EARLY HISTORY 2003 – 2006

The Blue Dog programme was the brainchild of Tiny De Keuster, a specialist veterinary behaviourist from Gent, Belgium.

In 1998 she became the co-organiser of the Belgian National symposium “dog aggression, a multidisciplinary approach” which took place in 2000, and subsequently the coordinator of the Public Health Task Force on dog bites (2001). She also worked as a scientific expert in a prospective study on the characteristics of dog bites in children (2002).

Working with Andre Kahn and his colleagues at the Department of Child Psychology, Paediatric Clinic, University of Gent, it was found that injuries from dog bites were a significant problem in Belgium. Most of these occurred in young children in their own homes and were inflicted by a familiar dog. Check out dog bite data and research abstracts to find out more about these early findings.

Sadly Andre Kahn died unexpectedly in 2004, and so was not able to see the results of his efforts come to fruition.
Current bite prevention programmes did not target the group that were especially at risk, most addressing the issue of older children meeting a strange dog in the street. Few of these programmes had been scientifically assessed for efficacy. The challenge was therefore to:

1. Identify the main “at risk” group
2. Identify the prevention message that needed to be promoted
3. Design an education tool that could deliver this message in an effective way
4. Assess the efficacy of this learning tool
5. Promote the message in an effective way to the end user.

Tiny brought her ideas to the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Association (FECAVA) conference in 2003. She also discussed her plans with the Boards of the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology (ESVCE) and the Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group (CABTSG). All three groups pledged initial financial support and the other core sponsors quickly joined.

In the event, the Blue Dog has evolved as an interactive CD-ROM that a child has fun playing with. The aim is to teach the children (and their parents) to recognise potential risk situations and so avoid them. A printed parent guide accompanies the CD.

This has been a fantastic international multi-discipline project. The art work owes much to both Carlos Dekeyrel and Willy Van Driel of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, University College Gent. Special mention should be made to Soraya Verbeke, the artist whose skills brought the Blue Dog to life.

Soraya developed the artwork as part of her final year studies at the Royal Acedemy of Fine Arts, Gent, and the photograph shows her work being exhibited at the prestigious Het Pand Congress centre of the University of Gent.

In the photo, Tiny De Keuster is standing and Soraya is seated at the computer.

It is interesting to see how the style of the artwork has changed over the years. The characters in the initial pilot versins are shown in the photograph, and are quite different from those in the final edition.

The scientific input owes much to the feedback of many behaviour specialists from throughout the world.

The efficacy of selected scenes from the CD as a learning tool was scientifically assessed by Kerstin Meints and her team at the Lincoln Infant lab, University of Lincoln, UK. You can find out more about these studies by checking the research abstracts section.

Additional credit should also be given to Daan De Meyere for producing the sound and vocals for the CD, and to Kendal Shepherd, Hildegard Jung and Moira Butcher for their contributions to the Parent Guide booklet.  

Having developed the prototype version, it was important to “spread the word amoungt professionals working in the field. One of the early major international conferences where the Blue Dog featured was the 2004 International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO) held in Glasgow. Andre Kahn was due to present the findings of his team, but tragically died unexpectedly just before the conference. Tiny De Keuster stepped in and the lecture was very well recieved. 

The photograph shows Soraya Verbeke  and Tiny De Keuster at the Blue Dog booth within the exhibition of the conference.

The Blue Dog Trust was formed in November 2005 as a non-profit organisation responsible for managing the programme.

The World Launch took place at the joint WSAVA/FECAVA Congress held in Prague in 2006. The photograph shows Dr Jiri Berenek, the President of the Czech Small Animal Veterinary Association, at the press conference of the Blue Dog launch. We are indebted to him and his colleagues for there enthusiasm and work which helped to make the launch such a success.  

The programme has evolved in many exciting ways since that time. These can be traced by checking through previous entries in the Blog Posts section of the website.