If you’ve ridden a horse at organized trail riding events as I have, you’re probably familiar with the coloured ribbon system on the tail for horses – red for potential kicker, white for sale, green for a horse in training, and generally yellow for a stallion. The system is pretty universally reproduced in trail riding handbooks too. The ribbons are a great visual aid that helps people following horses to know how far back they should keep their horse, to avoid sudden unexpected responses from the horse in front, and to ride safely in a large group.
Most every dog owner considers themselves astute to the moods of dogs. I’m probably no exception, since I don’t automatically reach down to pet an unknown dog, nor do I generally allow strangers to try to pet my dog, a 15 lb, “Lhasa-Shih Tzu-Peke.” But Coco, rescued from a Quebec puppymill in 2008 and adopted in 2009, has some “issues.” Yeah, she’s got quirks. She was afflicted with dry-eye and while in the puppymill, it was never addressed. When she and other dogs were rescued in a public raid, she went to a dog rehabber, and I found her on Petfinder in 2009, after she’d had a litter of puppies, who were also placed by the rescue. Her eyes were severely damaged as a result of the lack of care, and looking into them is like looking into a stained glass window – they are full of strange dark “creases” and “crinkles.” We give her eye drops to prevent them from worsening, but the vet says that there is almost zero reflection back out from the retina, meaning that she is almost totally blind.
I think she navigates out on walks by smell, some light and dark sensitivity, and by feeling the change in textures under her feet. She finds her food bowl mostly by smell. She won’t get better, but hopefully she won’t get worse either. Dog socialization and play classes only cause her anxiety – she cowers after only a few minutes of being inundated with playful dogs, growls and snarls at them, and retreats to my lap with her head in my armpit. At these events she’s generally looked upon as the sad misfit who will never be able to mix with the cool kids.
While some adults and children are very aware of proper ways to approach a dog, many are not. Quite often, well-meaning dog owners in the community always assume that all dogs are friendly and want to play, usually without regard to the different personalities of dogs, their youth and training, and whether they’re intact or not. So I don’t think it’s safe to assume that the public will automatically respect your space; and while it shouldn’t have to take a ribbon to communicate this, it could help in the most-needed cases. Coco really needs a seeing-eye dog of her own, and as a result, she is often startled by the sudden presence of an unfamiliar dog next to her. Quite often I see a dog on a fast trajectory course for Coco, or children approaching with outstretched hands.
“Don’t worry, dogs really like me!”
Warning growls often go unheeded by young dogs and their owners. On occasion I’ve gotten quite irritated with people for opening the door of their house as we walk by to allow their dogs out to “play” with us. When I explain she’s blind and may bite, they laugh it off and say “Oh, it’ll be a good lesson for my dog.” Well, why is it my obligation to teach your dog any lessons? And what if they come at the expense of both of our dogs if a fight develops? What kind of lesson will your dog take away from this experience? A person should have the grace to step away if the approach by either dog or human is not welcomed, but sometimes they don’t seem to want to accept this.
The Yellow Dog Project is a movement created for dogs that need space. By tying a yellow ribbon to the dog’s leash you are indicating that this dog needs space (or maybe the human walking the dog needs the space). Short of creating a harness that says “Do Not Pet,” I think this is a great idea if it can get wide acceptance and exposure. Just imagine walking in a neighborhood and rather than having to “shoo” off an approaching stranger that clearly wants to see the dog, they see the ribbon and understand. Now, for creating a wide awareness in my own community…
The movement is not intended to warn people way from dogs that may be dangerous, but the ribbon is intended to represent dogs that are scared or skittish, maybe in heat, post-surgery, learning leash manners, deaf, or recovering from an injury. The use of these ribbons – which has caught on globally – was started by Tara Palardy, a positive reinforcement dog trainer in Red Deer, Alberta. Palardy got the idea from a website launched in Sweden. Since branding her own project, people around the world have started tying bows. She launched a Facebook page for 250 of her friends and clients in September 2012 and now has almost 90,000 followers around the world. The Yellow Dog Project is a not-for-profit organization that now has its own website – http://www.theyellowdogproject.com.
The yellow ribbon is not an escape clause. It’s not an excuse not to train a dog. It does not release you from liability if your dog bites someone. Whether you have a yellow ribbon or not, when approaching an unfamiliar dog:
- Follow leash laws and have your dog under control (even if friendly)
- Ask permission before approaching an unfamiliar dog
- Wait for the dog owner to respond to you
- Always allow dogs enough space to pass
It is human nature to want to touch and interact with a dog. However, I don’t think that it is appropriate for any stranger to allow their dog to rush yours, or to touch or pet your dog without asking first.
The expectations we have for dogs are often a continent away from reality. This year I vow to stop caring what other people think and stand up for my dog. I pledge to be patient and explain the yellow ribbon to anyone who approaches and asks. It takes practice to be able to say “no” over and over to the same “friendly” person who isn’t respecting our dog’s needs. But this year I hope to reinforce to my neighbours and those in my community that not all dogs are created equal.