Why are dogs wearing yellow ribbons?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Back off from belly rubs; not all dogs want to be petted

PHOENIX -- Few people, particularly children, can resist petting a dog. But some dogs aren't always amenable to the extra attention and might not respond well to a stranger's overtures.

"The Yellow Dog Project" is designed to help those dogs that need a little extra personal space.

While many dogs love nothing more than basking in adoring attention from humans -- or even other animals -- there are any number of reasons why other dogs do not. The problem is that people aren't always aware that a dog might react badly to being approached until it's too late. It's a potentially dangerous situation for dogs and humans alike.

That's where The Yellow Dog Project comes in. It's a simple idea. A dog with a yellow ribbon on its collar or leash requires a little extra space. Think of it like a yellow traffic light: Proceed with caution.

"Yellow Dogs are dogs who need space," reads TheYellowDogProject.com. "They are not necessarily aggressive dogs but more often are dogs who have issues of fear; pain from recent surgery; are a rescue or shelter dog who has not yet had sufficient training or mastered obedience; are in training for work or service; are in service; or other reasons specific to the dog."

The goal of The Yellow Dog Project is to help dog owners or foster parents identify dogs that need a little room. It's also meant to educate the public about the proper way to approach a dog -- any dog. That includes asking permission from the dog's human before moving in.

The Yellow Dog Project is the brainchild of Tara Palardy, a dog trainer and owner of a dog day care in Alberta, Canada. She got the idea from a Swedish website.

"I am a positive reinforcement trainer and ran into a number of clients who complained about people approaching their dogs, kids getting too close to their nervous dog, or even puppies who jump all over people," she explained on The Yellow Dog Project website. "These people needed something to help identify their dogs as not being approachable, or needing a moment of training before being approached."

She introduced her idea to 250 of her friends and clients in September 2012, hoping that it would take off but never dreaming that it would quickly become a worldwide movement. Within six months, The Yellow Dog Project's Facebook page picked up more than 12,000 likes. As of today, it had more than 38,000 likes from people in 45 countries.

Palardy and supporters of The Yellow Dog Project will be the first to say that the only way the idea works is if people know what a yellow ribbon on a dog's collar or leash means.

That's why Palardy turned to social media, launching not only the Facebook page, but also Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts. The goal was to get The Yellow Dog Project in front of as many eyes as possible.

Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net developed a poster for The Yellow Dog Project. It's been translated into more than a dozen languages.
(Click for large image)

For The Yellow Dog Project to be become an accepted standard, people need to understand not only what it is, but also what it's not. The website is very clear about that.

  • TYDP is NOT an excuse to avoid proper training
  • TYDP is NOT an admittance of guilt or a confession
  • TYDP is NOT a waiver of responsibility

Dr. Grey Stafford, director of conservation at Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium and author of "ZOOmility: Keeper Tales of Training with Positive Reinforcement," is a proponent of positive-reinforcement training. While he had not heard of The Yellow Dog Project, he called it a "wonderful idea."

"So many behavioral problems, including dog-to-dog and dog-to- human aggression, can be prevented if we just pay more attention to the subtle warning signs all animals give us before things spiral out of control," he said.

The Yellow Dog Project is meant to nip that spiral in the bud and give everybody a chance to read the behavior of a "DINOS." Jessica Dolce coined the term DINOS -- an acronym for dog(s) in need of space -- on her Notes from a Dog Walker blog in December 2011.

"Dogs In Need Of Space are good dogs," she wrote. "They may not want to socialize with your dog, but they have the right to walk with their owners, on leash, without harassment from strangers who insist on a forced greeting.

"Their owners do not want to cause a scene or yell, in a panic, at strangers," she continued.

"It is critically important for us to not assume the comfort level of any pet, ours or someone else's, in new situations or first time encounters," Stafford said. "Rather, we always want to set animals up for success by progressing slowly and letting THEIR comfort level be our guide when meeting other people, unknown dogs and/or visiting new places."

A yellow ribbon on a collar or leash or a yellow bandanna is a simple signal that a dog might need some extra time to adjust to its surroundings or situation. Just as people don't always know how an individual dog might react to any given stimulus, neither do other dogs.

"Never simply 'let animals work it out' because the consequences are often detrimental to everyone's health, future behavior and overall well-being," Stafford said.

To learn more about The Yellow Dog Project or to download a flier and help spread the word, check out TheYellowDogProject.com.