Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Futility — And Danger — Of Yellow Ribbons On Dog Leashes

It's been a while since I read anything about the Yellow Dog Project, an effort in public education to make people understand the meaning of a yellow ribbon tied to a dog's leash:
The Yellow Dog Project is a global movement for owners of dogs that need space. It hopes to educate the public and dog owners to identify dogs needing space, promote appropriate contact of dogs and assist dog parents to identify their dog as needing space.

Yellow Dogs are dogs who need space - they are not necessarily aggressive dogs but more often are dogs who have issues of fear; pain from recent surgery; are a rescue or shelter dog who has not yet had sufficient training or mastered obedience; are in training for work or service; are in service; or other reasons specific to the dog. 
While I don't know for certain, it seems likely this arose from the practice of tying a red ribbon to the tail of a horse that doesn't like to be crowded from behind. As that article observes,
What horseback rider doesn't know the telltale sign of a red ribbon tied in a horse's tail? I learned at a VERY young age – most likely as soon as I climbed on my pony and went for a trail ride at the age of 7 – that a red ribbon tied into a horse tail signifies a horse that kicks.
Which is to say, this is a deeply embedded part of horse culture. It has a built-in way to transmit it: horse people tend to know other horse people, and hang out at stables. There is no such mechanism for the yellow ribbon, save large-scale public advertising campaigns, which cost money. Which is to say,
The message the yellow ribbon seeks to transmit is unlikely to be understood by the intended audience.
 It fails at a very basic level. There I left it until I found myself reminded of it once again by a Facebook friend, who posted a link to a Care2 article about the project. That got me Googling around the Interwebs,  whereupon I found this excellent essay by Deb McAlister about why you shouldn't use the yellow ribbon:
American juries (urged on by plaintiff’s attorneys) are using the yellow ribbon the same way they’ve been using the “Beware of Dog” signs for years: as an admission that the dog owner knows he has a dangerous dog. And your dog could pay with its life if it’s labelled as a “known dangerous dog”. The dog doesn’t even have to bite anyone. In Texas and a number of other states, it’s legal to shoot a dog if someone is “reasonably” afraid of it.
George Bernard Shaw said, "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." This is a first-rate illustration of that problem. Despite the Yellow Dog Project's efforts to uncouple the yellow ribbon from problematic dogs, the world outside will come to its own conclusions, something DogKnobit wrote about:
... I think we presume too much “dog savviness” on the part of the general public. I’ve been a dog fancier for thirty years, but if I’d never seen this poster on Facebook today, I wouldn’t have known the significance of a yellow ribbon on a dog leash. Because I am a dog fancier, however, I also know there are better ways to deal with the situations listed on this poster than using a ribbon to ask for “space.” Responsible dog owners have control over the environment  to which their dogs are exposed, as well as the degree of “saturation” in that setting. If a dog has health issues that require minimal contact with other dogs,  should the dog even be in such an environment?  And is it me, but if a dog doesn’t do well with other dogs, should he even be around them until he’s become trustworthy in a controlled setting? And finally, isn’t it just plain common sense and courtesy to keep one’s dog from getting in another dog’s face?  Rather than rely on a yellow ribbon to signal any number of issues a dog has, I’d rather see this fabulous article by Susan Clothier make the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and be included in material handed out to new dog owners.

My final thought on using a yellow ribbon to indicate a dog’s need for space goes back to the Cane Corso story at the beginning of my blog. We live not only in a litigious society, but at a time when animal rights zealots are gunning for us. Is it really smart to telegraph with a yellow ribbon (or “do not touch” signs) that our dog may have “issues?”
The yellow ribbon campaign fails as a communication mechanism, and potentially transmits damaging and false messages even among people who should know what it says. No, just, no. Don't do that.

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