Dogs – introduction

Information about the physical and behavioural characteristics of dogs.

Under the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW), Section 14, dogs are prohibited on school grounds unless the principal grants permission. Reasons why the principal may grant permission for a dog to be in a school include:

  1. Assistance or Service dogs – are accredited and specially trained to assist an individual person with a disability. Assistance dogs have undertaken a Public Access Test (PAT) and meet the NSW standards for public access rights. The term assistance dog is the generic term for a guide, hearing, or service dog, specifically trained to perform identifiable physical tasks and behaviours that assist a person with a disability in order to aid in quality of life and/or independence.
  2. Farm working dogs – may be used on school farms and must be under the control of the teacher, farm assistant or person in charge of the activity at all times.
  3. Visits by organised groups or programs for school incursions – includes such programs as Responsible Pet Ownership Education Program offered by the Office of Local Government.
  4. School support dogs – are used in schools to provide emotional support, companionship or well-being support. They are often known as therapy, emotional support or companion dogs. For the purpose of these guidelines, any dog in a school used to support student wellbeing (other than accredited assistance dogs) will be referred to as school support dogs.

It should be noted that dogs are not considered suitable animals for being housed at a school.

Occasionally a community member may request a visit to the school with their dog, including a family dog or puppy for a news item. These should be considered on a case by case basis, be well managed and only for a limited time where the adult brings the dog to the school for the item. The Principal must grant permission and be supported by a risk assessment.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTAA) states that only a person aged 18 years and over can be responsible for a dog.

Varietal range differences

There is an enormous range of dogs kept in Australia. They are grouped according to original breed, use or type:

  • Toys, including Maltese and Chihuahua
  • Terriers, including Australian Terriers and Airedales
  • Gundogs, including Spaniels and Pointers
  • Hounds, including Beagles and Whippets
  • Working, including German Shepherds and Kelpies
  • Non-Sporting, including Dobermans and Samoyeds
  • Utility, including Boxers and Schnauzers.


The vision of the dog is different to that of humans. They can see colour, in particular those within the blue and yellow portion of the light spectrum but are incapable of distinguishing reds and oranges. They see static shapes in less detail than humans but are very sensitive to moving objects and can see a waving hand up to a kilometre away. Dogs are very sensitive to sudden or unusual movement, an asset made use of in guide dogs, retrievers and hunting dogs.

In general dogs have panoramic field of vision is 250-270° but binocular vision varies greatly in different breeds according to how far their eyes are set in the front of their head. It has been shown that their peripheral vision is affected by the shape of their skull. Dogs have much better night vision than humans.

Image: The binocular vision of dogs is influenced by how far their eyes are set in the front of their head.


Smell is the dog’s predominant sense, having 44 times more scent receptors than humans. This facilitates the ability for dogs to be trained for a variety of tasks, selecting objects or finding humans.


Dogs have highly developed hearing and can hear high notes that the human ear cannot detect. They hear notes of much higher frequency than humans, giving them the ability to detect the calls of many small mammals, such as mice and bats, and allowing them to be successful hunters.

Behavioural characteristics

Dogs are highly social animals that have evolved to live in groups known as packs with a social hierarchy. In human-dog relationships it is appropriate for the human to be the leader of the dog’s pack.

Most breeds of dog thrive on an appropriate human-dog relationship although some breeds such as the Maremma readily bond with stock and remain aloof and independent of humans.

Because of the companionship role that exists with dogs, it is generally not suitable for a dog to live at the school. An exception to this is when a breed such the Maremma is used on the school farm to guard the stock. In this case the dog develops a relationship and bond with the stock and lives with them. Students must understand this relationship and learn how to interact appropriately with the dog and the stock.

Image: Working dogs must be under control of the teacher, farm assistant or person in charge of the activity, at all times.


Particular attention must be given to the suitability of a dog’s temperament when selecting an individual dog to participate in any activity in a school. Dogs that have difficult temperaments and are fearful, timid or dominant, should not be used in the school situation.


Any dog that is used by a school must be under the responsibility and care of a person 18 years of age or older. This person is generally a staff member, but in the case of dogs that visit a school, may be owned by a community member.


All dogs must be microchipped and registered with the local council in which they are kept.


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