By SPCA International staff

How many times have you walked down the street, passing one person after another, without saying a word to one of them? Plenty I’m sure. It’s often a different situation though when the person approaching you on the street has a dog with them. Then you usually stop and say something - at least to the dog.

Not every dog that you see out for a walk on a leash is a dog that welcomes a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ear though. It’s not necessarily because they are mean, but rather some dogs just don’t like “strangers” stepping into their space. It may be that the dog has fear issues, has just been through a traumatic experience or they are not up to speed yet on good dog manners. How do you know this though?

A dog can’t say, “Keep back,” so it’s up to the person walking them to say repeatedly, “Please don’t touch my dog.” However, there is also the person that wants to take their dog for a walk but does not want to broadcast the fact their dog has some issues. Some people feel this is a negative reflection on them not being able to control their dog.

Even when a person is warned, not everyone listens though, especially children that get extra excited when encountering a dog. To them, the dog is a friend to run up to and hug. When a parent is present, they will try to grab a child’s hand or jacket if they hear the owner’s warning, but sometimes they’re not fast enough. Sadly, that’s when children are putting themselves at risk of getting hurt or even bit. When this happens, the dog can be labeled vicious and that usually puts an end to their public walks or even their life.

We encounter lots of warnings in our daily life – red lights at an intersection means stop, a barricade across a sidewalk is there to direct us to find a safer route and a Watch Your Step sign means there is reason to go slow or else you might end up falling. At an early age, we are taught to pay attention to these kinds of warnings for our own protection. To ensure the message is easy to understand, universally recognized symbols are usually used.

Now there is a new warning and it’s quickly becoming recognized here in the United States and in an ever-growing number of other countries. It’s a yellow ribbon prominently tied to a dog’s leash. What this ribbon says is, “Dog needs space – do not approach.”

The ribbon can be seen from a distance, giving anyone approaching a clear warning to not approach the dog or make any contact with it. When adhered to, this reduces the dog and the walker’s stress levels and potentially keeps a passerby from being unnecessarily frightened or possibly bitten.

There are dogs though that should not be walked in public because they have been confirmed to be repeatedly dangerous and unpredictable. Putting a yellow ribbon on their leash is not appropriate. The dogs that have a yellow ribbon on their leash should be ones that are in the process of being trained or their desire to be “left alone” is only temporary, and when strangers keep their distance, they are fine in public places.

Adults need to be made aware of the yellow ribbon and parents need to educate their children to what they mean. This goes hand in hand with also showing children how to approach a dog safely if they have been told the dog does not mind being touched by strangers. To help ensure a happy encounter, a person should always slowly offer the back of their hand for the dog to sniff first. Most dogs will quickly realize the person standing in front of them is okay and they will gladly welcome the attention.
Dogs have an ever-growing presence in our daily lives and in order for all of us to get along; it’s smart to have ways to communicate clearly. The yellow ribbon does just that, in the same way that the special harness on a Seeing Eye dog says, “Working, do not approach.”

Another assurance for having a dog that behaves well in public is training – the way you communicate directly with your dog. If a dog continues to feel uncomfortable when on a walk, then additional training is recommended to help identify what the problem is and come up with a solution. A walk should be a positive experience for a dog and its owner, as well as the people on the street that naturally want to stop and say hi. Knowing your dog and taking the appropriate actions to keep everyone safe will keep tails wagging.

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