Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your dog.

The Yellow Dog Project: What Does the Yellow Ribbon Mean?

Dogs wearing yellow ribbons on their collars need space.

Have you ever been out for a walk with your children and seen someone walking their dog? Do your children want to rush over to greet the canine cutie? If this has happened to you, you aren't alone. Many children love dogs, and they don't know that they can't approach all of them the same way. In fact, adults sometimes don't approach new dogs in the best manner. Most dogs will forgive our human foibles when it comes to canine manners. But there are some that will react negatively to being approached exuberantly.


In 2011, a professional dog walker in Portland, Maine coined the term "dinos," standing for "dogs in need of space." Here are some reasons that dogs may be dinos:

  • Some dogs can become aggressive if they are approached straight-on from the front, with direct eye contact. In canine culture, this is a challenge, not a greeting.
  • Other dogs may be over-exuberant themselves, and could leap onto you or your child, causing injury.
  • Still other dogs may be recovering from surgery, and they could be sore and more prone to nipping if they are approached by an unknown person.
  • There are dogs that are in foster care, and it might not be known exactly how they will react to people coming up to say hello.
  • Some dogs are older and have aches and pains that make them feel defensive when people move too quickly around them.
  • Service dogs should not be approached while they are working. These dogs usually wear special "uniforms" while doing their jobs.
  • Some dogs are aggressive with other dogs, and allowing your dog to rush over to greet these dogs could result in a fight.

The Yellow Dog Project

In an effort to educate people about approaching dogs properly, and in order to decrease the chances of dog bites, The Yellow Dog Project has been established. If you have a dog that you know doesn't react well to being approached enthusiastically by children, adults, or other dogs, is overly-exuberant himself, is recovering from surgery and needs to be treated gently, or just needs his space for whatever reason, you can place a yellow ribbon around his collar, leash, or harness. It's important to spread the word about Yellow Dogs because the yellow ribbon can only do its job if people know what it means.

Teach your children what the yellow ribbon means, and make sure that they know they should not approach a dog that is wearing one. It's also important to teach children not to rely on the presence of a yellow ribbon to identify a dog that needs his space. They should be cautious when approaching any unknown dog.

Rules for Approaching Unknown Dogs

Some people may not have heard of The Yellow Dog Project yet and may not have the ribbon on their dog's collar. Children should be taught that all dogs need to be approached cautiously and only with the consent of the dog's owner. Below are some guidelines for how to approach an unknown dog, if the dog's owner says it's OK to do so.

  • Always remember that any dog can bite.
  • When you are approaching a dog with your child, pay attention to the dog's body language. Stop approaching if the dog appears stiff, is staring intently at you or your child, or is growling or baring his teeth.
  • Teach your child to present a closed hand to the dog first. If the dog's body language is loose, soft, and wiggly, your child may pet the dog.
  • Teach your child to pet the sides of a dog's shoulders or under his chest, not his head. Dogs may take a hand coming down over-top of their head as a sign of a challenge.

General Rules to Teach Children for Dealing with Dogs:

  • Children should never approach dogs that are in cars or behind fences because dogs are often defensive of those areas.
  • Children should be taught never to tease dogs.
  • Most dogs do not appreciate direct eye contact; teach this to your children and remember it yourself.
  • Do not approach a dog that looks nervous. Signs of nervousness in dogs include crouching, rolling over onto his back, licking his lips, laying his ears back flat on his head, or yawning. An anxious dog may bite in self-defense.
  • Teach your children not to run up to dogs that are running loose.
  • Children should know that, if they are approached by a loose dog, they should stay very still and not make eye contact. They should never run away from the dog or scream, as this may cause the dog's predator instincts to kick in, and he may chase or attack them.
  • If a child is knocked down by a dog, teach him or her to curl up into a ball, chin tucked down, and hands locked behind the neck to protect his or her neck and face.
  • Children should not approach dogs that are chewing on a bone or toy, sleeping, or caring for puppies. This includes dogs in the child's own home. Do not bother your dog when he is eating or chewing his toys just to "test" him. Don't startle your dog purposely, and avoid doing things that you know are frightening to him. These behaviors could lead to stress and defensive behaviors in dogs that would not otherwise display them.

If You Have Dinos (Dog(s) in Need of Space):

  • Place a yellow ribbon on your dog's leash, collar, or harness.
  • Understand that not everyone will be aware of the yellow ribbon's meaning; educate people as you have the opportunity. Post this article on your social media accounts, and talk to people you meet about it.
  • Do not rely on the yellow ribbon; you must still do your due diligence to keep anyone from being injured by your dog.
  • If someone is approaching your dog, hold out your hand and say firmly, but kindly, "He doesn't like strangers," or "He doesn't like to be touched," or "Please approach us slowly; he just had surgery, and I don't want him to get too excited."
  • If your dog is aggressive toward people and other dogs, he should be muzzled when you are out with him.

The Yellow Dog Project can help spread awareness that not all dogs should be approached. Getting the word out about what it means when a dog is wearing a yellow ribbon is a first step, and education about dog bite prevention should be learned by all adults and taught to children. You can find out more about dog bite prevention here.


You May Also Like These Articles:

How to Introduce Dogs and Children

How to Introduce Dogs

Crotch Sniffing

Submissive Urination in Dogs

Dog Nipping

How to Cope with Canine Anxiety and Fear by Using Adaptil(TM) (Formerly called D.A.P)

How to Stop Your Dog from Jumping on People

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site. Just Answer is an external service not affiliated with

Notice: Ask-a-Vet is an affiliated service for those who wish to speak with a veterinary professional about their pet's specific condition. Initially, a bot will ask questions to determine the general nature of your concern. Then, you will be transferred to a human. There is a charge for the service if you choose to connect to a veterinarian. Ask-a-Vet is not manned by the staff or owners of, and the advice given should not delay or replace a visit to your veterinarian.