If you’ve seen a yellow ribbon tied on a dog's leash and wondered what it means, read up.

By Madison Pincombe
October 15, 2020
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Have you ever seen a dog walking with a yellow ribbon tied around their leash or collar? It's a phenomenon that's taken off in some cities like Portland and Los Angeles, but hasn't been as widespread across the U.S. as some fans of the movement would like. But what does that yellow ribbon mean, and why do some dogs use it? We wondered the same, so we talked to the pros to find out more.

What Do Ribbons on Dog Leashes Mean? 

The yellow ribbon movement began in Australia in 2000, after Terry Ryan established the signal in her camps and classes. The yellow signal was used to communicate that a dog needed space. The campaign first spread to Australian dog clubs and then made its way to other countries.

“The idea is that the ribbon indicates a dog that may be uncomfortable around other dogs or people, and anyone that sees the ribbon should give the dog space and ignore them,” says Daily Paws’ pet health and behavior editor Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT. Owners may choose to simply tie a ribbon to their dog’s leash or purchase a specific bandana, leash, or collar.

As awareness of the yellow ribbon campaign has spread, it has expanded to include other colors. “Typically, yellow means a dog that is fearful, and red means a dog may be reactive to other dogs,” says Bergeland. These are the two colors that she finds to be most appropriate and helpful.

What to Do If You See a Dog Wearing a Yellow Ribbon 

If you see a dog wearing a yellow ribbon, Bergeland says to give them space! “Dog owners, and even people without dogs, should never expect that they can just approach any dog they see in public.” But it’s especially important, she says, to give space to “any dog with a sign or marker on them just like you would for a service dog or working dog.”

What Is the Yellow Dog Project?

The Yellow Dog Project was founded by Animal Behavior College graduate and positive reinforcement trainer Tara Palardy in 2013. She created the Yellow Dog Project to make the general public aware of dogs who need space while training, recovering from surgery, or being rehabilitated.

Palardy coined the acronym D.I.N.O.S., or “dogs in need of space.”

It’s worth noting that some yellow ribbon campaigns like the Yellow Dog Project have left some dog owners and legal experts wondering about questions around owner liability. Some people have drawn parallels between the use of yellow ribbons and “Beware of Dog” signs. Owners have worried that signs may indicate that a dog owner may have known their dog is aggressive, and should accept liability after an incident occurs (although cases have determined otherwise). Bergeland says that as in any given scenario, dog owners need to take responsibility for their dogs, including being aware of potential issues. But generally, she says it’s very helpful if the general public is able to identify that a dog needs space. “Of course, I think ribbons should be used in combination with a good positive reinforcement training program and support from a dog behavior consultant,” she adds.

How to Use Different Colored Ribbons to Help Your Dog

If you think your dog could benefit from a little extra space while on walks, a yellow ribbon might help you send a message to well-meaning people and pets alike. Here are a few ways to use different colored ribbons to communicate your pup’s needs: 

How to DIY Your Own Dog Leash Ribbons

If you have yellow ribbon on hand, simply cut off a length of ribbon and tie it tightly around your dog’s leash. Other dog owners have used yellow paracord to create a keychain they can attach to their dog’s leash.

Yellow Dog Products You Can Buy

Amazon offers lots of product options if you like the idea behind the Yellow Dog Project but want something more official:

  • NERVOUS Yellow Color Coded Padded Dog Leash, $19; amazon.com
  • Dexil Limited Nervous Yellow Color Coded Buckle Dog Collar, $20; amazon.com
  • Pawskido Nervous Give Me Some Space Dog Bandana, $8; amazon.com

If you’re not interested in using a yellow ribbon, there are other ways you can ask for space for your dog. If anyone is getting too close to you and your dog, simply say something to the effect of, “Hi, we are in training and need a little extra space, please.” Other people tend to be more understanding when you tell them your dog is in training. If people will not give you room, do what's best for your dog and move away yourself.

Bergeland says that all dog parents should advocate for their dogs in any situation and environment. No matter their behavioral history, ensure your dog has a positive experience wherever you go by avoiding heavily crowded locations or unpredictable environments.

Have you tried tying a yellow ribbon around your dog’s leash, or seen them used on dogs in your neighborhood? Let us know on Instagram at @DailyPawsMag, and spread the word about the Yellow Dog Project to help bring awareness to what these indicators mean.