Have you heard of “reactivity” in dogs? Many people – including people who’ve owned dogs for years – haven’t. However, there are tens of thousands of dog owners out there with reactive dogs, and they need your help to make their (and your) walks more enjoyable when you encounter each other.
Dogs, like people, struggle with fears and anxieties – sometimes irrational (bicycles, people carrying bags etc) and sometimes borne out of past experiences. These dogs are like humans that are frightened of spiders. They may be able to cope with their “trigger” if it’s far enough away, will get anxious if it gets closer and will totally freak out if it gets too close.
In the case of dogs, some can cope with a trigger being as close as a few feet, whereas for others it could be 50 metres. “Freaking out” can mean anything from freezing (standing rooted to the spot), to cowering, through growling, lunging, barking and (if the trigger is too close) a full-on attempt to bite.
Fears and anxieties are not the only reason dogs need space, however. Dogs may be recently rescued, in training, ill, recovering from surgery or just very tired and not wanting to put up with other dogs or people pestering them. Some dogs are also very protective of certain people or things.
Responsible owners of reactive dogs will always do whatever they can to avoid their dogs from becoming stressed, and will be working to help reduce their reactivity. No one wants their dog to bite or frighten a person or someone else’s dog, and the owners of reactive dogs don’t want them to be frightened all the time either.
Rather, they want to be able to go for a walk and be given the time to “escape” if they come across whatever their dog’s triggers are. In other words, they want to keep everyone safe and happy – and the Yellow Dog Scheme was launched in 2012 as a simple, but effective way to help them.
The Scheme is a project designed to educate people on the issue of dog reactivity and enable dog owners to display a visible signal to alert others to the fact that their dog is reactive.
The idea is that if you see a dog with a yellow ribbon or slip over its lead, or if the dog is wearing a yellow “I Need Space” bandana or coat, or is accompanied by a human wearing a yellow “My Dog Needs Space” tabard, you’re being asked to keep your distance. You should also take care that any children you’re with don’t approach the dog either (which should always be the case with any unknown dog, anyway).
This doesn’t mean that you’re expected to move out of the way or spoil your walk. All you’re being asked is not to approach the dog without permission and call your dog to you (if it has good recall) or preferably put it on a lead to make sure the “yellow” dog can keep far enough away to avoid triggering a reaction.
If the dog’s owner needs to change direction, move off the path etc, they will, but they may need a little time, especially if their dog is already stressed. For example, if you’ve just turned a corner and appear in front of the reactive dog when you’re already too close for comfort.
The yellow signs don’t tell you what the dog is reactive to. So, even if the dog is wagging its tail and looks friendly, you should still ask before approaching it or letting your dog or children approach it. The dog or its owner is wearing yellow for a reason.
For more information about the Yellow Dog Scheme and reactive dogs, please visit www.yellowdogsuk.co.uk. There’s also lots of information and helpful advice at the Reactive Dogs (UK) Facebook page.