Man's Best Friend
Lesson Activities


1.      Ask students if they have ever hear any animal referred to as “man’s best friend.” Explain that dogs have been referred to in this manner. Ask them to brainstorm why dogs might be called “man’s best friend.” (They are good companions, fun to play with, protect people from danger, etc.) Ask students to brainstorm some ways that dogs help people.

2.      Write responses on the board. (A possible list might include: guard dogs protect people or property; guide dogs aid people who are blind; hunting dogs help track wild animals; search and rescue dogs find missing people; sled dogs help people travel in snowy climates; dogs at airports sniff out smuggled drugs; and so on.)


1.      Review the answers that you and your students brainstormed. Then, look over the list and point out some of the activities that rely on dogs’ senses. For example, tracking wild animals and sniffing drugs at the airport rely on a dog’s strong sense of smell.

2. FRAME the first video segment, by leading a brief discussion where students share their thoughts about how dogs’ senses compare to humans’ senses. Let students know that they are now going to watch a segment from the NATURE film “Dogs that Changed the World.” Provide a FOCUS for the video clip by asking students to listen for information about how dogs’ senses compare to those of humans.

3.      PLAY Video Segment 1, “Dog Sense.” As a FOLLOW UP, ask students to compare human senses to dog senses. (Dogs’ senses of sight, hearing and smell are better than those of humans. Their sense of smell is thought to be at least 1000 times more sensitive than ours. Noises that we can hear at 1 mile, they can hear at 4 miles. Humans have reasonable vision, but poor senses of hearing and smell.)

4.      Ask students why they think dogs love sniffing sidewalks, hydrants and trees. (Possible answer:  Dogs can smell faint scents we cannot.)

5.      Hold up the clearly-labeled, small, identical, opaque containers with pre-soaked cotton balls inside. Explain that each one contains a particular smell. Tell students to take out a piece of paper and pencil, and write the numbers 1 to 5 in a list. (If you have more than 5 containers, ask students to write enough numbers for each container.)

6.      Explain that you are now going to conduct a “sniff” test and that you will be passing around 5 different scents which everyone will have a chance to smell. Instruct the students that after they smell each container, they should write down what they think they smell, next to the container’s corresponding number.

7.      Divide the students into 5 groups. (Note: If you have more than 5 containers, feel free to divide the class into more groups, making sure that you have at least one container per group.) Hand each group one of the containers.

8.      Ask for a volunteer from each group to hold the container while the others in the group sniff without looking in. Explain that you want the students to use their sense of smell to identify the scent. Ask them to write their responses on their paper and to keep their predictions to themselves. Instruct the volunteers to sniff (without peeking) once the rest of their group members have had a turn. After all students in a group have smelled a scent, instruct the students to pass the scent to another group and get a new scent to smell.

9.      After each group has sniffed all the scents, ask for volunteers to try to identify them. Write these answers on the board, next to the appropriate numbers. After several volunteers have guessed, let the students know the identity of each scent. Lead a brief discussion about which smells were easy to figure out, and which were trickier.

10.  Ask students if they would have been able to do this experiment if the scents were weeks old.

11.  Show a photograph of a Bloodhound. Explain that this breed of dog probably would have been able to track the scents after a long period of time because of its amazing sense of smell. Share the following facts about a Bloodhound: Its sense of smell is so powerful that it can follow a scent trail several weeks old. The sense of smell takes up 40 times more brain space in a Bloodhound’s brain than in the human brain. Explain that Bloodhounds got their name from “blooded hound” – a dog of pure breeding.

12.  Ask students to briefly discuss a dog’s sense of hearing and how it compares to ours. Remind them about the related information from the video segment. (Noises that we can hear at 1 mile, dogs can hear at 4 miles.) Also, let them know that in addition to hearing distant sounds that we cannot detect, dogs can pick up some high-pitched sounds that we could never hear.


1.      Explain to your students that humans have long relied on dogs’ physical abilities and strong senses to help them with daily activities. Remind them that, as you discussed earlier, dogs have helped humans in many different ways. Quickly review the list that you compiled at the beginning of the lesson.

2.      FRAME Video Segment 2: Tell your students that they are now going to watch some more video segments from Dogs that Changed the World to explore different ways that dogs help humans. Hand out the “Dogs’ Work” Student Organizer to each student.

3.      FOCUS the students by asking them to watch the segment to find out information about the type of dog featured, the type of work it does, what skills/ senses it uses to do its job and whom it helps. Ask them to fill in the information in the first row of the student organizer, as they watch the segment.

4.      PLAY Video Segment 2, “Sled Dogs.” FOLLOW UP with students by discussing the type of dog featured, the type of work the dog does, the skills it uses to do its job and who it helps. Refer to the “Dogs’ Work” Student Organizer Answer Key to help facilitate the discussion.

5.      Repeat steps 3 and 4 with Video Segment 3, “Moving Sheep.”

6.      FRAME Video Segment 4, “Delta,” by mentioning that dogs can also help people live more freely (guide dogs, etc.). Explain that the next segment features a dog that helps a teenage boy to live more freely. Then repeat steps 3 and 4 above for this final segment.

7.      Return to the list that you had brainstormed at the beginning of the lesson about the ways in which dogs help people. Ask students to add the new jobs that they just learned about to the list-herding sheep, pulling a sled and detecting diabetes.

8.      Ask students to reflect upon and discuss what they have learned about dogs’ senses and abilities and how dogs have been and are still very helpful to humans.

9.      Ask students to think about the ways in which dogs and humans communicate and how good communication strengthens the bond between dogs and humans (using examples from the segments of the sled dogs, sheep dogs and Delta).


1.      Display the Los Angeles Natural History Museum’s “Dog Gone Perfect Laboratories” Activity on a screen. (There is a link to this activity on the bottom left of the Dog Exhibit’s Artificial Selection page.)

2.      Let your students know that you will all be working together to create a dog that can achieve a specific task. Select “pull a heavy sled through the snow.” Select one of the body parts by clicking on “heads,” “bodies,” “legs” or “tails.” Then roll over each option for that particular body part to view information that can help you make your choice. Click on one of the options and discuss the reasons for making that choice. If you are not happy with your selection of a head, for example, you can make a change by clicking on one of the other heads. Once you are happy with that body part, click on one of the remaining tabs to add another body part. Once you have selected a head, body, leg and tail, click on “complete” to reveal your dog.

3.      Compare and contrast your dog with the featured dog, which performs the desired task. If you are not happy with the dog you have created, click on “build for the same task” to try again. Otherwise, click on “build for a new task.” This time try “keep a herd of sheep together” or another task. Experiment with building dogs for a few different tasks.

4.      After you have “created” several different dogs, discuss some of the things you discovered through this activity. For example, certain features (such as the large nasal cavity and low-hanging ears of a Bloodhound) can be helpful for specific tasks (such as detecting scents).

1. Explain to your students that they are now going to look at dog heroes, like Delta, who have helped people in some significant way.

2. (Optional): Take the “Dog Heroes” Quiz with your students at to learn about heroic dogs in history.

3. Explain that now you would like students to conduct research to find out about a modern dog hero and then give a short presentation to the class about that dog.

4. Ask each student or small group to gather information (using online resources, books and/or other resources) about a dog who has performed a valuable service for a human being or a group of people (for example, save someone’s life, help alert someone to danger, etc.). Here are some ideas for types of dog heroes:

o       A dog who saved someone from a burning building

o       A service dog (who helps someone who is has epilepsy, diabetes, etc.)

o       A dog who saved someone from a natural disaster (earthquake, flood, etc.)

o       A dog who helped find someone who was missing

5. After students have conducted their research, ask them to make presentations about their dog to the class. Ask students to include the following information in their presentations:

  • The name of the dog and type of dog
  • A description of why this dog is a hero, including what he/she did, where he/ she did the heroic act and who he/she helped;
  • Information about special skills that the dog used in his/her heroic act;
  • Other interesting facts about the dog;
  • A photograph of and/or article about the featured dog.

6. After the presentations are complete, go back to the list you compiled at the beginning of the lesson, with information about how dogs have helped humans and ask the class for suggestions of new items to add to the list, based on the Dog Hero presentations.

Ask students to reflect upon and discuss some of the things they have learned about dogs and their interactions with humans during the course of the lesson. Ask if they learned anything that they were surprised to discover (for example, that a dog could smell when blood sugars drop). Ask them to discuss whether they agree or disagree that dogs are “man’s best friend” and to provide reasons to support their views

  • Peggy Cartwright

    I am really looking forward to teaching this lesson. I am a student teacher, teaching in a life skills class of Special Education. We have no Science curriculum or books. I want to teach meaningful and interesting material to the students. I am so grateful for this lesson. It is the second one that I have taught from your site. I will modify it for my students, who read at a lower level. Again, thank you so much!
    Peggy Cartwright

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