Rhodesian Ridgeback Mauls Girl: Are Dogs Safe?

A Rhodesian Ridgeback

On November 11, a Rhodesian Ridgeback may be put down for biting a 3-year-old girl this past August.  It’s owner, a 21-year-old named Aaron Clifford, 21, admitted he allowed the dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place.  The owner, too, will be sentenced on November 11. The dog now wears a muzzle in public and has been neutered.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback attacked the girl when  he was tied to a picnic bench and the girl ran by.  Where I live, we see dogs tied to parking meters and bike stands all the time.  And it can be kind of scary.Years ago I went to pet one of these dogs and a friend, a dog-owner, said, “Don’t do that. Dogs get skittish when they’re tied up.” It’s a lesson I pass on to my kids all the time, along with always ask the owner if you can pet a dog. But it doesn’t always work.  Sometimes a kid shoots by, a dog is nervous,  bad things happen.

Teaching a child how to interact appropriately with an animal isn’t easy.  Kids and dogs share a lot of public space, they’re often equally excited to see each other, and they both don’t necessarily know how to channel that excitement.   To that end, kids are admonished to be both gentle and careful with dogs; we don’t want them to hurt the dog or vice versa.

It’s a balancing act that in some ways isn’t unlike what parents with newborns have to do with their toddlers.  But with human babies, we have some kind of control and we know the baby won’t hurt the toddler (unless spitting up counts as hurting).

With dogs, parents have to rely on the dog’s owner to be responsible: To train the dog, to understand his dog personality and where it can and can’t be left alone, to muzzle a dog who can bite, and, frankly, to neuter a young dog who could be aggressive. That’s why if I don’t know a dog, especially a big dog, my kids and I steer clear and hope for the best. How do you teach your kids how to be safe around animals?

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