polmont. The project will be the subject of a comprehensive 3 year review. In the meantime, we are pleased to share our initial observations, which are very positive.
There is great enthusiasm to take part, and the motivation and commitment demonstrated by our students has been very impressive. There were 24 young men who took part in Paws for Progress in the first year (6 new students per course); 14 of these continued to support us post-graduation as peer mentors and volunteer assistants, demonstrating the high commitment to the project (i.e. everyone who could continue did so). Measures of employability skills have shown substantial improvements, and of our 9 graduates who returned to the community, 6 are in employment and another is engaged in voluntary work experience.
Due to the high level of engagement demonstrated by our students, we introduced educational qualifications in the second course (November 2011), which were developed to meet the requirements of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). We began with an SQA Award in Personal Development, which all of our students have since successfully completed. In early 2012, Paws for Progress developed a partnership with Carnegie College, and began to contextualise SQA Awards in Communications within the coursework. Since then, our students have worked very hard to achieve new qualifications; from units in reading, writing, speaking and listening, to Core Skills units in Communication. And by August 2012 there were an impressive 88 SQA Educational Qualifications achieved in total, gained by the 18 students who took part since we introduced the SQA Awards.
The post-course interviews indicate improvements in social competencies, including communication skills, problem solving abilities, patience and management of emotions. In addition, the young men indicated that they had felt a real sense of accomplishment, gained from the achievement of targets and goals, and from seeing the improvements in the dogs they worked with, giving them improved confidence in their abilities.
And the dogs?
The young men who have taken part have formed very affectionate bonds with the dogs, and are very committed to helping the dogs in their care. The dogs in turn appear very enthusiastic about attending the training sessions, and after a morning of undivided attention and training with their handlers they return to the rehoming centre appearing relaxed and content. All 17 of the dogs who worked towards the APDT Good Companion Awards achieved them successfully. Reports indicate that that the dogs’ behaviour in the rehoming centre is noticeably improved, and when meeting people, their increased sociability increases their appeal to adopters. There were 47 dogs who took part in the first year, and 41 of these were rehomed by August 2012, including some long term residents – a great result. Their handlers were absolutely thrilled to know their dogs were going to loving homes, and really appreciate all the lovely letters and pictures which have been sent in by their new families.
“It’s very rewarding, definitely. I watched her (his dog) getting a lot more trust in us, because I was always good to her. I rewarded her when she done good stuff and then she learnt! And then she kept learning more about stuff, like manners and walking on the lead, she learnt quick. And now she’s been rehomed. And it felt good, I actually felt proud of myself, and proud of her in all.”
“I thought it was excellent – for me and for the dog – we both changed a lot. It’s useful in so many ways. And it’s made me grow up a wee bit, and actually look to the future and think about what I could do.”
“It helps you, because training dogs helps you learn about people too. If a person gets something wrong, you shouldn’t lash out either. You learn how to manage your emotions – in a positive way.”
“The course is great, it’s the best, as good as it gets. The only thing is, we really need our own area to make it right, and well, we need more time with the dogs, so we can help them more.”
Students, Paws for Progress 2012.
So what is the news?
The results described in our review are so impressive that the Scottish Prison Service are increasing the resources dedicated to support Paws for Progress. In addition to our customised van, we are now building a dedicated work area for the project, with all the equipment needed for kennelling and training, even including a veterinary area for health checks (our thanks to Broadleys Veterinary Hospital for donating equipment). With the increased staff support provided, we will now be able to increase the number of training sessions per week, and increase the opportunities available to participants.
Our partnership with Carnegie College has led to further development of the educational aspect of the course, and the level of student engagement has greatly exceeded our expectations. We are therefore increasing the qualifications available, to include more Core Skills such as ‘Numeracy’, ‘IT‘ and ‘Working with Others’ – important for future employment, and as ever, made relevant by being contextualised in the work we do with the dogs. As a realistic work environment, we hope to introduce vocational qualifications in Animal Care, as well as increasing the employment experience available through offering a full time course.
Our students will have more opportunity to develop the dogs’ portfolios and promotional material, improving their chances of finding new homes. The changes to the format will mean more participants can take part than previously anticipated (very positive given the high demand for course places). And similarly, the dogs will be able to attend more often, giving more opportunity for one-to-one attention, positive training and socialisation…Great news for everybody!
Special thanks to our students and the staff at HM YOI Polmont who are directly involved with the project and provide such excellent help and support.