A movement that has been making the rounds for a while now is encouraging people to place yellow ribbons on dogs that need space. "Needing space" is a euphemism for dogs that display aggressive behavior toward other dogs and/or toward people. (Labeling dogs as aggressive is bad. So we give them a different label.)
While this idea comes from a sentiment that I can certainly empathize with, I think it is not only doomed to failure but that it actually has the potential to cause more problems than it solves
Yellow Ribbons Will Never be Widely Adopted
First there’s the issue of whether or not enough people will use this to make it a reliable tool. We can’t get people to stop buying dogs from pet stores and puppy mills. We can’t get trainers to stick to science to choose and discuss their methods. (This goes for trainers on both sides of the fence by the way. "Do as I Do Dog Training?" Really? Let’s start a new training method based on a couple of studies.) Hell, we can’t even get people to agree on administering vaccinations to prevent disease in our children, let alone our dogs.
But we’re going to get people to reliably put yellow ribbons on dogs that need distance from each other?
Right. The check is in the mail too.
False Security or Denial?
Do you believe that these ribbons would be, if they somehow gained widespread adoption, a trustworthy indicator of an aggressive dog? Do you think that the absence of a ribbon would be a good indicator of a friendly dog?
Go to any conference, or even a working seminar, that allows "friendly" dogs and objectively watch the dogs that (alleged) professionals decide to bring. Chances are you’ll see at least a few that honestly do not belong there. Strike up a conversation and the rationale for bringing the dog there will be appalling…if there even is any recognition that there is a problem.
The sad fact is that denial is a very powerful force, powerful enough to make the desire to have one’s dog with oneself more important than the comfort of the dog. People, especially dog enthusiasts are terrible at self-selection when it comes to their dog’s behavior. The sad fact is a creative explanation for a dog’s behavior is often an acceptable substitute for actually addressing the problem.
And what happens when it’s possible to place a warning signal on an aggressive dog? Who’s problem is the behavior then?
Your Dog is Your Problem
Whether your dog "needs space" or not, your dog is your responsibility. Period. Placing a warning on your dog so that others can look out for her, or relying on other people to tell you that it is safe for your dog is not a good idea. Either way, you are relying on the judgement of others.
Of course many of the ribbons’ advocates are thinking “but the ribbons are only meant to serve as a warning, not as a crutch!” But that’s how they are likely to be used, and at best they are a distraction from what we need to be teaching our clients to do, as well as doing ourselves.
In situations in which you will meet dogs that you are not familiar with:
If your dog does not want to interact with other dogs, keep her away from other dogs.
If your dog does want to interact with other dogs, keep her away from other dogs.
It’s really simple, and all you need to do is look out for yourself and your dog, which is what you should be doing anyway.