Dogs can be incredibly sweet pets, and dogs are remarkable for how loyal, affectionate, intelligent, and intuitive they can be. As an animal lover myself, I am incredibly drawn to cats, dogs, and animals of all descriptions. Yet in my practice as a plastic surgeon, I see dozens of animal attack injuries each year, many of which are devastating-- and some of which are near fatal.
Dog bites and maulings are extremely common, with approximately 4.6 million Americans (most of them children) experiencing a dog bite attack each year. Familiarity with dogs won't necessarily keep you safe: 77% of dog bites are associated with the pet of a family member or friend, and 50% of dog bites occur on the dog owner's property. In addition, dog bites in babies and toddlers can be fatal.
Recognize possible triggers
Encroaching on a dog's territory, startling an unsuspecting dog, blocking a dog's access to its food or water, or using threatening behavior (such as staring or approaching a dog at eye level) may trigger unexpected aggression in both domestic and wild dogs.
Never leave children unsupervised around animals
Children should always be supervised around dogs because their unfamiliarity with animal behavior and small size leave them vulnerable to attack. Children may approach dogs quickly, bend to speak to them at eye level, attempt to hug and kiss them, or otherwise unknowingly provoke them. Dog bites are most often fatal in children age 2 and under. Do not let your children bend to pet and hug dogs under uncontrolled or unpredictable circumstances.
Optimize your interactions with dogs
Make sure any domestic dogs are properly trained, vaccinated, and acclimated to living among humans. For your own pets, take care to establish a predictable, affectionate, and loving relationship, with the assistance of professional dog trainers as necessary. If a new baby is introduced into your household, monitor all interactions carefully.
Be aware of situations in which an animal may feel scared, territorial, threatened, uncomfortable, or sick, and avoid provocative interactions during these times. Recognize and respect a dog's personal space. Although dog breed alone cannot predict dog bites, know that pit bulls, Rottweilers, and mixes of those are the breeds most commonly involved in human attacks.
Seek urgent help if you are attacked
Dog bites are significant sources of contamination and bacterial infection. All dog bite injuries must be thoroughly washed out and treated with a course of oral or IV antibiotics. Dog bites to the face, neck, and hands have significant cosmetic and functional implications and can be disfiguring if they are not appropriately managed.