From education to employment

Young Offenders at HMP Werrington receive further education training and qualifications as part of scheme

Young offenders are teaming up assistance dogs of the future in a unique rehabilitation scheme which gives them qualifications and a fresh start. (@iPETNetwork)

Inmates at HMYOI Werrington are taking part in the Restart Dog Project, in which assistance dogs in training go into prison to meet offenders, who learn how to get them ready for the world of work.

The offenders recently worked with Veterinary Nurse Rachel Bean, and a litter of four young dogs.

Rachel led the iPET Network Level Three training course in Canine First Aid on the day, which now means that the offenders have an industry-standard qualification.

A spokesperson for Restart Dog, a pilot scheme which is soon going to be rolled out to adult prisons too, said:

“The boys will be setting the dogs up for success by shaping their behaviour in a proactive and positive manner, training the dogs alternative behaviours and reinforcing the desired behaviours that the dogs perform.

“The dogs are on the programme for at least 12 weeks, or however long it takes for them to be ready to go on to reach their full potential. They will be guided by the young people for six hours of training and enrichment every day, going back to basics and learning things like frustration tolerance, impulse control, loose lead walking, settling on a bed, recall, manners around food and calm greetings.

“When the dogs are ready for their new homes, the young people will help to write their homing criteria using all of the knowledge they have acquired about their partnered dogs. Through the bonds that they have developed, the dogs will now have the skills to become welcome members of a new family and the young people will be able to pass on the dog’s learnt behaviours, setting them up for success in their adoptive homes.”

During the project, there are a  minimum of two behaviourists, as well as a coordinator, trained education officers from HMYOI Werrington and other HMYOI staff members. Dogs are never left unattended with the young people at any time.

Rachel has been a veterinary nurse for 25 years, and has taught canine first aid for 16 years. She is also the Manchester co-ordinator for Street Paws, a team of volunteers who provide medical care and assistance to the dogs of homeless people.

Rachel offers the iPET qualification as part of her daily working life, to businesses and pet professionals who need to know how to react quickly in a crisis.

And she says that she is proud to be part of Restart Dog, and is excited to see it rolled out into adult prisons too.

“I really enjoyed the session this week. It is different from my usual day, as you have to work harder to keep people engaged as they have been locked up for a long time, but we kept it relaxed and everyone did really well.

“I think you have to have a certain type of personality to do something like this, I don’t think you could go in there if you were going to be judgemental, and you have to see past the offences that the boys have committed.

“The dogs loved it too, and the whole scheme is about the future, which is really positive for everyone involved, in learning how to care for and work with the dogs the boys are learning emotional intelligence and empathy skills, and will be able to work in the industry when they are released, you can see that everyone gets a lot out of it, and I’m really happy to be part of it.” She said.

The iPET Level Three qualification in canine first aid is Ofqual regulated, meaning it is the gold standard qualification for anyone who looks after dogs as part of their business.

Sarah Mackay and Fern Gresty, owners of iPET Network, said:

“We are so proud that the iPET Level Three qualification in Canine First Aid is being offered as part of Restart Dog. The organisation is truly wonderful, and supports pets and people in a really unique, forward-thinking and positive way.

“We believe that education is the key to leveling up in life, and what better way to level up than to help a dog in need level up too!”

The Restart Dog Project, the first of its kind in the UK, launched in 2019 and has quickly been gaining attention and praise from all over the world for its innovative approach to providing education in a high security setting. The project is currently teaching the young people who reside at HMYOI Werrington the skills to rehabilitate dogs.

The project, led by Leek-based trainer and behaviourist Rachel Trafford, has now partnered with Autism Dogs CIC which provides assistance dog programmes for autistic people, training autism Assistance Dogs and educating the handler and their families with the skills and knowledge they will need to make the Assistance Dog partnership successful.

An assistance dog is trained to have at least 3 skills or techniques that help to mitigate the challenges of a person’s disability. Autism Dogs CIC’s Assistance Dogs provide autistic people emotional and practical support in day-to-day tasks; the tasks that the dogs can be trained to perform include medication reminders, Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), item retrieval, self-harm interruption, and anxiety and meltdown responses.

Four puppies, who are destined to be Assistance Dog candidates for Autism Dogs CIC’s Residential Assistance Dog Programme, are receiving the puppy life skills training at HMYOI Werrington from the young offenders there.

The puppies receive the basic obedience training from the young people for 10 months until they are ready to go on to their next phase of their training and assessments with Autism Dogs CIC.

All dog lovers know that dogs are incredibly special and that the bond between humans and a dog can be incredibly therapeutic. 

This bond can give humans a sense of purpose and hope for the future. A carefully selected group of Young People at HMYOI Werrington who have demonstrated a willingness to make changes to their own behaviour are putting their learnt skills to the test by training the puppies through positive reinforcement techniques, encouraging them to choose positive, appropriate behaviours in a calm and positive environment.

With the safety and welfare of the dogs as paramount importance through the project, the Young People have the opportunity to “Restart” their lives and through the unique bond between humans and man’s best friend, they will not only create a positive and hopeful future for themselves, but will put something back into society by being a significant part of a candidate Assistance Dog’s development, who could go on to change an autistic person’s life for the better.

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