Have you seen a “yellow dog”?
I’m not talking about yellow labs, here – I mean a dog wearing something yellow.
If you have, do you know what the yellow signifies?
It’s an important thing to know, both to help the yellow dog and sometimes, to keep your own dog (or child) safe.
There is an international scheme to help dogs who need space around them to be able to feel safe which is indicated by the dog and/or the dog’s humans wearing something yellow. This could be a subtle as a yellow ribbon on the lead through to the dog and the person wearing a yellow tabard. The scheme sells equipment clearly stating “I need space”. I don’t recommend a ribbon, as it’s almost impossible to see from far enough away to be able to take helpful action.
I’m taking this opportunity to draw attention to the scheme as it isn’t widely known about in the UK yet except by people whose dogs do need space, and that rather defeats the purpose.
Why might it be necessary to make it obvious that a dog needs space?
I volunteer for the amazing Reactive Dogs UK Facebook group, which has over 23 thousand members whose dogs struggle with things like other dogs, people, vehicles and joggers and react in a manner which appears to us as disproportionate. Reactivity is an increasingly common problem as poor breeding practises increase along with poor early rearing of puppies. Reactive dogs are often perceived as being aggressive because they attempt to create space for themselves by barking, lunging and generally behaving in a quite alarming way.
The important point to remember if you see a dog behaving like this is that the dog is trying to create space because it is afraid of whatever they are barking at. They want space to be able to avoid the scary thing but their polite, subtle requests for this space have been ignored. They ramp up the communications until the desired result happens.
Owners of yellow dogs are good at taking safety action when they are forced to by people not being considerate. Our priority is to keep our dog safe from harm (be that physical or emotional). In the reactive dog group, we advocate a loud and clear shout of “stop” together with a policeman’s stop hand signal to communicate with people or dogs who are causing a problem.
There are lots of reasons other than reactivity that a dog might wear yellow. Elderly dogs who would be hurt by young dogs bouncing at them in a perfectly friendly manner, dogs who are recovering from operations, dogs who are deaf or visually impaired, dogs with a limb missing – all might struggle with being approached.
I have two yellow dogs myself, so this is a subject close to my heart. They were yellow initially because they are retired working sheepdogs, so had little experience of walking on a lead and being bombarded by other dogs or people. Now, they are very old and don’t want to be bashed into by young, playful dogs, or touched by people they don’t know.
What should you do if you see a yellow dog?
The most important thing is to give them as much space as you possibly can. If you can do so without getting close, ask the person with the dog what they would like you to do in the specific situation you find yourself.
For example, if you’re running, walk past the dog giving as much space as you can, or let the dog and the person move into a safe space before you pass them, or at the very least call out so they know you are approaching, if they are ahead of you. Silent joggers on narrow footpaths are my personal worst nightmare with my sheepdogs – my dogs see a fast moving creature escaping, and are programmed to return the creature to its group.
Never, ever let your own dog (or child) run up to an unknown dog. This is a basic polite rule of sharing space with other dogs and people, never mind in relation to a yellow dog. For a yellow dog, a mistake will cause lasting distress to the dog and their human. It takes up to three days for a dog to recover normal biochemistry after an incident such as being approached by a dog they don’t know. One incident may set them back a long way in their rehabilitation.
People with yellow dogs will, generally speaking, be very keen to let you know how to help them and will be working hard to keep their dog safe and to rehabilitate them, whether that’s from surgery, from emotional traumas such as a fight with another dog or a scary experience with a child or poor breeding and/or early upbringing.
You can do a huge amount to help these dogs by simply keeping away and keeping your own dog or child away. That’s why knowing about this scheme is so important. Everyone has the right to enjoy public spaces safely.
Please share this with other dog owners