We’ve all seen that child who is petrified of a dog, run away screaming and as a result the dog gets more excited and starts chasing the child?! I can tell you, I’ve seen it hundreds of times!
What if that dog was a dangerous dog that might actually bite or attack? It’s these sudden movements that could set the dog off and make matters so much worse.
What about the new family puppy who loves to jump up all over the kids and nip at them?! Wouldn’t you love an easy way to help with this problem?
What if I told you that dogs are bored by kids who are quiet and still? So rather than running away and screaming, we must do the exact opposite… Stay calm and stand like a TREE. Not only can this help to stop a nippy, jumpy puppy, but it could save a life!!
Joan Orr, the president, Doggone Crazy, said to me – “Through the Doggie Detective (formerly Be a Tree) program, we’ve educated over a million kids worldwide, and the only feedback has been that standing like a tree works. “1
So what does “remain calm and stand like a TREE” actually look like?
Teaching your child not to run and scream in moments like these can be a challenge. BUT it will make the world of difference.
Say this to your kids: “If any dog is worrying you or getting too excitable or if a strange dog approaches, remain calm and stand like a TREE. When’s the last time you saw a dog chasing or jumping on a tree?”1
To help defuse tense situations with a dog or overly excitable ones, move slowly and carefully. Try to remain as calm as possible. Avoid direct eye contact and do not make any loud noises or abrupt movements.
Here’s how to stand like a tree1:
- Fold your branches (hands folded in front just like in the photo below)
- Watch your roots grow (look down at your feet, not at the dog)
- Count your breaths in your head until help comes or the dog moves away
In a little more detail, pose with your feet planted for stability, hands clasped in front of your body, and your eyes looking down toward the ground.
Fold your branches – means to fold your hands in front.
Watch your roots grow – means look down at your feet, avoiding eye contact with the dog is important.
Remain still and count in your head as high as you can until someone comes to take care of the dog or until the dog moves far enough away that you can safely—and slowly—move away as well.
When should you and/or your children use this?
When you want a dog to calm down or move away.
It can be used in a whole range of contexts. Here are the main ones that come to mind:
- When being approached by an unknown or familiar dog that might be a threat: Coming across a dangerous dog can be scary. Making yourself as boring as possible is key here and should hopefully encourage the dog to just sniff and move on. Sudden, erratic movements may result in a bite. So, move slowly and try to remain as calm as possible until the dog loses interest and moves away. Counting breathes is a really nice way to try and take the mind off the dangerous situation and help to make you/your child feel calmer.
- When scared of dogs: This is a common one. A natural response to being scared of something is wanting to move away from it. But in the case of dogs, running away screaming, will most likely make the situation worse and the dog will come chasing. So, if your child is one of these kids who is scared – teach this to them and practice it often so it comes as second nature when they see a dog next time that they are scared of.
- Around a puppy that is jumping, nipping, or chasing: Puppies love to jump, nip and chase. To an excitable puppy, if you start running and screaming, they will most likely think it’s a fun game you and will start chasing you – just making matters worse. Teaching your child to remain calm and stand like a tree will be the quickest and best method of teaching your puppy not to do these behaviours. When the puppy is playing nicely, they get attention and affection. When they jump up or start to bite, we stand up remain calm and stand like a tree. It’s so affective. Once the puppy is calm, redirect them to something they are allowed to chew on or play with. I tell all my adult puppy clients to do this too, it’s not just for kids and it really works!
- An excitable dog: For example, if things get too silly at home or when you go to a friend’s house and their dog is sooooo excited to see you – remain calm and stand like a tree! The dog will get bored and will calm down. Click here for a nice example of this on YouTube.
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 stand like a tree again.1
So just to recap, it is so important as parents that we teach our kids to be dog aware and stay safe around their own dog, dogs they know and dogs they don’t know personally. Keep it simple and practice this over and over!! We want it to be so engrained in them that it just comes as an automatic reaction.
Staying calm and standing like a tree is useful for empowering kids to be able to communicate both to the dog AND to the adult who should be stepping in to lend a hand2. So as the parents, please remember to never leave kids and dogs together unsupervised. As soon as you seen them standing like a tree- that is your cue to step in and help to redirect the dog, if it is safe to do so.
Good luck! Let me know how you go or if you need any help with this!
References and a thank you:
A big thank you to the best of the best in the kids and dog world for helping me get all my facts straight for this article…
- Doggone Crazy – https://doggonecrazy.ca – thank you goes to Joan Orr
- Living with Kids and Dogs – https://livingwithkidsanddogs.com – thank you goes to Colleen Pelar
- Family Paws – https://www.familypaws.com– thank you goes to Jennifer Shryock
- The Family Dog – http://thefamilydog.com – thank you goes to Justine Schuumar