Being in contact weekly with clients that are caregivers of dogs with reactivity issues I often get asked “what do you think of the yellow collars/ribbons/leads/bandanas/tabards/coats? The ones that show my dog needs space?”
My opinion on these comes from both a professional AND personal perspective. I used to use them for my dog! I never went out with her without wearing my bright yellow double-sided tabard over my winter coat that couldn’t have made it any clearer that my dog is not one who wants or needs people or dogs coming towards her. Did it work? Hard to say isn’t it. The fact I had a number of people come to me and ask why I’m wearing it, suggests not. The barking lunging dog at the end of the lead was not enough to explain my desperate need to keep others away.
The reason they didn’t work more than anything though is this – in wearing this tabard I put less responsibility on myself in finding a quiet walk that my dog could cope with. These tools can lead you down the path of “well, it’s other peoples responsibility to keep their dogs away from mine now”. Rather than “it is my responsibility to only put my dog in situations s/he can cope with”. The first thought pattern makes us feel we are not in control which already puts us into a negative mind frame. The second thought pattern is much more constructive. I know it isn’t always easy. I’ve lived that life for 5 years and will do so for a long while yet. But it is possible.
My dog wasn’t one who just didn’t like up close and personal contact from strangers and dogs. Even distance sightings would elevate her stress levels to an un-therapeutic level. Bluntly, if I was close enough to someone able to read the GIANT font, I was too close for her to feel safe and learn to feel able to tolerate others around her. And it’s the age old saying isn’t it – whose walk is it anyway? Not mine – it was hers – so repeatedly putting her in positions that didn’t set her up to succeed was my bad. Not hers. And certainly not those who seemed to ignore what my tabard was screaming.
So in general I don’t use them. I may slip on a jacket that says “dog in training – please give space” when in training sessions but for a bog standard walk, we are yellow free. My dog can now tolerate her triggers at a closer distance (since keeping her away from situations she wasn’t coping with!) but if there is a dog off lead with seemingly minimal connection with his/her caregiver and there is a chance s/he could come hurtling across to us – I just go a different way.
Unfortunately these yellow tools logically make some sense, but in reality are not as helpful as you might imagine. In the real world other dog caregivers are looking at their phone/their dog/the horizon not your dogs neck or lead.
Stress free walking may be a 5 minute car trip down the road and will likely suit the dog much better. Remembering that we can erroneously believe the more we subject our dog to his/her triggers the less frightened/stressed s/he will be. False. Give your dogs a break from their fears and remember distance is your friend. Distance and breaks are probably THE most important part of behaviour modification. It isn’t a race to get the “perfect” dog (one without said issue). Your dog is wonderful just the way they are. I think often we need to remember what our dogs CAN do and how WE can help them to do just that – not hyper-focus on what they can’t.