Preschoolers learn paw-fect way to pat a dog

Koonawarra Public preschoolers have been learning how to live safely with dogs in a program promoting responsible pet ownership. Natassia Soper reports.

A woman and child with a dog. A woman and child with a dog.
Image: Educator Sue Turner and her miniature schnauzer, Tig, teach Koonawarra Public School preschoolers how to be kind and safe with pets.

From dogs to cats, birds and even ferrets, more than half of all Aussie families own a pet and with domestic animals comes a responsibility to look after them, especially around children.  

Children at Koonawarra Public School Preschool south of Wollongong recently learned how to interact safely and responsibly with their favourite animals through the Responsible Pet Ownership program.

The program, run by the Office of Local Government NSW, tours early childhood education and care services and schools to educate parents and young children about how to be safe with animals.  

Stay safe around pets

 Always ask the owner before you pet a dog. 

  1. Even if a dog looks friendly, he or she may not be. 
  2. Let a dog sniff your hand before you pet. 
  3. Learn to read dog body language.  
  4. If a dog has a treat or toy, give him or her space.  
  5. When giving treats, use a flat palm with fingers held together. 
  6. Never scream or run away from a dog. 
  7. Always supervise kids around pets 

The preschoolers aged four and five were taught ways to be safe around dogs through song, role play and dancing, with the help of special visitors, educator Sue Turner and her miniature schnauzer, Tig.

The fluffiness of fur and cute faces often lures children to reach out and pat our four-legged friends. However, all pets – no matter how sweet they appear – need to be treated gently and with kindness.  

 There were 1,213 dog attacks reported in NSW between October 2023 and December 2023, according to the NSW Office of Local Government – and around two thirds of the attacks involved people.  

Transition to big school

Koonawarra Public School Assistant Principal Michelle Dixon said the responsible pet ownership program was just one of the many extracurricular school programs that preschoolers can participate in.

“Our model of integrating preschoolers into events helps children build a sense of belonging beyond the walls of their preschool,” she said.

“The responsible pet program, for example, teaches safe interactions so children are aware of not only the dangers involved with animals, but also the positive impact such interactions can have.

“It is important that our preschoolers enjoy experiences together to help foster a sense of self, make connection and be part of the Koonawarra Public School way.”

Public preschools located in NSW public schools are currently free to attend and provide quality play-based learning to children in the year before they start ‘big’ school. 

 Children can enrol in preschool from the beginning of the school year if they turn four years of age on or before 31 July in that year. 

The preschools are an important transition step to primary school and many like Koonawarra Public Preschool are well integrated into the daily learning and social activities of the school.  

Each preschool is staffed by qualified educators and meets or exceeds legislated national quality standards. 

There are 101 preschools in NSW public schools, including two distance education preschools for geographically isolated children. 

The NSW Government will establish an additional 100 public preschools in public schools by 2027, with 49 located in regional and rural parts of the state.   

Enrol in a public preschool 

Children sitting on a floor. Children sitting on a floor.
Image: Students at Koonawarra Public School Preschool learned how to interact safely and responsibly with their favourite animals.
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