Teenagers in the West Midlands are being teamed up with RSPCA rescue dogs in an innovative course which aims to change the lives of the animals and young people.

Paws for Change gives young people who are experiencing challenges the opportunity to bond with and train a rescue dog which has had a difficult start in life.

RSPCA staff work closely with local youth support professionals and alternative provision providers to offer week-long training sessions for young people, teaching skills like confidence, decision making and communication while fostering empathy and compassion for animals. At the same time it gives neglected and abused dogs rescued by the RSPCA one-to-one care and training which helps them to find new homes.

The RSPCA’s Birmingham Animal Centre, in Frankley Green, will run its next course from 13th to 16th August – following a successful course in May.

Charlie Chan, RSPCA Community Engagement Manager who coordinated the course, said: “It has been such a great experience for the young people, our dogs, and the staff involved.

“This was our first Paws for Change course in Birmingham, and it was incredibly successful. The feedback from the young people was really positive. The young people were fantastic with the rescue dogs, and it was heartwarming to see their bonds develop over the four days. The final day was quite emotional!

“The young people achieved an AQA Unit Award in recognition of their achievement, and some are even in talks about potential volunteering opportunities as a result of the course!

“We will be delivering four Paws for Change courses at Birmingham each year.”

Rebecca, 15, from Droitwich, attended the previous course and was paired with Staffordshire bull terrier Hugo.

“Before I started the course, I didn’t really understand how to train dogs,” said Rebecca. “I found the course fun, I learnt a lot about dogs and how to look after them as pets.

“I loved being with the dogs all week and teaching them to do things that they could not do before.

“Since finishing the course, I have more experience with dogs, I can train them and I know how to look after them. I think the course has helped me to have more confidence with dogs.

“I am now thinking that I might now want to work with animals in the future and perhaps an apprenticeship next year.”

Staff select dogs who need time outside of their kennel, have no basic training or are anxious or shutdown and need more one-on-one time to ensure they’re ready for rehoming. They’re then matched with a young person on the scheme following an induction session where the personalities of the young people are carefully matched to those of the dogs.

Louise Causer, an RSPCA animal welfare specialist who ran the course, said: “You see a positive change in both the young person and the dog in every single incidence.

“It could be a little dog that’s not interested in people suddenly having a waggy tail and being pleased to see someone to a young person that doesn’t make eye contact with you but by the end of the course is chatting away about the dog that they’ve been training.

“And these things may seem quite small but they can actually be really big and have a lasting impact on the young person and the dog involved.

“From the dog’s point of view, they’re out of the kennels learning useful behaviours that will help rehome them.

“What these young people have done with these dogs will really truly help them find homes.”

Jennifer Bourne, a support worker who referred two young people to the scheme, said: “It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of the Paws for Change project with the two young people I support. I think it is a fantastic idea to bring young people and animals together and not only teaches them to prevent animal cruelty, empathy and care for animals but also helps them develop in their own self-confidence, self-esteem and interpersonal skills.

“It has had a positive impact on the two young people I support and one of them is even interested in attending placement and apprenticeship with RSPCA. I will definitely be aiming to continue a working relationship with Paws for Change project to give other young people this positive opportunity.”

As well as the dogs benefiting from training, learning basic commands and remembering how to trust people, the youngsters who participate also benefit from learning life skills and practical animal-handling skills as well as people and communication skills and gaining confidence through the dogs.

Application for the course is by referral only. For more information, email birmingham.education@rspca.org.uk.

Paws for Change is part of the RSPCA’s ambitious new programme called Generation Kind, eight projects which focus on educating young people from all backgrounds about animal welfare and aims to reach two million children by 2030.

For more information about Paws for Change and Generation Kind, and to find out what you can do at home to be #GenerationKind, visit www.rspca.org.uk/GenerationKind