You can purchase the Be a Tree Teacher Kit and
deliver the program yourself or you can ask a Be a Tree presenter to come to
do the presentation. There may be a charge for this, depending on the
presenter. In Canada many veterinary technicians provide this program as a
community service. Contact your local veterinarian or the veterinarian
technician or technologist association for your area to see if the Be a Tree
program is available. Doggone Safe members are everywhere. Search the
presenter directories to see if there is a presenter in your area.
How are Be a Tree
The Be a Tree program can be presented by
anyone who purchases a teacher kit. Purchasers of the kit have demonstrated
a commitment to dog bite prevention through education and child safely.
Purchasers have included teachers, dog industry retailers, nurses, fire
fighters, police officers, animal control officers, humane societies, dog
clubs, breed clubs, veterinary technicians and veterinarians. The kit was
designed and tested to ensure consistent and accurate program delivery even
by those unfamiliar with the program. The kit comes with a video that shows
one of the program creators delivering the program to a group of grade 3
students to allow new presenters to see how the program should be delivered.
Anyone who has purchased a Be a Tree kit has access to free email and phone
support from the program creators.
Some Be a Tree presenters are licensed by
Doggone Safe. This means that they have signed the
agreement and have agreed not to bring a live dog into the
classroom during a Be a Tree session. They are allowed to use the Be a Tree
logo in promoting their business and the program. They agree to pay a
license fee of $10 to Doggone Safe if they charge admission (other than just
to cover their expenses).
Doggone Safe has not conducted an evaluation
of the licensed presenters and licensing does not constitute an endorsement
of the presenter by Doggone Safe. If you plan to use a presenter from
outside your school, you may request that they provide a background police
check. Doggone Safe does not do background checks and is not responsible for
the conduct of presenters in the classroom.
Who created the Be a
Tree program and has it undergone peer review?
The Be a Tree program was created by Joan Orr
and Teresa Lewin (click here for
bios). The program was developed over a five year period with extensive
testing and revision along the way. Many experts have reviewed the program
and their input has been incorporated. Reviewers have included professional
animal behavior specialists, veterinary behaviorists, general practice
veterinarians, dog trainers, elementary school teachers, early childhood
education specialists, humane educators, humane society professionals,
social workers and mental health professionals.
Panting can be a sign
of stress in a dog - why do you tell children that panting dogs are happy?
A panting dog is dealing with the stress by
panting. A stressed dog that is not panting is much more dangerous because
it has no mechanism to relieve the stress and is therefore more likely to
react. Not all stress is bad stress. The dog might be waiting for a child to
come and say hello. The waiting and wondering causes mild stress and the dog
starts to pant. "Are we going for a walk?", "Are you going to throw that
ball?", "Am I getting the cookie?" These are all circumstances that will
cause panting due to mild stress and anticipation. We are trying to keep
things simple for children. They obviously cannot be expected to tell the
difference between a dog panting under mild stress or a dog panting with
rapid frantic breaths that indicates extreme stress (still a dog less likely
to bite than a highly stressed dog that is not able to pant). Other things
that the children learn during the program should prevent them from
interacting with a dog panting out of extreme stress. They are taught to
stand sideways and allow the dog to sniff their fist. A very nervous dog is
apt to move away and not come forward to sniff - so they would leave that
dog alone. They may also see the half moon eye or the fore paw lift and
realize that the dog is anxious. They are taught that if the dog stops
panting when they approach it, that the dog does not want to meet them.
Hopefully, handlers whose dog is very anxious will say no, when a child asks
to pet the dog. So for the most part a panting dog is a dog waiting
with happy anticipation for something good to happen, or at least is a dog
that is dealing with its stress. The panting/not panting differentiation is
simple for children and immediately rules out many dogs that they may
otherwise have wanted to pet and gives them a way to decide whether their
own dog (who is the one most likely to bite them anyway) is open to
interaction with them. We also teach that children should ask the dog
handler to tell the dog to sit before they meet it. The command "sit" is a
stress reliever for most dogs because it is familiar and generally has a
positive association and gives the dog some control of the situation. A dog
that does not sit for the handler is not under sufficient control for a
child to pet. An extremely anxious dog is unlikely to follow instructions
and is ruled out on that basis, whether panting or not.
Why does Doggone Safe
not allow live dogs in Be a Tree presentations given on behalf of the
organization by licensed presenters?
Live dogs distract the children and the
majority of dogs do not enjoy handling by large groups of children. Doggone
Safe cannot evaluate the temperament and handling skills of all dogs and
handlers that may want to be involved in the program. Even certified therapy
dogs, service dogs, guide dogs and dogs that have passed the canine good
citizen test are not evaluated for their ability to handle crowds of
children or to be petted by many children. Service dogs or guide dogs
required by presenters should be placed where they cause the least possible
distraction and the children should be told that the dog is working and that
they will not be able to pet it.
Click here for a
more detailed explanation
Why do you tell
children to fold their hands and look at their feet in the tree position?
Folding their hands gives the children
something to do with them and makes them less likely to put their hands up.
Some dog bite prevention programs advise putting hands in pockets and
backing away (child could trip), or folding hands across the chest. Bringing
hands up towards the face like this brings the attention of the dog up
towards the face. Keeping hands low keeps dog's head low. Here is a series
of photos that illustrates this. The movement of the hands upward attracts
the dog to move closer and investigate the hands. The dog's head tends to
follow the hands. A smaller dog might even jump to check out the hands. This
puts the dogs teeth closer to the throat and face.
We have tested many tree configurations with
kids and friendly dogs and overly excited puppies and the less movement the
suggest that children watch their roots grow (look at their feet). This
gives them something to look at other than the dog. It gives them a positive
image to focus on (roots growing). We also tell them to count in their head
to the highest number they know, over and over until help comes or the dog
goes away. This gives them something to do with their minds while they are
frightened. We have tested looking at feet versus looking ahead with groups
of adults. Everyone reported that it is easier not to look at the dog while
focusing on your own feet. Every person admitted to sneaking a peek at the
dog while trying to look ahead, but not if they were looking at their feet.
Children respond much better to specific instructions such as "look at your
feet". There is no interpretation involved with this and it is easy to
remember. "Look ahead" and "look at something in the distance"
or "look up to the sky" are too
non-specific and require judgment. In a high stress situation, the less
judgment a child needs exercise the better.
Someone suggested to us that it is better for
the child to look ahead (but not at the dog) so that they will know when the
dog is gone. So we tested this also. Even with your head down a person can
see at least 40 feet ahead and to the side, certainly far enough to be able
to know if the dog is still in the immediate area. Try it yourself.
I was told to try to
block the dog with a book or knapsack if attacked. Why is this not in your
Some dog bite prevention educators do suggest
this. If we receive the direct question "What if the dog is coming at me
even though I am standing still?" we will give this as an option for older
children. That is hold up a book or knapsack so that the dog bites this
first. We stress that if the child stands still and quiet the dog will most
likely go away eventually.
We have had many stories
of the tree working even with a moving and pushy dog. See the
Doggone Safe blog for such stories. Movement is a major trigger and even
trying to block with a knapsack etc may backfire since the kids are moving,
probably looking at the dog and acting like victims. Some people suggest that if a
dog is coming fast and looks aggressive and there is time, then trying to
feed it a book or knapsack may be a good idea. But then what? If they move
away at that point the dog will most likely leave the object and chase them.
If they stay still then the dog may lose interest in the object and approach
them again. So there is not much difference here from just standing still in
the first place. What if the dog was not intent on biting, but the child
thought it was and the object enraged or excited the dog? A bite could be
provoked that would not otherwise have happened. Unfortunately if a dog is
really intent on attack there is really nothing a child can do to prevent
it. This is a rare situation and most dogs do not want to attack. If the dog
is predatory, then standing still is the least interesting thing to the dog.
If the dog is aggressive then standing still is the least threatening thing
to the dog.
No-one has tested this with children in a
real-life situation for ethical and safety reasons. We have seen a mock
situation in a video in which a child is holding a knapsack and backing away
while the dog jumps and barks at him. In this scene the dog does not back
off and in fact appears to be getting more excited. There is no evidence
that backing away and holding out the knapsack is discouraging the dog from
attacking. In this particular situation the child could trip and fall
backwards while walking backwards which would almost certainly trigger an
We like to keep it
simple and stick to the be a tree message, because it really is the most
likely thing that will save the child's life and does not require any decision
making in a time of extreme stress.
Your program does not
talk much about dog bites to the children - why is this?
The Be a Tree program is designed to prevent
the situations that lead to bites. The program uses mostly positive messages
and does not intend to frighten children by talking about dogs that might
bite them. The program gives children the tools they need to evaluate what
the dog is thinking and decide whether that dog wants to meet them. We
prefer to have them thinking in terms of whether the dog wants to meet them,
rather than whether the dog is likely to bite them. The program teaches them
to interact only with happy receptive dogs in appropriate ways under adult
supervision. They learn more about what they should look for and what they
should do as opposed to what they should not do.
Some of the program
content seems too advanced for younger children - what age is the program
The Be a Tree program is ideal for children in grades 2-3 and is suitable
for up to grade 5 and for younger children as well. The program has been
tested with junior kindergarten up to grade 5. Individual presenters can
gauge the level of the audience and adapt the level of detail accordingly.
We have used the program with veterinary students and college level
veterinary technician students to teach about dog behavior and even they
learned a lot from it. We are conducting an ongoing survey of teachers and
will discover what they think about the age appropriateness of the program.
We will make recommendations to presenters based on this feedback when it is
available. The program was reviewed by several elementary school teachers
and early childhood educators to ensure that the content and level of detail
Why do you ask that
the dog be sitting before the child pets the dog?
A dog that is not under sufficient handler
control to sit on command is not reliable enough to be petted by a child.
This is a very easy way for a child to make a judgment and rules out a great
many dogs with a simple step. Perhaps when enough children begin enforcing
this rule, dog owners will become more diligent in teaching good manners to
their dogs. This idea was suggested to us by Summer Epinger of D.A.F.E.Y.
(Dog Awareness for Everyone Including Youth).
Why do you ask the
child to allow the dog to sniff their fist in greeting the dog?
Is is an important social aspect of dog
culture to sniff in greeting. Dogs that are suddenly touched will naturally
turn to see who is there and may even snap if surprised. Many dog bite
prevention programs recommend offering a fist rather than a flat hand. One
reason for this is that a fist can be less threatening since if the dog has
been hit, it is more likely that the owner uses and flat hand rather than a
fist to discipline the dog. Another reason is that little fingers can be
mistaken for treats, especially if they smell tasty. The most important
reason is that if the dog does bite, there is less likelihood of serious
damage and no chance of having a finger bitten off.
Why do you recommend
that the child scratch the dog on the side of the neck?
Most dogs enjoy a scratch on the side of the
neck. This does not involve the child's hand coming over the dog's head and
keeps the child's face away from the dog's face.
Some bite prevention programs suggest that the
child should pet the dog on its back. We have tested this method (with
adults) and have found that this can startle the dog causing it to turn
toward the child. With a large dog and a small child this results in face to
face interaction. Even if the dog already knows someone is there it most
often turns it's head toward the source of the touch. Many dogs find a hand
on the back to be a threatening gesture and try to move away. Some turn and
snap without fully investigating the reason for the pressure on their back.
When is it safe for
the child to leave the Tree position after an encounter with a dog?
When the dog has lost interest and moved away
or when help comes and the dog has been secured. If the child is in doubt
they should maintain the tree position. If the child moves and the dog
resumes interest then the child should be a tree again.
Does Being a Tree
work in a real-life situation? Will children remember to do this?
We have had several reports from parents of
children (and even adults) being a tree in a real life situation. The tree
has worked to make the dog go away in all reported cases. We have used the
tree in combination with clicker training to teach many puppies not to jump.
You can read about some of the real-life cases in the Case File section of
Doggone Safe blog. See the tree in action in the