Top Dog

poem by Bill Condon , illustrated by David Legge

Learning intention:

I am learning to experiment with composing imaginative texts.

Success criteria:

  • I can analyse images and text to identify the relationship between characters in a poem.
  • I can consider the impact on relationships when characters change their personalities.
  • I can compose a poem where a shift in the power within a relationship occurs.


Prior to opening the magazine, discuss common perceptions of cats and dogs, such as which animal usually fears the other. Most likely students will conclude that cats often fear dogs.

Display a copy of the illustration that accompanies Top Dog, with the poem covered. Analyse the image. Those with a digital subscription can complete the interactive activity. Discuss the following questions:

  • What can you see? (the cat is balancing on the dog’s head while the dog looks up with a resigned look on its face)
  • What does this make you think about the characters? (the dog is resigned to the fact the cat will use him as a toy, the cat is playful and takes advantage of the dog’s good nature)
  • Who in the image appears to have the most power? (the cat)
  • How are both characters feeling? (the cat is jubilant, while the dog looks forlorn)
  • What do you predict an accompanying poem might be about? (a cat bossing around a dog or a younger cat with a protective dog companion)

Read the poem, Top Dog, or listen to the audio file and discuss how closely the information in the poem matches the students’ inferences they made based on the illustration. Emphasise extracts that support the idea the cat has the power in the relationship and that they enjoy this power, such as,

I make him sit there for over an hour,
and all the while I purr with power.

Discuss how the dog might feel, providing examples such as, taken advantage of, used, disrespected, resigned to their position in life.

Inform students that often in texts characters learn something new that causes a shift in their personality. Discuss how the dog might change if the cat continues to use it to balance on. It might become frustrated with the situation and decide to stand up to the cat.

Tell students that they will be composing a poem where the dog changes and stands up for itself. Discuss how the dog might feel before they change, while they change and after. Encourage students to draw on their own experiences for inspiration. A sample response is:

  • Before the change: becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with the cat
  • During the change: feeling that it is finally time for them to stand up for themselves and for them to be treated with respect
  • After the change: proud of the fact they stood up for themselves

Discuss events that might be the catalyst for the change. For example:

  • The cat inviting friends over to all balance on the dog
  • The cat saying something unkind to the dog that is the final straw
  • Another dog asking them why they put up with such treatment which makes the dog realise how badly they are being treated

Collaboratively compose a poem about the transition the dog makes. Inform students that they can choose whether or not to make the poem rhyme and that the focus is on showing the dogs transition to gaining some power. A sample response is:

When you’ve spent your life as a climbing frame

For a cat, you might be filled with shame,

Until a friend makes you realise,

That worthless you are not, in fact you’re wise.

You tell the cat no for the very first time,

And at once your self-esteem will climb,

Until at once it’s time to see,

Life as a dog is the best way to be.

Instruct students to compose their own poem about the dog making a change and the way this makes them feel. Students can work in pairs, small groups or independently for this task.