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An Urban Experience
T. Keuster1
1European Veterinary Specialist in Behavioural Medicine
Man’s best friend
Dogs are the most popular pets globally, owned by
33% of households, followed by cats (23%), fish (12%) and Birds (6%) (GfK 2016). The majority of dog owners consider their pet dog as a close family member, a relative or a best friend. A lovely example on how families treat their pet dog came from a US survey wherein
all respondents reported that they give their pet dog
a holiday present; 87% includes their pet in holiday celebrations; 65% sings or dances for their pet; 52% percent prepares special meals for their pet; 53% takes time off from work to care for their sick pet; and 44% percent takes their pet to work (Walsh 2009).
In families with children, keeping a dog appears to be positively associated with the child’s physical activity, and children who walk their dog are significantly
more likely to play outside, walk locally and are more independently mobile compared with non-dog owners. (Christian et al 2014).
Furthermore, dog ownership appears to provide psychological benefits for the child, in terms of emotional, cognitive, behavioural, educational and social development, and has been associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety. Recent papers however stress the importance of long term follow-up studies to understand the true relationship between dog ownership and benefits to child development (Purewall et al 2017).
Pitfalls in human behaviour towards dogs
Humans and dogs have a lot in common. Both are a social species, which means they not only enjoy the presence of a companion, but both are species whose optimal functioning is dependent on social relationships with other members of society. At the same time, optimal functioning within social structures requires effective communication and a mutual understanding of species specific signalling, social gestures and interactions.
For example, social gestures like sitting close to show affiliation, putting one’s arm around someone’s shoulder and restraining someone in a friendly hug, are lovely gestures from a human perspective. Especially young children like to hug dogs as a sign of their friendship, not realising that their (benign) actions might intimidate a dog and induce fear. The fact that the dog freezes and does not move, may lead parents and teachers to think the
dog feels happy with this well-intended attention.
Most of the dog bite accidents with family dogs
result from such seemingly benign (from the human perspective) interactions, hence the importance to stimulate awareness in parents about how their dog behaves when being hugged, petted or approached in different situations (Reisner et al, 2007)
As most dog bites happen in familiar surroundings involving a familiar dog and a child victim, they represent a serious health and safety issue for both families and the pet dogs involved, because injury and trauma to humans risks destroying the human-dog bond, exposing dogs to relinquishment or euthanasia.
Why a Blue Dog?
In the last three decades ‘Prevent a bite’ programmes mainly were aimed at the age group of 7 years and older and focussed on public safety rules, like how to behave when encountering an unfamiliar dog, and programmes intended to prevent bite accidents at home were non- existent at the time. They also traditionally attempted to teach how to recognize the dog‘s body language. But young children score badly in discriminating dog body language and look mainly at the face of the dog to make their decisions: they will often confuse a frightening with a friendly dog (Lakestani et al.2015).
To fill the gap in dog bite prevention strategies relating to age group (younger than 6 years) and context (at home situations), the Blue Dog team decided to create a dog bite prevention tool for families with young children: The Blue Dog.
The Blue dog – a one Health approach
Due to the complex nature of child-dog interactions, it was considered crucial to establish a multidisciplinary team. The professions involved in the project were veterinarians
( general practitioners and behavioural vets), ethologists, child psychologists, paediatricians and teachers from the Royal College of Fine Arts University of Ghent.
In September 2003, Soraya Verbeke a graduate from the College of Fine Arts, created the “Blue Dog figure”. Being blue; the dog was not like any living dog. The teeth were visible at any moment to indicate that a dog, even being friendly, still had teeth and could represent a danger. The artist’s idea was to transform computer graphics into an interactive programme with click animation. In that way, children would be able to choose a way of reacting by pressing an action button. The situation would develop depending upon the child’s choice.
In order to explore the viewpoints on dog bite prevention, 52 people with relevant expertise in the field of dog bite

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