Learning About Dog Behavior and Body Language and Safety Around Dogs at Local Middle Schools


At the request of Youth Community Service (YCS), our clinical animal behaviorist Jennifer Ott Cameron visited three Palo Alto middle schools—Ellen Fletcher, Greene, and Jane Lathrop Stanford—for lunchtime discussion sessions about human and dog interaction. Students learned how, just like we humans, dogs are individuals with individual reactions to different kinds of situations and stimuli. Students engaged in discussions about calming signals with an emphasis on human signals as contrasted with canine signals.

The Canine Ladder of Aggression (shown below) proved to be an excellent tool in teaching students to recognize dog body language and behavior. Students became confident in their knowledge of the best ways to get consent from a dog to be touched and how to safely touch dogs and engage with them after achieving consent. As a result, the students taking part in the sessions developed a more empathetic view of canine behavior as well as an awareness of the calming signals/rungs of the Ladder to prevent conflict behavior and possible consequent dog bites.

As a follow-up activity, the participating students at all three schools crafted toys and assembled goodie bags destined for San Jose Animal Care & Services, the shelter serving San Jose, Los Gatos, Milpitas, and Cupertino. They are donating a total of 40 cat goodie bags (each containing handmade toys, canned food, and a special thank-you note) and 60 dog goodie bags (each containing a special thank-you note, poop bags to help adopters, and a package of dog food). The goodie bags will serve as tokens of appreciation for individuals adopting through the shelters, thereby providing caring homes for rescued and surrendered pets.

Special thanks to all the participating students, and Evangeline Dominguez and Persia Fakr of YCS, and our own Jennifer Ott Cameron!