No doubt you’ve noticed, the pandemic has brought dog owners out in full force.
Even my parents have commented that there are lots of canines they’ve never seen before out on walks in their neighborhood.
Indeed, many dogs are just delighted to find their humans home and up for more outdoor outings than in the past — and that could be one of the silver linings of this chaotic situation.
Many of our resident furry friends have seen an improvement in the quality of their life, and many families took this homebound opportunity to foster or adopt a pup who was in a shelter.
Of course, that increased traffic means busier streets, sidewalks, parks, pathways and trails, which can also mean more conflict. And it’s probably safe to say that the main source of friction, at least here in the Jackson area, is off-leash dogs running up to people and other dogs, many of whom are on leash.
Until you’ve had a dog who needs some space it’s hard to imagine what that feels like, how stressful, upsetting, and frustrating it is for both the on-leash dog and the person holding on to that leash. But just because you don’t have one doesn’t mean dogs like this don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with these dogs.
The acronym DINOS (Dogs In Need Of Space) was created by professional dog walker Jessica Dolce in 2012 after one too many experiences of having off leash dogs being allowed to approach the dogs she worked with, which put her in a very tricky position.
She also coined another acronym for the offenders: MDIFs, since they so commonly try to excuse their dog’s inappropriate behavior with a happily shouted “Don’t worry, my dog is friendly!” But of course, for the owner of DINOS it’s not OK at all.
Who are Dogs In Need Of Space? Often they are injured or sick, perhaps recovering from surgery. They can be elderly, arthritic, frail, perhaps blind or deaf. They may be in pain; they may be a female in heat. They may be in training for basic manners, or service work.
They may just not be into that sort of thing. The fact is, dogs do not all love and welcome dogs — or people — rushing up into their space or touching them.
They may actually be fearful of other dogs or people. They may be a puppy whose owner is trying to build confidence. They may be newly adopted and already overwhelmed enough with all the changes in their life.
They may be perfectly friendly but just not comfortable with greeting another dog while on a leash, since dogs meeting on leash is a recipe for miscommunication. That is due to a dog’s inability to greet normally, compromised body language that can be misunderstood, as well as tension on the leash.
Plus, many dogs know they are unable to move away from something that bothers them when they are leashed, meaning their only option is to up their defenses. As as a general rule it’s wise to just not allow an off-leash dog to greet an on-leash dog, anytime.
It’s a shame that many folks with DINOS find walking in our town or on the local pathways and trails totally stressful, always trying to dodge or ward off out-of-control off-leash dogs that come bounding up to them, the owners not in sight or, more commonly, shouting at their dog to “Come!” over and over, even though it’s clear to everyone a mile around that their dog is not trained to come when called amid the temptation of another dog.
I’ve even experienced this in places that are designated leash zones, with owners who behave like I’m the one in the wrong with an on-leash dog.
It’s due to situations like those that the Yellow Dog Project was born, with the goal of educating the public and dog owners how to identify dogs needing space and promoting appropriate contact with those dogs. They encourage the use of yellow ribbons tied on a dog’s leash — although yellow bandanas are also used — to identify DINOS as “yellow dogs” to everyone who encounters them so they can be given more space.
Perhaps the Yellow Dog Project is a good place for Jackson to start. I’ve heard Park City, Utah, has already launched the concept of “yellow dogs” into its trail system education, with information and yellow bandanas available at trailheads.
While I love the idea behind the Yellow Dog Project, I’d love it even more if this wasn’t necessary. Really, it shouldn’t be up to a dog’s owner to convey normal dog needs to others. It should be common sense and standard etiquette to not allow your off-leash dog/your on-leash dog to rush up/drag you to another dog and for people to not try to interact with a dog unless given permission by both the owner and the dog.
Instead, perhaps a good rule of thumb to start incorporating into the cultural mindset — especially here in Jackson — is to assume people and their dogs don’t want to say hello unless you are specifically invited to do so.
And now may be the perfect time; America has undergone a big change with social norms relating to people and in just a couple of months has morphed into a society where keeping space between people is generally accepted.
So perhaps we’re ready to see this much-needed cultural change regarding dog etiquette as an idea whose time has come. ￼