I’ve been seeing this meme floating around the Internet…

And I’ll be honest, it’s driving me a bit batty…

And I wasn’t going to write this (because I really try hard to stay away from my Soap Box)…

But then, I saw another (similar but different) meme and I couldn’t bite my tongue any longer.

But before I show it to you, let me back up a few steps.

My name is Meagan Karnes…

And I am a perpetual five-year-old.

There, I said it.

I believe in the philosophy of fun, first…always. And I’m always down for a good adventure.

I can also, on occasion be found eating pie for breakfast (don’t judge. Pecan is my favorite).

While I can adult when I want to, I have dogs in my life for a reason.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret…

That reason is not that I want to walk on eggshells every day of my life.

It’s not because I’m desperate for one more inconvenience or something else to add stress to my days…I’ve got plenty of that already…

And it’s certainly not because I don’t want to feel comfortable doing what I want to do in my own home.

I have a dog (okay, several) because I enjoy them.

I have dogs because they are fun.

I have dogs because they make my life better.

My reasons are selfish – I’m not afraid to admit it.

I have dogs for the pleasure of having dogs. And I’ll gladly trade a little extra cleaning, and a few more chores for the extra enjoyment they bring to my life.

I will not, however, be a prisoner in my home.

I will not walk on eggshells so that my dog isn’t afraid.

I won’t lower my voice, or change what I watch on TV, or avoid petting my dog because those things make them uncomfortable.

I just…won’t…do it.

I will not tiptoe around my own house because living my life makes my dog uncomfortable.

And I if I won’t tip toe around my dog, I certainly don’t expect others to either.

So back to that meme I mentioned.

It’s a meme floating about to educate parents on the correct way for children to interact with dogs.

It pictures a child hugging a dog and says “One hand is enough…two hands too rough”.

Which, in essence, tells parents to teach their children that they can only pet dogs with one hand, because two handed petting can feel overwhelming, and can lead to grabbing, and hugging which is a big no-no.

Wait, what?

Dogs that can’t handle being pet with two hands or being hugged are being allowed to interact with kids?

And if a child uses two hands to pet a dog, and the dog bites them, is it then their fault for being too rough?

….Or perhaps it’s their parent’s fault for not teaching their kid to respect the dog?

Nope. Sorry folks. Not buying it.

And it’s not just that one. Another popped up on my newsfeed just today, that equates a child’s hug to dogs mounting one another…

That says mounting causes dog fights, and that the dog misconstrues the child’s adoration for dominance and will aggress.

I hate to break it to ya, but dogs aren’t stupid.

They know the difference between a child’s hug and getting mounted…

Heck, they know the difference between a child and a dog.

So while the hug might feel uncomfortable, they do not perceive it as some expression of who’s boss…

But I digress…

Thing is, I’m seeing a big trend in the dog world these days…

Articles about dog bites to kids where passionate folks are condemning the child’s parents for not teaching them to more respectfully pet their dog…

Saying ANY dog would bite if exposed to such “bratty” kids…

Uh…folks. I am a dog lover through and through. One of the ones who prefers the company of her dogs, to the company of most people. And even I know that is so not okay.

Or guides that promote what I call “Defensive Dog Petting”…petting that will minimize the chance of a bite…because far too many dogs with poor social skills and no decent training are being allowed around strangers and kids.

Wait…What???

Here’s the story.

I regularly scoop my dogs into my arms. When we sit together, I can regularly be found hugging my dogs…like the perpetual five-year-old that I am.

In fact, after seeing this meme float around, I’ll regularly joke “two hands too rough” as I scoop my dog into my arms and kiss her all over her face.

And you know what? She loves it.

All of my dogs do…

The working Malinois do…

The former boar hunting bloodhound who hates strangers does, (who I couldn’t get near for three weeks when she first arrived here)…

The “rescued” working dog washout Malinois who landed here after being too sketchy for any type of work, who originally hated handling and especially hated having his head touched does…

The “Riot dog” does…

The formerly possessive, car chasing and severe resource guarding 90 lb Malinois does….

And the new arrival, scared of his own shadow Dutch Shepherd who vomits whenever he gets stressed out, who spent the first 18 months of his life hiding from the universe now does…

How do I know they love it?

They beg for it. They seek it out. And when the embrace ends, or the “two hands too rough” petting stops, they ask for more.

Why do they love it?

Because I teach them to.

I give them the skills to live in my world…

I do not tiptoe around them…

And I certainly do NOT make the entire world cater to them…

And until they have those skills, they will NOT, I repeat they will NOT be put in the situation to interact with strangers…or children.

Dogs shouldn’t bite children (or anyone for that matter).

They just shouldn’t do it.

And while I am going to teach my nieces and nephews to respect my dogs and others out there, I do let them hug them…

I let them play with them…

And GASP! I let them pet my dogs with BOTH hands.

Truth is, it is MY responsibility as a dog owner to prepare my dogs for the fact that sometimes kids don’t listen…

Sometimes kids (especially the young ones) get excited…

Sometimes kids get grabby….

And if my dog isn’t prepared for that kind of handling, the plain and simple truth is, my dog SHOULDN’T be around kids.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach kids to be respectful of dogs…

No doubt, I’ll stop them if they’re mean.

What I am saying is that we are, as a society, consistently failing our dogs if we continue to walk on eggshells…

If we don’t give them the skills to cope…

If they can’t deal with kids being kids…but we force the issue anyway…and then make everyone tiptoe around one another.

If we put them in situations they are unprepared for…

And if we expect the world to behave when our dog doesn’t have to.

I teach my dogs to tolerate er…uh…for lack of a better term, being manhandled. I teach them to get over it already. Not just that, I teach them to LOVE it.

So that they never have to feel scared, defensive or vulnerable if an ear accidentally gets grabbed, a toe gets stepped on, or a hug happens out of nowhere.

And if I choose not to teach them those skills, or if their behavior is anything other than bombproof, I do not let them engage with strangers or kids…

Period.

Listen, I’m mad…

I’m not mad that these memes are out there, giving parents skills to keep their kids safe…

(Well, if the one about mounting disappeared forever, my feelings wouldn’t be hurt, but that’s beside the point)

I’m mad that we have to teach kids “defensive” dog petting…

I’m mad that owners aren’t taking responsibility for their dogs…

I’m mad dog trainers aren’t teaching coping skills, but are rather advocating for avoiding the issue altogether, requiring society to tiptoe around their dog…

They aren’t teaching dogs to love rough handling…

But rather, they are teaching owners not to do it because it might make the dog uncomfortable…

I’m mad that we expect children to “behave” but we don’t expect the same of our dogs…

I’m mad that people are repeatedly putting their dogs into situations they are unprepared for…and then blaming everyone but themselves when things go South.

And I’m mad that memes like this have to exist.

Because I promise, there are plenty of dogs out there with good social skills that won’t bite a child, even if an ear gets pulled, a hug happens, or the child uses two hands.

For Dog Owners with Kids

Always give your dog a safe space away from the child and make sure that all interactions between dogs and kids are supervised.

Never leave dogs unattended with children.

Learn the signals your dog sends when he/she is feeling uncomfortable and if you see them, or are concerned in the least, contact a local trainer who can observe the behavior first hand and help you train your dog and teach them to cope.

If a dog is new to your family, or has any history of aggression, bring in an in-person specialist to help guide initial interactions until you can successfully teach coping skills and handling.

It’s best to always err on the side of caution when it comes to dog and child interactions, so if you’re concerned in the least, or if your dog’s behavior is questionable, keep dogs and children separate until you can get help.

For the Parents of Dog Loving Kids

Teach your kids to ask first before petting, and teach them to be respectful if someone says no.

If engaging with unknown dogs, teach them not to force an interaction, but rather to wait until the dog seeks their attention.

Make sure you are always there to supervise any interactions with dogs and try to limit your child’s interactions to dogs that are known.

Sadly, there are a lot of irresponsible folks out there, with dogs who have poor social skills allowing their dogs to engage with people and children in public, so best always to err on the side of caution.

And for Dog Owners

Train your dog.

Give your dog coping skills. And if you don’t, don’t expect society to alter their behavior because you didn’t.

If you aren’t 100% certain your dog can handle kids being kids, don’t let them engage with kids until you give them the skills to do so. Period.

If your dog doesn’t like hugs…teach them to. If they don’t like being pet with two hands, show them it’s not so bad. If they don’t like being touched on their face, or their rear, or being in close quarters with kids is scary, help them learn to LOVE IT. And if they have anxiety, teach them to chill out (and if you don’t know how, find an expert to help – one who helps you deal with the problem, and doesn’t advocate for avoiding it altogether).

If your dog can’t handle normal life, it is YOUR responsibility. Not everyone else’s.

No more excuses. No more blame. Train your dog. Or don’t.

But if you choose the latter, don’t put them into situations that you haven’t prepared them for and expect others to alter their behavior because you haven’t done the work. Because if things go South, the blame rests firmly with you.  

And one more thing…

To Dog Trainers

Teach dog owners how to give their dog bombproof coping skills.

Give dog owners the tools to get their dogs to LOVE being handled.

Quit accepting aggression or “reactivity” and start fixing the problem. (And if you can’t, refer out to someone who can.)

And in the meantime, give dog owners the education and skills for proper management, containment, confinement and don’t encourage them to take dogs that are anything less than trustworthy in situations they aren’t fully prepared for.

Anything less is setting the dog, and the owner up to fail.


(And just an FYI, because sometimes when the soapbox comes out, folks misinterpret my point – I’m not advocating that we all run out and start hugging all of the strange dogs we see or teach our children to do the same – I’m advocating that we accept responsibility and fully prepare our dogs for the things that can and do happen in interactions with children, or well intentioned strangers who can be a little too exuberant when meeting dogs. If we don’t, or if our dog lacks social skills, it’s up to us to keep them out of situations where they are forced to engage with the things we’ve not prepared them for.)


Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    10 replies to "Kids and Dogs: Are we REALLY setting the stage for success?"

    • Sandy

      THANK YOU! This is exactly how I have raised my dogs and child. They are 100% supervised when together and absolutely get along great. My working line leash reactive GSD is a saint with children. He is the most tolerant loving dog even with a very high prey drive (sorry cats lol) but he adores children and is extremely gentle and calm with them, all sizes and ages. He does not feed off their energy and can happily sleep on his pillow while my little one runs around making a ruckus. My Aussie is sometimes nervous around kids but she is an avoider. I always make sure if she needs more space because the kids are too in her face or moving too fast she gets that space. I too am sick of all the excuses for poorly behaved dogs and especially the comments from people who don’t even have children about how kids and dogs shouldn’t be allowed to interact. Get real people! Kids and dogs are a great combo there are therapy dogs for goodness sake!! It just takes training and dedication.

    • Sunstar

      Go Meagan!

    • Lindsay

      Fantastic! I’m so pleased to read some sense and reason.

    • Sarah

      I kind of agree and kind of disagree. With adults and in an ideal world, I agree. But, children are vulnerable and the world isn’t ideal.

      Some years ago I had a client with a nice dog who was in my class for two or three weeks and then disappeared. I later found out why. In a moment when the parents were not paying attention, their child went up to their sleeping dog and gave the dog a hug. The startled dog bit the child in the face. The child was lucky – the skin was grazed but not broken. The dog was not so lucky. Her restraint did not save her; she was destroyed (not on my advice, just to be clear – I was told after the fact).

      I completely agree that letting children interact in fun ways with dogs is important – many of my own happiest childhood memories revolve around our Border Collie and the time that I spent with him, often unsupervised, dare I say. Of course I think that everyone should do their best to prepare their dogs for the world, including uncomfortable situations (that applies to kids too). The reality is that many dog owners never go to a trainer for anything, or go at best to a 6-week puppy class. The reality is that children under a certain age do not have the mental capacity to read when the dog doesn’t want a hug and the parents aren’t always around supervising. The reality is that in such a situation, some dogs will use their own language to tell the kid to back off, and nobody comes out of that situation well.

      I’m an adult and I have a relationship with my dogs that is based on mutual respect as well as adoration (I like to think that’s mutual too). Yes, I hug my own dogs (I also have Belgians) and cuddle them and stick my face in theirs, (and my older dog returns the favour by running at me and sticking his nose in my left eye when my face is at snout level, such as when I’m tying my shoe laces or pulling weeds in the garden – he thinks this is a great game and is especially pleased with himself when I lose my balance and fall over, when he takes the opportunity to stick his nose in my face again and lick me) and we’re all happy. But I don’t want any more traumatized and potentially scarred children and I don’t want any more unnecessarily euthanized dogs, so while I understand the point you are making and I don’t think we should tippy-toe around our dogs (or children) and I do my best to help clients prepare their dogs for the world as well as the home, I’m afraid I’m sticking to telling my clients not to let children hug dogs and I support promoting that message to the general dog-owning public (though I agree – the humping analogy is going a bit far :-).

    • B

      Passion is the fuel for success- awesome when ya get fired up and make valid points. I agree, my home is straight chaos; kids, dogs and more kids. Holidays find 25-30 family, friends and sometimes people I’ve never met joining us for dinner during the holiday; but my dog welcomes everyone, but a straight up beast during protection training. He turned two a few days ago and he was raised in our home to be a part of our family; good, bad, crazy and fun. I prefer the solitude of the outdoors with my dog, my wife likes straight craziness with family friends and relatives coming and going; our dog has to exist comfortably. If our kids are bringing a new friend over I simply tell them the dog is friendly and he will come see you when he’s ready; sniff, sniff, friend= hugs and kisses time. No doubt the dog responds/reacts to how we are with people in our home. Sometimes we have relatives that do not love dogs as much as us, no problem, the dog leaves them alone; he simply ignores them and goes on his way. No egg shells here, if there are they’re broke from all the craziness and fun anyway.

    • Jennifer

      I agree with Sarah – I enthusiastically agree and I don’t.
      I hug my dogs all the time, and my Belgians seek out that contact with me and my husband and sometimes with other people they know. They do not seek it out with people they don’t know, and having a child run up to them in the street and throw their arms around them makes them uncomfortable. One dog simply looks away, lifts her paw, licks her lips and shows all those signs of low level discomfort. The other one is more likely to growl and snap, so we do not ever put her in that situation (Yes, you may pat THIS dog here, but THAT one is a bit nervous, so just say hello with a wave.) And yes, we are working very hard on her reactivity issues, and we have made huge progress – we don’t think her being likely to growl and snap is appropriate behaviour.
      In a perfect world, people would understand a dog’s body language and know when to back off and give space, and would supervise their children and teach their children how to read the dog’s body language. They would practice and teach respect for the dog. Hugging wouldn’t be a problem, because it would be done appropriately.
      In the real world, like Sarah, I have seen many people who just aren’t interested in putting the time into understanding their dogs, forcing their dogs to do things they aren’t comfortable with and even encouraging children to disrespect the dog (see the YouTube video of the child bouncing on the Rottweiler as a demonstration). I know that this type of behaviour is definitely not what Megan is advocating and that what she is advocating is mature, respectful relationships with our dogs where we have to learn to get along together, and we have to take responsibility for the situations we put our dogs in. It’s all very sensible and generally how I live with mine.
      However, I’m not sure that all humans can be trusted to do the right thing. 🙁

    • chloe De Segonzac

      I find it extremely difficult to train puppies when young children are fully part of the training., and when dogs are used as a practice to teach responsability.
      Overall I will say that 2 young children is a lot of work a d adding a puppy to the mix tips the balance for the adult who ends up trying to delegate to children who really have no interest other than playing with their pups.
      I think the adult must be the one wanting the dog and ready to take 100 percent responsibility to train and to teach. children what it means to have a different specie in the house.
      Now that said their are the few kids who starting at eight or so want to know and traIn and who are the future trainers, vets, etc. for me that would be one 10 year old girl in the last three years.
      Especially now that breeders give out their pups at eight weeks with no bite recognition : expectatIon is child and pup will be so cute playing and cuddling etc. reality is puppy constantly bite/nips child is hurt freaks out run screaming puppy thinks game on etc a weeks passes and child is now scared to put hands cLose to dog. Child protects themselves by elevating toy running away with toy which makes things worse. Child loses desire to be with child.
      And that is in fact what I deal with.
      So I do not do beg. Obedience with children. However I will teach games like hide and seek etc under supervision. Potty training is done together. So I explain right off that it will add a lot of work for the adults in the home.

    • Tyler

      I just don’t let kids near any of my dogs. It’s not worth the risk these days. Too many crazy people and it’s not worth having my dogs at risk of being seized or put down if they knock some kid over and the parents sue me. You want your kids to learn dogs, get your own dog. My dogs are not a petting zoo. My dogs don’t need to “learn to accept hugs.” Hard pass.

      I do, however, totally agree that there are way too many people letting their dog’s neuroses run their lives.

    • Joanna

      I think this article conflates two very different points and comes to a muddled conclusion.
      Point 1- Should dog owners allow young children to interact with their nervous snappish dogs, hoping the child doesn’t make a wrong move? Clearly the answer here has to be a resounding NO.
      Point 2- Should parents teach their children safe practices around dogs they don’t know? My answer would be a resounding YES.

      I have owned 3 Belgian Shepherds. Two of them love children and are extremely tolerant of childish rough housing. The third had a more nervous temperament, and as much as I worked to expose him to all kinds of stimuli and pair that with positive reinforcement, I would never trust him around a kid that might alarm him by grabbing and hugging and making him feel trapped. When children approached me when I was walking this dog, I would have them stand back and watch him do tricks, or have them toss something for him to fetch, or hide something for him to find. That way everyone had a good time and was safe.

      Of course it is entirely on me to keep this friendly and obedient, but nervous dog, away from unsupervised interaction with young kids. But it is also a very good thing when parents teach children not to run up to strange dogs and grab them around the neck, or worse, grab them unexpectedly from behind! How can you object to that kind of teaching?

      As a long time dog owner I have noticed that most parents actively teach their children to “ask before petting” and to “”let the doggie sniff your hand.” That’s a good thing for everybody. The push to add “use one hand not two” seems like another common sense measure when interacting with a strange dog. Many dogs (as you prove in your photos) love being hugged and going nose to snout with their trusted family members. Many of those same dogs would be a bit nervous to have a stranger move in on them in that manner.

      Dog owners cannot always train a dog with a timid or reactive temperament to be relaxed in any situation. We can avoid playgrounds and schoolyards, but not everyone has the privilege of walking their dogs where there is absolutely no chance of a child running up to them.

      Again, I agree that the onus is on the dog owner to know their dog and only let a relatively “bombproof” dog interact freely with young children But for parents to educate children about safe interaction with dogs is always a good thing!!

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