I am a dog lover. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine my life and my family without our dear adopted labrador retriever. Turning 11 this month from the date of her rescue when she was just 6 months old, little Montana (pictured above) has never hurt a fly. But having two young kids in the house, most parents like me worry about protecting our loved ones from getting mixed up with other doggies in the neighborhood.
As a plastic surgeon here in San Diego, I often see a complete other side to what can happen when doggies are not so nice. There are an estimated 70 million dogs living in U.S. households. Sad to say, millions of people (most of them children) every year visit the ER bitten or injuried by dogs. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2013 over 26,000 reconstructive procedures were performed to repair injuries caused by dog bites. Most of these injuries occur in the head and neck and can lead to unsightly scarring.
As we approach the heat of summer, its important to teach our children strategies for avoiding injury and respecting man’s best friend.
Not all dogs are like Montana. Children with a tame, calm dog in the household may approach other animals in the same way they approach their own pet. Its important for kids to keep their distance and keep their guard up. Teach them to stay clear of dogs off leash, no matter what the breed. If a dog is leashed by their owner, teach them to ask the owner first “can I pet your dog?” or ask “is your dog friendly?” Most responsible owners will let you know first if their pet is not kid friendly.
Never approach any dog’s head from above to pet them. Let them first sniff your hand from a low position…this is the least threatening to them. Teach your kids that dogs, although gentle, can get spooked easily. Its best to approach them gently and slowly. Never approach a dog while eating as they may feel threatened if another animal or human is near their food.
Finally, if you child is injured, try to remain calm and seek the appropriate medical attention. Throughout my career, I have taken care of many children who have been injured by dogs. When parents are calm, kids will be strong and resilient to get through the initial phase of their care. Dog bites can be frightening….truly prevention is the best medicine. Following this advice, with a little bit of common sense, you and your family will continue to enjoy man’s best friend all year round.
Salvatore J. Pacella M.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S.