ASPCA, Humane Education
Lesson Plan – Dog Bite Prevention
Topic: Dog-Bite Prevention
Grade Level: Elementary School
Time: 30 minutes
Objective: Children will become familiar with the different ways dogs communicate. Children will learn the appropriate way to approach a dog. Children will learn the appropriate actions to take if they are approached by a stray or loose dog.
- ASPCA Dog-Bite Prevention Activity Worksheet (See our Handout Section to download Dog-Bite Activity Worksheets in English and Spanish.)
- A dog, a toy dog, or a dog puppet
- Photographs or illustrations of dogs in varying body postures, conveying Different levels of comfort in their present situation or feeling states.
- ASPCA A Live Animal Information Sheet (See our Handout Section to download)
If you are having a dog participate, you will need:
- One dog handler
- One trained, certified therapy dog (Delta Pet Partners, Therapy Dog International) or a certified Canine Good Citizen. The dog must enjoy being handled without exception. The use of untrained shelter animals in NOT recommended for many reasons including stress on the animal, unknown zoonotic diseases, liability issues, and possible conflict with adoption status.
- Dog treats (Cheerios and popcorn are good choices in case a child mistakenly eats one.)
- One volunteer. Always prepare the children for a visit with a live animal prior to the day of your arrival by sending the teacher the ASPCA A Live Animal information sheet (see our Handout Section to download this information). This will allow the instructor and class to prepare accordingly. If a dog is accompanying you, place the dog in a down-stay after you enter the classroom. Have the children sit on the floor in a semi-circle, if possible. Go over all the rules the children will need to follow (even if the students were prepared previously). This ensures that the rules are fresh in their minds.
Ask children how they can let others know what they are thinking and feeling. Usual responses will include “tell them”, “write to them”, “body language” and “facial expression”. You may choose to have some volunteers communicate different emotional states non-verbally to the rest of the class (e.g., happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised). After writing their responses on the board, note that there are similarities between these modes of communication and some of the ways in which dogs communicate.
Ask students how dogs may communicate “verbally”; ask how do dogs talk.
Dogs can bark or growl in different ways to communicate different things. One kind of bark may mean “I’m hungry”, another “I need to go out”, yet another “I want to play”, and yet another “there’s danger”.
Growling, a deep, throaty “grrr”, is the way a dog lets others know to stay away and leave him alone. Often the dog is protecting a treasure such as food, bones or rawhide toys from being taken away.
A growl is a warning that the dog will bite if you don’t leave him alone. Most dogs will stop growling if you move away from them and leave them alone.
Ask students about what they think they need to look for in a dog’s body posture to determine what they are trying to communicate. At this point, pictures, puppets, or a live dog serve to illustrate the following:
Mouth: Is the mouth relaxed or is the dog showing his teeth?
Eyes: Are the pupils dilated? This (together with other information may mean that the dog is suspicious, angry, or scared.
Ears: Are the ears standing up (alert, bossy), slightly back (relaxed, submissive), plastered back against her head (frightened, ready to be defensive)?
Tail: Is his tail standing up but not wagging (alert, suspicious, bossy), standing up stiffly wagging (excited, bossy), relaxed wagging (happy, friendly), tucked between his legs (scared, “If you don’t stay away, I may bite”)?
This is the perfect opportunity to explicitly point out that a wagging tail does not always mean a friendly dog. How the tail is wagging (e.g., stiff v. relaxed) together with other verbal and nonverbal information need to be considered.
Body Posture: Is she leaning toward you (dominant) or leaning away from you (submissive)?
Hair: Is the hair on his back and/or shoulders standing up (suspicious, angry, “stay away”)?
How do I approach a dog?
Ask your students what things they think they should consider when deciding whether or not to approach a dog. They will likely suggest aspects of their communication. Reinforce these responses and add the following:
IS THE DOG WITH SOMEONE?
- Never approach a dog that is tied to anything.
- Never approach a dog that is alone.
- Never approach a dog that is behind a fence.
- Never approach a dog that is off leash.
IF THE DOG IS WITH HIS PERSON, ASK THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LEASH?
- Is your dog friendly?
- May I pet him/her?
DOES THE DOG LOOK LIKE SHE WANTS TO BE PETTED?
Remember dog body language — what is the dog saying?
ASK THE DOG
- Never approach a dog without letting it see and smell you first.
- Slowly extend your relaxed closed hand (not clenched fist) for the dog to sniff and watch how the dog responds.
- Even if the person with the dog says it’s ok you always need to ask the dog.
- After you see that the dog wants to be pet (remember dog body language) then gently stroke the dog under the chin and on the side of the face.
- Never make your first stroke on the top of the head.
- Never touch a dog from behind, you may startle him — even your own dog
What if a stray dog approaches me?
- Make believe you’re a tree and don’t move.
- Never run – even if the dog is jumping and barking at you. Remember dogs like to chase moving things.
- Don’t scream — even if the dog is jumping and barking at you. Dogs have sensitive hearing and this could get them excited or scared.
- Don’t stare into the dog’s eyes. In dog body language, this could be like asking a dog to fight. Instead, look at the dog’s tail so you can still see what she is doing. Keep your eyes cast down and take quick short glances at the dog.
- Back away slowly, one step at a time until you reach safety.
- Even if a dog is injured don’t try to touch him — an injured dog is scared and in pain and is more likely to bite you.
- You can help a stray or injured dog by getting an adult that you know and trust and together you can call you local animal shelter or humane society for help.
Call up student volunteers to role-play meeting a dog that is accompanied by a person. Use the dog, toy or puppet as a prompt for the child. Make sure that the child asks both the person and the dog if it is “ok” to pet the dog.
Either call up volunteers or ask the class as a whole to demonstrate what should be done if approached by a stray dog.
At this point, distribute the ASPCA Dog Bite Prevention Activity Worksheet. Go through the exercises with the students as a review of the lesson. Ask them to bring the worksheet home to read and sign with their parents or guardians.
- Never run from a dog, this will make a dog chase you.
- Never scream or wave your hands in the air, this may scare a dog.
- Always pay attention to what a dog is trying to tell you (body language).
- Remember that dogs don’t lie but if we don’t understand what they are telling us the only alternative they may have is to bite.
- Never play “tug of war” (explain/demonstrate) with any dog. This will make the dog thinks it’s ok to fight with you even though you know it’s only a game. This game can cause the dog to bite you.
- If any dog (even your own) ever takes something of yours (toy) never grab, yank or pull the item away from the dog. Tell an adult and then together you can play “trade-em”. Offer the dog a treat in trade for the item — the only way the dog can take the treat is to drop the item in his mouth.
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