Animal Body Language

Carmel Mountain Preschool Animal Body Language

Recently in the Nature Lab we’ve been discussing body language, with a particular focus on animal body language. We not only have several animals up in the Nature Lab (both domestic and wild) but kids and animals are like magnets so it’s important for children to be aware of animal posturing and vocalizations and what they might mean. After demonstrating typical human body language posturing for “mad”, “sad”, “scared”, “happy”, etc, we then moved on to the differences between animal body language.

I particularly like to focus on dogs because regardless of whether children live in a home with dogs, there is no doubt that they will interact with dogs on a somewhat regular basis. Dogs are everywhere! At their friend’s house, on a walk around the neighborhood, at the park, or even in the grocery store. I personally am a big dog lover so have no problem with the increase in dogs’ presence in our local hangouts, but it does mean that children need to be very aware of how to safely interact with them. Most parents are wonderful about educating their children about how to safely interact with dogs, but some parents may not have much experience with dogs themselves so in turn their child(ren) also lack that experience. Unfortunately, this lack of exposure and knowledge often can take two paths. I see children that are completely unaware of what NOT to do around a dog, such as trying to hug strange dogs or running from or after them, and worse yet, many of these children develop a fear of dogs. This fear may simply be due to lack of exposure, or because of their lack of knowledge they may have had a very negative interaction with the dogs that led to a phobia.

Carmel Mountain Preschool Animal Body Language

I have personal experience with children and adults that have severe dog phobia and would not wish it on anyone. I used to work at a non-profit that offered sessions to people with animal fears and phobias, particularly focusing on dogs. You would be surprised how common it is. I ran into people whose children would run into traffic when they would see a dog on the sidewalk, or would not be able to have play dates because of friends having dogs. I also met with several adults who could not go hiking, or go to public places that might have dogs present. One particular adult couldn’t bring herself to get out of the car when she arrived she was so anxious. So, to reiterate, ensuring children are aware and comfortable with dog behavior is important at a young age.

In our recent lesson, the students and I talked about how whenever we meet or interact with any animal it’s best to assess our own body language. Animals can be very sensitive to our energy and posturing, so I like to encourage kids to take a few deep breaths to calm our bodies before interactions (We practiced this when we met the chickens). We discussed that if we see a dog that looks calm and friendly and we’d like to pet it, we MUST ask the owner. We also learned that an owner is not being mean if they say “No, I’m sorry you can’t pet my dog”. That owner simply knows their dog best and wants to keep their dog and your child safe. Lastly, we talked about the safest place to pet a dog being on its back. There are of course lots more that can be covered, including body posturing when allowing a dog to smell you, and I hope to revisit the topic in the future with a real dog here =). In the meantime, I hope your children get lots of practice reading animal body language whether it be a lizard on a rock, your cat at home, or the fish at their friend’s house. This sensitivity and awareness of others goes beyond the animal kingdom and can help create more empathetic adults too.

Carmel Mountain Preschool Animal Body Language

If you want to learn more about the program I spoke of that addresses dog fears, here is a link.

Happy Trails!

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