One of the most valuable skills that children can learn is to stand still and “Be a Tree” if a strange dog comes near them, or if a dog is bothering them or becoming too frisky.
Here is how to Be a Tree:
- Fold in your branches (hand folded in front)
- Watch your roots grow (look at your feet)
- Count your breaths in your head until help comes or the dog goes away
"Trees" are boring to the dog and the dog will just sniff and then go away. No matter what the dog does, just stand still, avoid eye contact (by looking at your feet) and stay quiet.
Here is a video that shows how this works. (Please note that other videos that YouTube might display after these videos are chosen by them and may not be related to us or our messages in any way)
And another one. Notice that as soon as the person stops moving the dog loses interest. Please note that this video is for illustration purposes to demonstrate how well being a tree works with a frisky dog (using a teenager and a well trained dog). This is NOT a safe game for a child to play with a dog. If your dog gets too frisky and overly aroused, the kids should Be a Tree and then you should intervene and redirect the dog to another activity where he is no longer around the children.
Practice, practice, practice
It is not enough just to tell your kids about this, they need to practice it in a low stress environment to have the best chance of being able to do it under real life conditions if a dog threatens them. One way to practice is to play the Doggone Crazy! board game. Another way is to play role playing games where everyone takes tuns pretending to be a dog and the others practice being trees when the dog comes near them. You can also practice this with a stuffed dog. If you have a puppy or a small dog, you may be able to play with the real dog. Every one moves around and when the dog comes up to them they assume the tree position. The adult says the dog's name before he gets to the child and gives the dog a treat (or better still, clicks and gives the dog a treat). This way the dog is rewarded for keeping all his feet on the ground around the kids. He will soon learn that when the kids do the tree that no-one is going to move or play with him anymore and he will see this as a cue to stop chasing or trying to play.
With a larger dog or a very frisky dog, start with the dog on a leash. Approach one of the kids in the game, the child will be a tree and you will say the dog's name, ask him to sit and give him a treat. Repeat until the dog automatically looks at you and sits when he sees a kid being a tree. Keep things calm with the kids. It is not a good idea for them to run around and get the dog all riled up.
Here are some testimonials from people who have found being a tree to work in a real life situation with their kids:
Jake jumped back (the dog followed barking) and Jake snapped into the Tree pose so fast I thought I'd seen him turn to stone. I couldn't believe he actually thought to do it - it had been over a year since we've had time to play Doggone Crazy. The dog immediately stopped barking, jumped back into his blankie and further trouble was thus averted.Beth Wheeler, Marblehead MA
One day my [4 year old] son was outside playing, those dogs were in their house, I was standing in our doorway watching Thomas play. Suddenly the back door to the house behind us opened and out flew the dogs. The male spotted Thomas immediately and charged him, clearing the fence easily, Thomas saw this and began to run for me. I yelled immediately for him to STOP and stand like a "tree". Thankfully Thomas did both, for the dog stopped, looked around and then headed back over the fence to his own yard. Another call went out to animal control, and a big hug to my son. Kerry McDonald, Pembroke ON
As an Animal Behaviourist who has testified in numerous court cases as a designated "expert" witness in the field of canine aggression in Ontario, I came accross some information relevant to Doggone Safe when reviewing material for a recent case. The parents of a young child credited this program with saving their [3 year old] daughter's life when she was confronted by a large, aggressive acting dog. According to them, had they not taught her the principles outlined in the 'Be a Tree' program, the results of their daughter's incident with this dog could have been disastrous. This account should tell you everything you need to know about the efficacy of Doggone Safe. Kerry Vinson, Animals Behaviour Consultant, Roseneath ON