Can I Pat That Dog

Jul 24, 2018

When my son was a five-year-old, I gave a talk at his child care centre called, “Can I pat that dog?”. I based the talk on a book of the same title written by Susan McLaine and Karen Damiani and illustrated by Margaret Power (Angus and Robertson 2004).

Can I Pat That Dog

The book was perfect for showing dogs in a wide variety of situations: happy, fearful, angry, eating, sleeping, working, tied up or looking after puppies. It helped me explain to the kids they must ask “Can I pat that dog?” permission from a carer, the dog’s owner AND the dog before approaching it – even if the dog seems happy!

I divided my talk into three parts:

  1. How to approach a dog
  2. How to look after a dog
  3. Dog training and tricks.

Having used the book for part 1, I introduced my dear old, black Labrador, Harry, and demonstrated how to look after a dog: walking, brushing and feeding him (Harry liked that part), playing games with him, and picking up his doggy doo (the kids weren’t so keen on that!).

It has to be said, the final part of my talk was the most fun for the kids. I had trained Harry for eight years at my local dog training club, he was well settled and we had a good kit bag of tricks to show off. Judging by the cheering, the crowd favourite was the flag race, where Harry and my son raced each other to fetch three flags. My son never lost a race, but Harry was such a good dog, I often wondered if he let my son win (as I did as a soft dad!).

The visit ended with the kids coming over to pat Harry, having asked their carers and me, “Can I pat that dog?”, and checked with Harry, too – he would roll over, wag his tail, and let the kids pat his tummy … while looking to me for a treat reward.

The talk proved so popular that I ran it twice at the child care centre and then for several years as a school holiday program at Sydney’s Centennial Park. I also wrote about the experience and posted it to my dog club website, my blog,, and recently on

Ten years have flown by since that child care centre visit, dear old Harry is no longer with us, and my five-year-old is now a teenager who towers over me. But I still highly recommend the book.

And I have kept in contact with the director of the child care centre, and she tells me the copy of Can I Pat That Dog? I gifted them after my visit sits in their library and they still use it to talk to kids about the safe way to approach dogs.

What a lovely legacy for the authors and illustrator of this wonderful book!

© 2018 Robert Fairhead

N.B. This post is also published on my blog, You might like another blog post featuring dear old Harry in a Santa hat, Not Just for Xmas.

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