Teaching Your Child To Stay Safe Around Dogs

What can be more important then teaching a child how to avoid being injured by a dog!

After reviewing many teaching programs designed to keep children safe from dog attacks, I have decided to write my own. As you will see, it is intended as a classroom teaching material, however it can be easily adapted for home use, for use in a play group etc.

Read it, save it to your computer, repeat it with your child often. It could save your child’s life!


Session 1 ‘How Dogs Think




Just like their ancestor – the wolf, all dogs are capable of injuring a person, especially a child. However instances of dog aggression are rarely random. It is usually a result of dog’s evaluation of its’ environment and is also influenced by the dog’s physiological state. Aggression is a high stakes strategy with great potential risk to the aggressor. As pack animals, dogs have developed highly specialised signals to communicate their readiness to attack. We can greatly minimise the risks to ourselves and others by learning and teaching the signs which dogs use to communicate and by avoiding situations which make aggressive behaviour more likely.




Ÿ         Domestic dogs evolved from wild animals and still in many ways retain the behaviour of a wild animal.

Ÿ         Dogs evaluate their physical environment and make decisions how to react to a situation.

Ÿ         Aggressive behaviour is a product of a dog‘s physical state and the surrounding environment.


Session Outcomes



Students should be able to:

Ÿ         Have a general understanding about evolutionary connection between wild and domestic animals.

Ÿ         View dogs and thinking creatures capable of making decisions and reacting to their environment.

Ÿ         Start developing understanding of the link between dog aggression, physical state and environmental factors.

Ÿ         Learn some of the major triggers of aggression in dogs.



Students should be able to:

Ÿ         Contribute to discussion about the role of dogs in our society

Ÿ         Record ideas about dogs’ motivation and behaviour

Ÿ         Conduct observations and record their findings

Ÿ         Construct and write down simple sentences.

Lesson Steps


1.  Explain to the class that today they are going to have a session about dogs. Ask for a show of hands of those students who have dogs or who would like to have dogs. Begin with a sharing session by having a selection of student briefly tell the class about one of the following subjects:


Ÿ         Their pet dog.

Ÿ         What kind of dog they would like to have and why.

Ÿ         The good things about having a dog.


2.  Provide the students with a worksheet containing photographs of different animals, including different breeds dogs as well as a photograph of a wolf, a prairie dog, a hyena, a dingo as well as other animals such as cats, ducks and pigs. Ask the students to circle all ‘dog-like’ animals on the worksheet.


3.   Ask the students to list the similarities of the animals they have chosen. This may include the appearance of their coat, head, tail, their body shape etc. Note the similarity between wild ’dog-like’ animals and the pet dogs. Initiate the discussion about the origin of the dog. Cover the following points:

  • Dogs are related to wolves, prairie dogs, hyenas and dingos.
  • Millions of years ago people began feeding dogs in return for their help in guarding and finding food.
  • People began selecting dogs with different useful qualities (size, strength, agility, etc.) better suited for different jobs.
  • The different appearance of different breeds of dogs reflects different tasks that these breeds were selected for.


4.  Divide the students into groups and hand out the materials for a black-line master game. The black-line master board contains names of different categories of jobs dogs cad do (herding, guarding, hunting, etc.). Students work in groups selecting from a shuffled pack of cards with pictures of different breeds of dogs and putting the cards into appropriate categories according to what jobs the dogs in the pictures would be suitable for.


5.  After the game, ask a selection of student to explain what are the differences making the dogs on the cards suitable for their particular jobs? What are the similarities between all of the dogs as well as wolves, dingos, prairie dogs?


6.   Lead the discussion covering the following points:

  • All of those animals – dogs, wolves, dingoes, hyenas think in a similar way.
  • Although they have changed a lot, domestic dogs still have a mind similar to a wild animal.
  • Animals in the wild sometimes have to use their teeth and claws to attack and bite other animals.
  • Introduce the class to the word ‘Aggression’ . Write it on the board and ask the students to copy it. Explain what aggression is –  doing something that will hurt someone.
  • Explain that in the wild animals sometimes hurt other animals – to defend themselves, find food or establish who is in charge. Dog have inherited the ability to hurt other animals, including people. Dogs hurt people mostly by biting them. Sometime we want dogs to be aggressive – Guard dogs and Police dogs are examples of dog who are trained to attack and bite on command. Most of the time this behaviour is unwanted and very dangerous. A bite of a dog can do a lot of damage. By learning to understand dogs and avoiding the behaviour which can make them bite we can learn to live safely with dogs.


7.   Draw a heading on the board: ‘Why dogs bite?’ Invite students to offer answers what would make an animal more likely to bite.

Answers may include:

  • Angry
  • Frightened
  • Defending themselves
  • Hungry
  • Sick
  • In pain
  • Guarding


Many people mistakenly believe that a dog who is wagging his tail is ‘happy’. This is incorrect – wagging tail is a sign of general excitement and may indicate aggression. Make it clear to the class not to view a tail-wagging alone as a sign of friendly disposition.


8.   Break the class into four groups and provide for each group a picture of a dog in one of the following situations:

  • In pain
  • Guarding
  • Frightened
  • Angry

Under the picture write the question: ‘What am I thinking?’

Ask the groups to cooperatively develop answers to the question in the exercise.

Assign a leader in each group to communicate the findings to the class. Allocate time for the groups to work on the exercise.


9.  At the end of allocated time, ask each leader to present the findings of their group.

This discussion is the opportunity to introduce to the pupils the basic concepts of animal decision making. Explain that animal see what is happening around them and decide what to do.

  • A dog who is trying to look small, leaning close to the ground, bringing ears close to head, trying to move away is saying ‘I am scared, stay away from me.’
  • A dog who is standing tall, keeping the tail up, lifting up the ears, looking you in the eye, growling or showing teeth is saying ‘I am in charge. Go away or I will bite.’
  • A dog who is tied up or is behind a fence is saying ‘This is my territory – keep out.’
  • A dog who is moving in a strange way or doesn’t want to get up may be in pain and is saying ‘Don’t hurt me more or I will bite.’

10.   Homework:

Ask the pupils to conduct an observational study of their own dog or a dog in a public place (such as at the beach or a park). The pupils are to record the behaviour of the dog (eg. Running, sniffing, barking), draw a picture of the dog and then write a sentence attempting to explain what the dog may be thinking at that time and why.


Lesson 2 ‘How to stay safe’




Dogs judge human behaviour in the same way they judge behaviour of other animals. An animal that runs, moves quickly or stares with an uninterrupted gaze can represent a threat or a target for predation. Children are small, they speak with high-pitched voices and move quickly and unpredictably. These qualities can make them a likely target of an attack. To ensure their safety, children need to be taught how to behave in dogs’ presence. The safest behaviour is to move in slow, deliberate ways and to avoid staring directly at the dog. In an unpredictable situation the safest thing to do is usually to stand still. Dogs are ‘programmed’ to respond to movement. Advancing forwards indicates an attack, running away simulates a behaviour of a prey target. Even when attacked by a dog, the best strategy is to move as little as possible.




Ÿ         Dog judge human behaviour and respond to it

Ÿ         Running, jumping, shouting, moving fast and unpredictably is seen as threatening by dogs

Ÿ         Moving in slow, deliberate way, not looking at the dog, standing still will make the dog feel safe and not in danger.

Ÿ         Offering a closed hand to be sniffed by a dog is the safest way to ‘introduce yourself‘.


Session Outcomes



Students should be able to:

Ÿ         Recognise the behaviours and situations likely to lead to dog aggression.

Ÿ         Know how to behave safely in common situations involving dogs.

Ÿ         Know how to minimise injury if attacked by a dog.



Students should be able to:

Ÿ         Contribute to a discussion about dog behaviour

Ÿ         Use subject-specific vocabulary in their writing

Ÿ         Interpret information and record their findings


Lesson Steps


1.  Review the homework from the previous lesson. Ask a selection of students to present their findings by describing the behaviour of the dogs they observed and then reading out the ‘thoughts’ of those dogs.


2.  Present the class with a selection of photographs of different dogs. Ask students to nominate which of the dogs would be more likely to bite. Explain that all dogs can bite, regardless of size, shape or how angry they look. This includes the dogs we ‘know’, including dogs of family, friends and our family’s dogs. Explain that as animals, dogs are unpredictable and should be treated with caution at all times.


3.  Review the main points of the previous lesson by reminding the class of the situations which may make a dog more likely to bite, including:


  • Angry
  • In pain
  • Guarding
  • Frightened
  • Defending itself


4.  Separate the whiteboard into two columns, above the two columns write down the words ‘Angry’ and ‘Frightened’.


Ask students to nominate the kind of human behaviour which may make a dog feel angry or frightened. Record the answers in the appropriate columns:


Angry                                                                           Frightened


Taking away food                                                     Jumping

Climbing into the dog’s backyard                     Shouting

Hitting                                                                          Staring at the dog




When we move quickly, run, make loud noises, approach or touch a dog – we are behaving in a way that can make a dog feel insecure, angry and frightened. A dog who feels that way may think that we are about to hurt him. To avoid getting hurt he could try to bite or attack.


5.  Ask students to nominate how we should act to make a dog feel safe, relaxed and not frightened. Remind them that this represents the opposite of the behaviour written on the board.


Some of the appropriate answers would include:


  • Be quiet
  • Stand still
  • Don’t run
  • Don’t touch the dog
  • Move slowly


6.  Explain to the class that dogs use their sense of smell to get to know someone, in a similar way that we use a handshake. When wanting to say hallo to a new dog don’t reach over to touch or pat it. Instead put your closed hand out and wait for the dog to sniff it. This will make the dog feel safe and not afraid of you.


7.  Break the class into groups. Present each group with one of three scenarios:


  • Scenario 1:

You are playing in the park. You see a strange dog running towards you. You look around and can’t see the dog’s owner anywhere. What should you do?


  • Scenario 2:

You are visiting a friend’s house. Your friend’s dog runs up to you and starts sniffing you clothes. What should you do?


Ÿ         Scenario 3:

On your way to the local shop you see a dog tied up near the front door. What should you do?


Ask the groups to develop a plan of how to behave in each situation, keeping in mind that our goals are to make the dog feel safe and relaxed and therefore avoid the dog wanting to bite.


8.  After allocating time for the exercise, ask a representative of each group to present their work.


Scenario 1:

Remembering what we have learned previously, it would be a mistake to run or call out to the dog. The safest way to behave would be to stand still, keep your hands down and not look at the dog. If you behave like that, the dog could ignore you or he could come over to sniff and investigate. If he does – don’t try to touch or pat him. If you continue standing still, the dog will usually lose interest and walk away.


Scenario 2:

It would be a mistake to reach over, pat the dog or give him food, even though he belongs to your friend. The first step would be to ask the adults if it is ok get acquainted with the dog. With the adults’ permission, put out your closed hand for the dog to sniff. If you want to play with the dog, a good way to start is to pat it gently under the chin. This is a safe and gentle approach which will not make the dog feel nervous or frightened.

Scenario 3:

A dog who has been tied up will behave in the same way as a guard dog protecting his territory. In this case the ‘territory’ will be the area of the street where the dog can reach. It would be very dangerous to approach the dog or to try to touch or pat it. The safest thing to do is to move away. If you can’t go past the dog without walking into his ‘territory’, it’s best to find another route.


9.  Discuss what happens when the dog attacks a person:

Ÿ         When dogs attack they use their teeth to bite.

Ÿ         Dogs will try to bite the areas around head and neck.

Ÿ         If a dog is large, he will probably put his front legs on the person’s body making it hard to stand up.


10. What to do when attacked by a dog:


Ÿ         Lie down face on the ground.

Ÿ         Pull your legs up to your stomach.

Ÿ         Bring your hands close to the body to cover your face with your arms and your chest with your elbows.

Ÿ         Don’t move and don’t shout.

Ÿ         Lie still until the dog is gone.

11. Select two students to do a role-playing exercise. Ask one student to play a dog about to attack and the other student to play themselves. The role-play will incorporate all the elements of behaviour taught in the lessons, including how to approach and greet the dog as well as what to do when the dog attacks.


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  2. This is an excellent set of lessons which should be introduced in schools, colleges, youth groups, and parenting classes everywhere! I will certainly be sharing this wherever I can, thankyou.

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  5. Very educational. Everyone should know these things.

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