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Color Me DINOS

In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a post called Swedish Yellow Dog making its way across social media. It encourages dog owners to use a little yellow ribbon on their dog’s leashes to indicate that their dog needs space. People really seem to dig the idea.  And for good reason – it’s a smart idea!


On this side of the pond, my buddies over at Dog Flags introduced a handy color coded system for dogs that covers a variety of messages, from “Friendly” green flags to “Ask Before Approaching” red ones.




I’m a big fan of any system that helps people communicate with each other (especially from a distance), so that their dogs don’t have to deal with unwanted encounters. It’s a great way to “talk” to other people about your dog’s needs, without having to say a word.

Dog training centers, dog parks, pack walks, dog competitions and other dog groups have been using the color system to communicate their dogs needs for a long time, typically using red as the color for dogs that should not be approached without permission.

The DINOS logo dog (inspired by my Beagle mix Birdie) is wearing a red bandana for this very reason:

But there’s a little problem: only the doggiest of dog people know what these colors mean.

And only polite dog people care enough to respect the color system.

That’s why they work so well in closed groups, like pack walks or dog camps. Every one is on the same page and working towards creating a positive experience for all dogs. It’s responsible dog ownership and interaction at its best.

It seems that the only way a color coded system will work out in the wilds of the public is if there’s a huge PR campaign launched to educate the average person about the meaning behind the color system and what to do when they see a red or yellow flag.

Oh, and we have to settle on a color. I’m all for red, for DINOS, obvs.

This campaign would need to cross all sectors of the pet industry: dog trainers, vet offices, humane groups, boarding and grooming, pet publications, retail, etc. and would need to be promoted uniformly in a variety of mediums. The message would need to be clear, concise, and consistent. If various companies marketed their own color coded products and kept changing the messaging, it would confuse the public.

And even then, we’d have to be content with the fact that despite a big push, only a small portion of the public will internalize and respect the color system.

We know this because: half of us walk around with t-shirts that say “Keep Back” while our dogs are wearing bright orange flak jackets that read “GET AWAY FROM ME!” and shoot off warning blasts, but yet…people still come over to pet them, while commenting about their ritzy coats. Sigh.

And a color system won’t even put a dent in one of our biggest problems: off leash dogs that are not under voice control or are roaming unsupervised.

It’s a battle we’ll never fully win.

But should we try anyway?

If more people were aware that a dog wearing a red bandana, Dog Flag, or ribbon on their leash needed space and knew they needed to ask permission before approaching, I have no doubt that some dogs would be spared some unwanted interactions with other dogs and/or people.

But I don’t think that any dog should have to wear a color-coded item in order to be treated with respect by others. I’d rather teach everyone to be respectful of ALL dogs. 

So what do you think? Is it time for a color coded PR blast? Will people really get the message or is it just another layer of confusion in this dog-avoids-dog world? Have you tried a color system? Are there down sides to this idea?

December update: The color debate is an international conversation with many pros and cons. At this time DINOS™ is not officially associated with any color system. You can read more about the yellow ribbon idea here.


  1. LOVE the idea of color coding. I’m all for red, too. I grew up with horses; in the ring and on the trail, a red ribbon in a horse’s tail meant that he or she had a propensity to kick. It was a clear signal that we all knew and understood (the uneducated among us learned very quickly;-) It saved a lot of trouble.

    I think a color-coded PR blast is a GREAT idea. Tell me how I can help and I’m all over that!

    July 7, 2012
    • Robin Chickering #

      I agree with Kristel – red is the color we horse people have used for many years to inform others that a horse is a “kicker”. I vote for RED. Maybe we could eventually get to the point where we post signs at dog friendly park entrances, educating people about this idea? Great idea – thanks for sharing!!

      July 11, 2012
      • Debi C #

        There is also a Yellow Ribbon for horses that might be good for dogs. It means the animal is intact and may be more agressive.

        July 13, 2012
  2. Jen #

    In general, people should ask before just walking up to pet a dog. DINO or not, it’s etiquette that NOBODY adheres to.

    I think the flags on leashes are a great idea, and that the color code is good!

    July 7, 2012
  3. Yes! Red for sure! Everyone knows that red means stop, it shouldn’t be that much of a leap to make them aware that a red flag or something on a dog means “stop don’t come near” but the thing that will have to be promoted is what the red item should be. Many dogs have red collars and leashes, even bandannas. I’m for a red bandana or a big red bow!

    July 9, 2012
  4. star #

    I too know about a red ribbon on a horse’s tail means they kick, and to stay back or not walk behind them. I think this is a good idea and red is the perfect color.

    July 11, 2012
  5. This is a great idea. In our pack walk we use red bandanas so we all remember the dogs who need space. We also have blue bandanas for dogs who align well with red bandana dogs (these dogs are unflappable and don’t react if another dog reacts to them. It’s helpful if the red dog falls out of pack order and needs to find a place to align). We were unsure about doing it at first because we thought it would be stigmatizing…almost like a scarlet letter. Now we’ve found that it just reminds us all they need space for a variety of reasons.

    July 11, 2012
  6. I agree whole-heartedly with what you are saying, and I’m pretty sure a color-coding system would fall on deaf ears to the general public. I think a better first step in the way of a PR campaign is just general dog safety–“ASK BEFORE APPROACHING” Because even with colors and bold-faced words MDIFs (and well-intentioned humans without pups) just don’t get it. I think the red coding is great, but for everyone to understand what it means would take a lot of community-to-community leg work. Perhaps if we repeatedly ask the big guys (APSCA, Petfinder, etc) to create a PSA campaign on basic dog safety (ask before approaching or even don’t approach dogs wearing red flags) we’d start seeing some billboards and commercials like for the Shelter Pet Project… Else it’s up to us to do the leg work in a grass roots effort.

    July 11, 2012
  7. I’ll be the southcentral Kansas press liaison. Or rather, Brewster will. He’d make an excellent spokesdog, don’t you think? Or barksdog. 🙂

    July 11, 2012
  8. We have a couple of Dog Flags for Bella and you’re right, so far people don’t a) know what to make of it or b) pay any attention to it. (At least the red one does give them pause…) I’m totally on board with a big PR campaign to get the meaning across.

    July 11, 2012
  9. Elaine #

    I think that the more we talk about it, the more that “less doggy” people will get to understand what the red bandana means. But, yes, an “Ask Before Approaching” campaign would be better. It’s common sense anyway, but a lot of people just don’t realize. In addition to “ask before approaching”, I would add “ask before making barking or kissy noises at a strange dog”.

    July 11, 2012
  10. Tina #

    I love the color code idea, my only issue is that the Dog Scouts of America (possibly the best dog organization!) uses red for their bandanas. In order for a dog to earn the title of Dog Scout, they & their owner must pass a multi-day test showing responsible behaviors at both ends of the leash. The Dog Scout is then awarded the red bandana to showcase their achievement. Within the organization, we use yellow & rainbow colored bandanas to convey spatial issues to others (yellow for dog/dog & rainbow for dog/people).

    July 11, 2012
  11. JB #

    I think if you don’t do it someone else will. More people are going to jump on this bandwagon then you think. 🙂 And do red.

    July 11, 2012
  12. Rebecca #

    It’s going to require a massive public relations campaign and not just word of mouth. I’ve been involved in dogs for decades and had no idea a red collar/bandana/ribbon meant the dog needed additional space. Our local government wanted to pass a law requiring day-glo orange collars on dogs deemed “dangerous”, except that hunters use that color to make their dogs more visible. My dogs have always worn traditional red and blue bandanas because I like the way they look. Some of my current dog’s neck scarves are red designs.

    I also worry that by simply putting a red scarf on a dog, some owners will let their guard down and inadvertantly allow their dog to get into trouble. I can see them now, pointing to the red bandana and absolving themselves of blame for whatever trouble they allowed their dog to get in to.

    I think a better program would be to teach people to ALWAYS ask before petting and to spread the idea that dogs do not always have to meet every dog they come across on a walk. The public should be educated that this is not a snub, that some dogs just need to be focusing on what their owners are teaching them.

    July 11, 2012
  13. I belong to a dog walking group in San Antonio TX. We get together at predetermined times and walk our dogs in parks and other dog friendly public places. Dogs that need their space due to aggression or shyness are asked to wear the red bandana and stay clear of the main group following at a discreet distance. Lots of pedestrians ask about the bandana and are very interested in it. I believe it is the easiest to explain and to recognize for the general public. It works. Go for it.

    July 11, 2012
  14. I think this sounds like an excellent idea. We’ve got to start somewhere, even if it doesn’t become recognized for some time. Perhaps if bandanas are used in other ventures, then the red ribbon will suffice. If horse people can use it, so can dog people. I think people are very good at learning signs and symbols, so it makes sense to have a visual indicator that MEANS something. Programs are already in place to educate owners, but there are so many irresponsible owners and people who don’t do their homework when they purchase a puppy. And there are others who just don’t “get it”, even if they’ve heard the information repeatedly. A ribbon could be a good start for the public learning about DINOS in a real life scenario.

    July 11, 2012
  15. Many dogs look good in red and it is a popular color choice for the common public as an accessory. I make and sell leashes and really the only color that is seldom used as an accessory is yellow. For this and the reasons mentioned above I would recommend yellow, not red.

    July 11, 2012
  16. Karen #

    I like the idea of a red bow on the leash. To me that would seem to indicate something, not just be an accessory or decoration. I think people would ask about it. A red bandana would just be assumed to be decorative.

    July 19, 2012
  17. Alberta Dover #

    Also can have same embroderied on red leashes instead of dogs name and phone.

    July 22, 2012
  18. I agree with the others that a basic “ask before approaching” PR campaign would be best. KISS, right? Keep it simple.

    Besides the confusion that colors might cause, I’ve found that dogs wearing *anything* are MORE likely to be approached. A dog in a bandana is cute, and so it must be friendly, right?

    Rescues use bandanas, etc. on dogs for a reason. When I was a volunteer, we would put bandanas on the more ‘scary’ looking dogs because it makes them more approachable to the public. I think bandanas, ribbons, or what have you, on a DINOS, is likely to backfire.

    July 26, 2012
  19. Steph #

    The bandanas sound good in a closed group, but I’m not sure they would work in a general public…Many rescues put bandanas on adoptable dogs, and people tend to not read the bandanas even if we are using them.
    I don’t know if the bows would work better, as they look decorative, and from a distance, might even look like the poo bag holders.

    August 6, 2012
  20. Leslie #

    I am my blind dog’s Seeing Eye Person….. where we live, the problem I run into most is loose dogs, with or without their owners. Ribbons won’t help then, but I would appreciate not having to explain and ask people, when they are present, to please control their dogs !

    August 29, 2012
  21. Cheryl #

    As a youngser I was instructed to ALWAYS ask before approaching a dog – but guess this isn’t something commonly taught now a days 😦 Hence – it is up to the caregiver of the dog to alert people. When I walk my dogs (one of which is a “stay away from me” to other dogs) and I see someone coming in front of me – I either find another route – or say to them (loudly)please keep your dog away from mine….

    July 26, 2013

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