Challenging perceptions

Education Officer Kaye with school children learning about dog safety

[pictured above: Using model dog Jeff, Kaye explains the best place to stroke an unfamiliar dog is on the shoulder. Photography by Helen Yates.]

Encouraging children and young people to put themselves in a dog’s shoes helps our Blue Cross Education Team to tackle myths and keep communities safe at our school talks and workshops…

“Evil,” says one. “Savage,” adds another.

“That we don’t care about anything,” a third suggests.

Blue Cross Education Officer, Kaye Martin, is visiting George Green’s School in east London.

She’s asked the class to shout out what the press prints about young people their age, and none of what is said is positive.

Teenagers get a raw deal from the media. It’s a similar story for dogs, and these widespread misconceptions are what Kaye is myth-busting today in a bid to keep the schoolchildren safe.

Kaye shows the class photos of different dog breeds
Kaye busts the myth that only some types of dog are potentially dangerous

Dangerous dog breeds?

Kaye shows the class photos of several different dog breeds and asks them to vote on which of the dogs could hurt someone. The poodle and springer spaniel are dismissed as friendly, some believe the German shepherd is scary, but most are adamant the Staffordshire bull terrier is very dangerous.

“Any of these dogs are potentially dangerous,” Kaye reveals, and faces of confusion and surprise look back at her.

Despite what the papers say, staffies are not more aggressive than other breeds. Today is all about challenging perceptions and giving young people the facts they need to make informed choices that will keep them safe.

Empathy for dogs

A volunteer is needed, and half of the class is keen to be involved. After asking permission, Kaye wiggles the young lady’s nose, touches her chin and ears, and ruffles her hair. She then asks if doing so made the girl uncomfortable.

Kaye explains that having a total stranger touch your face feels invasive for a dog, just as it does for us

She is too polite to say yes, but Kaye can tell by her face that it did.

Kaye then stands to the young lady’s side and places a hand on her shoulder and the volunteer says that is much more comfortable.

“Would me touching your face have been less weird if I was your mum?” Kaye asks. “Yes,” comes the reply, “because she’s my mum and I know her!”

As the volunteer takes her seat, Kaye explains that having a total stranger touch your face feels invasive for a dog, just as it does for us. Being touched on the shoulder was less intrusive, and a dog feels more comfortable with being stroked by someone they don’t know on the shoulder too.

Putting yourself in a dog’s position is a great way to understand how your action might make them feel.

“And how would you feel if you were playing with your Xbox and someone took the controller away?” Kaye asks the group, and an enthusiastic young gentleman replies: “I would literally be like, ‘Why are you doing that?!’”

Similarly, snatching away a dog’s toys and waking them from a peaceful slumber are occasions that can cause a dog to get annoyed.

Schoolgirls get involved with class discission
A boy makes a cross with his arms
Making a cross with your arms and turning away helps protect if a dog confronts you

Should the worst happen

Unfortunately, there are irresponsible owners out there and while Blue Cross does its best to help young people avoid confrontation with dogs by speaking with over 65,000 11-25 year olds a year, we’re pragmatic about the fact that they do need to know how to protect themselves if the worst happens.

“Make a cross with your arms and turn away from the dog to protect the parts of your body that you need to live,” explains Kaye.

I caught up with some of the young people at the end of the session to find out if Kaye’s words had created an impact. She had clearly made a positive impression that will keep them safe.

“I learnt what to do if a dog comes up to you in the park,” said Michelvi. “You shouldn’t judge a dog on what it looks like.”

  • Learn more about how a dog's body language can tell you about whether they are happy to see you or telling you to stay away in our expert pet advice article.

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— Page last updated 24/05/2017