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The Yellow Dog Project could save your pet's life

Pallavi is a native Arizonan about to begin her second year at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently majoring in indecision (but she likes political science, urban studies, and journalism … it’s all very confusing and she is v...

What's the best thing to do when you see a yellow ribbon on a leash?

One trip to your local dog park will easily show you that not all dogs are the same. Some dogs need a little space. Not because they misbehave, but because they’re different — and different is OK. But owners of unsocial, timid and infirm dogs know that interaction with unfamiliar people or animals could be potentially dangerous to their pets. That’s why The Yellow Dog Project could make a huge impact on the lives of these pups and their owners alike.

The dreaded walk-by encounter can be a dog owner’s worst nightmare. You’ve been there, right? The sidewalk has narrowed, and straight ahead your neighbor is grinning as he pulls back his dog, while your dog tenses up beside you. Who knows what will happen when the two of you meet, but one thing is certain, it’s not going to be pleasant for any of you. But imagine a world where such encounters could be avoided. That’s what Tara Palardy had in mind when she founded a movement called The Yellow Dog Project, where something as simple as a yellow ribbon could be what ends up protecting your dog and giving you some peace of mind.

The idea behind The Yellow Dog Project is simple: If you don't want others to approach your pooch, just tie a yellow ribbon around its leash. "Yellow Dogs," as they’re called, are not necessarily aggressive or badly behaved. They could be in training, excessively anxious or fearful, recovering from surgery or any number of other possibilities. The ribbon itself is not a label; rather, it’s a warning. It tells others that your dog, for whatever reason, needs space. Even more, it asks others to politely keep their distance and give that space to you. That is, of course, if all other dog owners know what "seeing yellow" means. And that’s why sharing this message is so important. Spreading the word is guaranteed to save headaches, but more importantly, it could wind up preventing injuries and saving lives.

Laura Simpson, owner of an elderly Labrador with laryngeal paralysis (which makes it difficult for her dog to breathe when warm or excited), is a strong advocate for The Yellow Dog Project due to an encounter that nearly killed her dog. When approached by a careless man and his dog, her requests to stay back were ignored. The man released his dog from its leash, reassuring her, "Don’t worry, he’s friendly," unaware of her dog’s condition. Friendly or not, the ensuing encounter caused her dog to feel threatened, which triggered an episode that could have been fatal. Fortunately, Simpson was able to neutralize the situation, and everyone (both pets and humans) were OK. But imagine how easily things could have gone wrong. Had injuries been sustained, or even worse, death occurred, just think of the heartaches and liabilities found in this single example.

Every dog — just like every person — is different, and it is important for owners to be able to communicate with each other when their dogs are not so social. The Yellow Dog Project is a new way for owners to do exactly that. It is a simple way to say "Hey, please don't approach my dog" without having to open your mouth to get the idea across. Palardy wants to promote the idea that approaching a dog is only appropriate when the owner has given permission, and yellow ribbons are a way of identifying a dog that should not be approached. So far, The Yellow Dog Project has achieved worldwide success, with participants in 45 countries and materials translated into 12 languages. If your dog is anxious around new people, look for information on how to get involved with The Yellow Dog Project on its website, on Facebook or on Twitter. A simple yellow ribbon could be the difference between life and death for your pet.

Want more on pet safety?

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