Dog Heroes: Water Dogs

Grade Level: 
2, 3, 4, 5
Civil Society
A guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of generosity, community, and service to others.

by Frances E. Ruffin

Reading Level: Ages 7-12

This fascinating book reveals one aspect of the amazing partnership between humans and dogs: heroism. The stories focus on dogs that have risked their lives to save humans and other animals during storms, floods, and other water emergencies. In this book, you will meet Ursa, who during a storm at sea, guides her owner’s boat safely to shore. You will also meet Tang, a ship captain’s dog, who braves high, icy waves to rescue 90 passengers from their stranded ship. Today, thousands of dogs undergo special training to come to the aid of people who are at risk of drowning. Share with children the idea that an important component of heroism is preparedness. They should be trained to recognize when someone is in danger, and to immediately seek help from the nearest adult to handle the emergency. Help to protect your child from a water emergency by making sure they are competent swimmers. This book can be found in the nonfiction section of a school or public library.

Before Reading

ASK: What would happen if a person is stranded on a boat, or is in danger of drowning? How would you let others know that you or someone else was in trouble while swimming? Is a dog really able to rescue a person from drowning?

SHOW: Look at the photographs of Newfoundlands, a breed of dogs known as “sea dogs” and “lifeguard dogs.” Why do you think these dogs are good water rescue dogs?

CONNECT: Most dogs are good swimmers, but even they can become tired while swimming. Have you or someone you know been in trouble while swimming? Did you need someone to rescue you? If you see a person or animal in danger of drowning, never try a water rescue unless you are trained in lifesaving. Find an adult to help, or call 911.

During Reading

ASK: Why do you think dog owners enroll their pets in the WET DOG program?

SHOW: Look at the pictures of the dogs training to be water rescue dogs. What do you think might be the most difficult part of the WET DOG test? If you have a dog, would you let your dog be trained to rescue people? If so, why?

CONNECT: Have you ever taken a first aid course for safety at school, at camp, or in your home? Discuss some reasons why it might be important to know what to do in an emergency?

After Reading

ASK: Ursa and Tang were both heroic dogs. Neither was trained to save lives, however. What do you think made them jump into dangerous, stormy seas to rescue humans? If you own a dog do you think your pet would try to save your life if you were in danger?

SHOW: Besides Newfoundlands, what other breeds of dog in the book are shown being trained as water rescue dogs?

CONNECT: What, do you think, makes humans and dogs come to the aid of other people and animals? Besides water rescues, can you discuss other situations that you have seen on television or read about in books, newspapers, or magazines where dogs have saved lives?


  1. Gather information about Newfoundland dogs. Then make a drawing of a “Newfie” making a rescue. At the bottom of the picture, write a paragraph telling what you learned about this heroic breed of dogs.
  2. Have you ever seen a person or an animal rescued from a dangerous situation? What actions were taken to make a difference. Discuss how the rescue made you feel afterwards.
  3. Can you swim? If not, ask your parents to let you take an American Red Cross swimming course. Swimming is an important life skill that, one day, could help you save your own life.
  4. Learn the rules about water safety from the American Red Cross website.
    Then make a colorful poster listing six rules of water safety.
  5. If you own a dog, learn what safe and fun activities you can share with your pet from the Pet Stimulation page of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website.
  6. Come to the rescue of animals that are abused. Learn how laws are made that can protect them on the ASPCA website.