Paws for Progress

We are very pleased to be working with local animal shelters to develop a Dog Training Course for young offenders. This course offers vocational, educational and therapeutic benefits to the human participants, improving their future outcomes.

The course offers substantial benefits to the canine participants as well, presenting a win-win situation; a mutually beneficial project, in which disadvantaged young people and dogs help each other.

This project addresses a number of key issues for dogs in the UK

  • Improving the behaviour and welfare of dogs held in rescue shelters
  • Increasing adoption rates and reducing the number of dogs returned to rescue shelters  
  • Offering education increasing young people’s understanding of the responsibilities of dog ownership  
  • Increasing understanding of both human and animal behaviour
  • Raising public awareness of the welfare issues of dogs in modern society
  • Gaining support for the effective rehabilitation of disadvantaged dogs

About the project

The course will teach male young offenders to improve rescue dogs' behaviour by training basic obedience through positive reinforcement methods, and in doing so, provide the young offenders with positive and rewarding interactions with the dogs, and the opportunity to gain valuable employability skills. Working under the guidance of a professional trainer, participants will learn to work together to help the dogs, and gain increased self-esteem through the achievement of targets and goals.

This is an opportunity for course students to provide a positive and charitable service to the community, by helping dogs from rescue shelters overcome their issues, providing them with the positive interaction, training and stimulation which is critical for their welfare, both improving their chances of finding a new home and helping members of the public who adopt the dogs. 

'My life has changed a lot because of helping the dogs. They're helping me at the same time I'm helping them.'

Student, Project POOCH, USA

'These programmes benefit all parties involved and impact in such a way as to make a real difference to the lives of inmates, staff and animals.'

Correctional Services of Canada, 1998

'It makes me feel really good when I see my dog take off for a new home. I can see he's happy with his new family.'

Student, Project POOCH, USA

Human-dog interaction: parallel health benefits

Interacting with animals is beneficial for humans, both physiologically and psychologically

  • Particularly effective in enhancing interpersonal communication and reducing stress and anxiety

These effects are paralleled in dogs’ responses to interaction with humans

  • Intensely social animals, who need positive human interaction to maintain their well-being

The relationship: behaviour and adoptability

Behaviour problems are sadly a critical factor in the relinquishment of dogs

The behaviour of the dog in the kennel influences potential adopters

  • People show a strong preference for dogs which stand at the front of their kennel, wag their tails and interact with humans in a positive manner
  • This can mean that the dogs who are in the greatest need of a loving home (e.g. have had negative experiences, or are particularly unhappy about being in kennels) are the least likely to appear attractive
  • This can be changed by providing dogs with opportunities for positive socialisation with humans

Of the dogs returned to the shelter after being rehomed, 88% are returned due to behaviour problems

Being returned = further detrimental effects to welfare and behaviour

When rescue dogs exhibit behavioural problems in new homes, this can be indicative of distress in the dog, and subsequently a cause of distress to the new owner.

Human interaction/socialisation

Research shows:

  • Increasing the positive human contact leads to increased adoptability for rescue shelter dogs
  • Increased human contact reduces stress responses in shelter dogs and also increases sociability
  • And the effects of providing extra training and shared activities? 
  • Dogs are less likely to exhibit behaviour problems and more likely to be adopted 

Dogs most in need

Although many dogs which are cared for by animal shelters find homes quickly, there are certain dogs which are harder to rehome; these are the dogs which could benefit most from increased human interaction and training. Dogs are very willing learners, but it takes time to work through their issues and provide them with basic training, particularly when they have had negative experiences in the past.

It is also important that the content of the interaction and training is tailored to each dog, in order to achieve the greatest improvements. The majority of dogs need considerable attention and stimulation to maintain their well-being; this is even more the case when they have lost the people they cared for, and are housed in the unfamiliar shelter environment.

In the 'Paws for Progress' course, we work closely with local animal shelters to pair handlers with dogs. Each dog will have a dedicated handler/trainer who will work with them continuously throughout the course, through gaining their basic training and socialisation, from sharing fun and games to quieter times relaxing, to building a portfolio for potential adopters to see and providing progress updates for Dogs Trust staff. 

The bigger picture

In addition, to improve the welfare of dogs on a wider scale, it is also important to recognise the impact of education and raising public awareness of the situation of dogs in the UK.

There continue to be key issues which need to be addressed, including increasing concerns regarding overpopulation of companion dogs, the use of certain breeds as ‘status dogs’, overrepresentation of certain breeds in welfare issues and rescue shelter populations (e.g. Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Greyhounds) and a constant need to educate people about the responsibilities of dog ownership.

The project, which combines human interaction and training for rescue dogs with practical education and valuable skills for young people, will also aim to raise public awareness of the welfare issues of dogs in modern society and gain support for effective methods for rehabilitation.