My professional opinion of the "yellow ribbon"

by Steph Mahrle

Recently, I have seen the advertisement for the concept of tying yellow ribbon onto the leash of dogs which require space, for reasons related to the physical health, and/or behavior of the dog. In my real world experience, after having trained with both human, and dog aggressive dogs, nothing really slows a person down who is either Hell-bent on petting a dangerous dog, or letting their dog invade the space of an unbalanced dangerous dog. 

Logically speaking, if a person is invading your space and fails to recognize your displeased facial expressions, that person is not going to take the time to observe if your dog has a yellow ribbon tied to your dog’s leash. For the purposes of resolving bad behavior like leash reactivity, I actually prefer my clients to speak up for themselves, and advocate for their dog rather than expecting excited people to notice a yellow ribbon and back off. 

All dog training ultimately boils down to “pressure” and “release.” Unbalanced dogs use this concept to cope with stress when they have not been directed to behave differently. For example, a dog on leash that reacts by barking, lunging, growling when presented with the “pressure” of seeing another dog is choosing to “release” that “pressure” by barking, lunging, and growling. The fancy term for that bad behavior is called “leash reactivity”. At some point in the leash reactive dog’s life, they have learned that when they release pressure in this way, they quickly get the space they want. The dog can be trained to behave differently with a combination of obedience training, and impulse control exercises which will ultimately set the dog up for success in situations where the dog is presented with the previously stimulating “pressure”.

Often, when I have a client dog that is leash reactive to people, dogs, or both, an important hurtle in the dog and owner’s rehabilitation process is teaching the owner when to communicate that they both need space. Once the owner confidently demonstrates to their dog that they are able to take the "pressure" off of their dog when their dog needs space, the dog relaxes a LOT. As the dog recognizes the owner controls the pressure, he dog’s behavior becomes more predictable. This is a major turning point in the dog and owner's relationship, which needs to happen during obedience training. I would not ever want to somehow shield my clients and their dogs from the challenge of advocating. I am not saying this is easy, but I know it can be done because I have helped many struggling dogs and owners. I am the type of a trainer who wants everyone involved to experience challenges presented with enough confidence and understanding as possible, so they are both set up for success. Avoiding this kind of real world pressure can sometimes escalate the dog's interest in engaging in the unbalanced chaotic learned behavior they have already established. 

While I am sharing the picture which supports the yellow ribbon concept, and I recognize the good intentions behind the concept, I certainly do not agree with it. If you or someone you know is struggling with bad behavior as described in this post, contact a balanced trainer today and get on the path toward rehabilitation.

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