Have You Heard of the Yellow Dog Project?


coco in winter copyWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

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 Red Ribbon - Stay Backsocialization 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.

Yellow Dog PosterThe 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:Yellow Dog Theme

  • 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.

Yellow Dog conditions


About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic plant-based eater, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

5 responses »

  1. This is such a great idea! I have a 15 year old Basenji who has lost most of her vision. She dislikes all canines and would fight if she could. I spend most of the time picking her up to protect her from unleashed dogs and curious humans. She is ancient for the Breed and has always preferred Cats to other canines. Wonderful idea!

    • I thought so too. It gives me a point of reference when I want to talk about why dog owners should give other dogs space. They’ll probably remember my comments better with the yellow bow concept too.

  2. I had a friend who owned a beautiful looking dog with flowing blond hair who did NOT like other dogs. Because the dog was such a beauty no amount of “my dog bites” would convince people to control their dogs. Finally my friend started shouting “My dog has a very contagious skin disease that is expensive to treat” People started to keep their dogs away! My friends dog was always walked on a short leash when out, but others often were not leashed at all, or were on those “reel” kind of leash which gives a dog a lot of length if the owner does not pay attention.

    • That’s creative! Some people can probably only relate to the thought of treating an expensive disease as a deterrent. Maybe add on that it’s a zoonotic disease that sometimes makes the jump to humans if that still doesn’t work.

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