In this pioneering project ‘Paws for Progress’, male young offenders are taught how to
train and rehabilitate rescue dogs for re-homing. Under guidance of professionals, participants learn to work as a team and use positive reinforcement methods to help the dogs.
The project concept was the result of comprehensive reviews and consultations, in which we identified the key needs of Scottish male young offenders, identifying ways in which an animal assisted intervention could contribute to their progress and development.
The really great thing about this project design was the fact that it would be hugely beneficial for the dogs who are involved as well, and also provide valuable dog care education for young people, influencing their attitude toward dog ownership in the future.
Our key aims for the young men taking part are to improve behaviour and employability skills, and enhance educational engagement. We also 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.
Paws for Progress runs in eight week cycles, with up to 16 young men taking part in 4 – 7 training sessions each week, 3 of which the rescue dogs currently attend. As well as working with the dogs, the participants learn team working and social skills, and gain educational qualifications. Up to 10 young men take part per session (6 new students and 4 graduates assist as peer mentors, and volunteer assistants).
Dogs are brought into HM YOI Polmont from local dog rescue charities three times a week for two-three hour training sessions with Paws for Progress participants. Each student is paired with a dog, and their work is focussed towards helping the dog be rehomed. Our students design training plans using reward based methods to achieve their training goals.
The affection between dogs and handlers at Paws for Progress is moving to observe. The young men who are taking part are very committed to helping the dogs. 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.
Students work towards the APDT Good Companion Awards, and the successful rehoming of a dog is an achievement for the handler. The students work very hard under the guidance of our staff to ensure the dogs’ continuously progress. The dogs’ improved behaviour and sociability also increases their appeal to adopters, and the extra promotion* the students’ work provides can help these great dogs find the loving homes they so deserve.
During the other training sessions (without the rescue dogs), participants learn the theory behind dog training and animal care, complete coursework and are visited by guest speakers, to discuss their work with animals and encourage our students to put their skills to use in employment in the future. We are so grateful to the ever increasing number of organisations that support us, providing external speakers for course sessions and / or work experience opportunities for Paws for Progress graduates (see ‘Our partners, funders and supporters’ for further details).
Thanks to the partnership developed with Fife College, Paws for Progress students complete an SQA in Personal Development in addition to SQA Core Skills qualifications in Communications, ICT and Numeracy, and have gained a very impressive number of qualifications. We are very grateful for the on-going support provided by Fife College staff, working closely with Paws for Progress staff throughout the course delivery, assessing the qualifications, and ensuring we continue to expand the opportunities available to students to progress their learning and skills.