Many children are familiar with the shrill sound of a fire alarm. They immediately understand that the jarring Eee! Eee! Eee! means to drop everything and proceed to safety.

Fortunately, despite all the fire drills of childhood, most people live relatively fire-free lives. Not once in my adult life have I had to actually “STOP, DROP and ROLL”, but that phrase was embedded into my mind as a child. Should I ever catch on fire, I know what to do.

So why aren’t our children also learning the phrase, “BE A TREE”?

This phrase describes how to behave around dogs and could save a child from harm. “Be a tree” means:

  • Stop and plant yourself in the ground
  • Tuck in your branches (arms)
  • Watch your roots grow (look at your feet and count your breaths until you know you are safe)

When meeting a new dog, we should first “be a tree” until we can ask the pup’s parent if we may pet him. If they say yes, we shouldn’t lean over the dog, grab or pat his head, or even make eye contact. It may take practice to overcome our initial excitement, but we should approach the dog calmly from the side and stroke him gently, letting the dog show you what he’s comfortable with and following his lead.

When children are comfortable with dogs or have a dog of their own, they are even less likely to approach them with caution or to listen to the warning signs that their boundaries are being crossed.

An uncomfortable dog may yawn, tuck their tail between their legs, side-eye, lick their lips, or even growl. We should never punish dogs for giving us these warning signs, because they are like subtle fire alarms telling us, “Danger! Proceed to safety!”. That’s how we know we’ve crossed a boundary and it’s time to “be a tree”.

Drills help to teach our subconscious how to recognize when we’re in trouble and to keep ourselves safe. Most of us will never find ourselves trapped in a burning building, but because of fire drills, we know what to do just in case. Dogs are such a big part of our lives that “be a tree” is one drill that many children could use in real life almost every single day.

Let’s get practicing!

Dr. I. Wonder is here to answer your questions regarding your furry family members. If you have a question, email it to us at Our team at Neighbourhood Pet Clinic will tap into their collective experience to answer your various questions.