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The DINOS Message or All Jacuzzis are Hot Tubs, but Not All Hot Tubs are Jacuzzis*

One of the very cool, and truly unexpected, things about DINOS is how crazy popular the term DINOS has become in the last 10 months. When I was sitting at my desk last year, totally annoyed after a difficult dog walk, and coined the term DINOS/Dogs in Need of Space, it never occurred to me in a million years that DINOS would become a commonly used term to describe dogs.

In particular, DINOS has come to be synonymous with “reactive”, and since I work and live with reactive dogs, that’s pretty ok with me, most of the time. I love that having a term, other than reactive, helps dog owners feel better about their dogs (and themselves). Trainers have told me that talking to owners about DINOS is a way to break the ice about reactivity, without freaking their clients out. Most of all, I love that being a DINOS means you have a team now. You’re not alone if you have a reactive dog: there are so many of us we could stage a DINOS-only Olympics. We would, of course, need a lot of space.

As the term becomes more popular, as it spreads from country to country, I’m starting to see how various animal welfare groups, writers, and other organizations are relaying, repackaging, and relating the DINOS message. It’s very exciting stuff, but it occurred to me that it might be time to have a little pow wow about communication, messaging, and language choices because if we want the dog-owning public to understand and respect our DINOS wishes, we need to consider our messaging.

(p.s. this is aimed at groups or writers who are speaking on behalf of ALL DINOS – not so much about individuals talking about their own dogs.)

Marketing business sales


So, let’s get clear on one big thing:

All reactive dogs are DINOS, but not all DINOS are reactive.

Understanding this will help us to spread the message more effectively.

There are so many reasons why a dog might be a DINOS (for life or just for the day). Let me recap, for anyone new to the blog. A dog might be a DINOS because:

-They are injured

-They are seniors

-They are contagious

-They are working

-They are recovering from surgery

-They are learning how to politely greet other dogs

-They are service dogs

-They are afraid of people

-They are blind or deaf

-They have a medical condition

-They are being walked by a person that is a HINOS (a human in need of space)

Now let me ask you guys something: If you were a MDIF, someone likely to let your dog run up, on leash or off, to an unfamilar dog, which dog would make you more sympathetic, and therefore more likely to listen to the DINOS  message:


A dog that is 16 with bad hips and needs space to avoid injury


A dog that is reactive and needs space to stay calm


What about this?:


A service dog who needs space to do her job properly


A dog that is fear-aggressive and needs space to keep everyone safe


Now, I know all you DINOS owners will say that it doesn’t matter what the reason is for a dog to need space. They need it and they should get it. Indeed, you are correct!  But being right is rarely the most effective way of changing other people’s behaviors (think: dieting, smoking, wearing jeggings).  If we want to reach the most amount of people with the message that many dogs need and deserve space, we should consider how we market our plea for space.

Here’s my 10 second p.r. lesson on the topic:

reactive dogs = no sympathy

old, injured, one-legged service dog with epilepsy = give that poor baby some space!


This dog clearly needs our help!


Ok, maybe one nice lady will have sympathy for the reactive dog, but how many of you have been told, usually be some dude who’s screaming in your face, that if your reactive dog needs space, you “shouldn’t be out in public with that nasty dog” or “It’s not my problem.” Or we get cursed at and told, “Train your dog!”

People who have never lived with a reactive dog just don’t get it.  But they’re the ones who need to hear our message the most. Which is tough, because they have very little sympathy for our dogs.

As far as they’re concerned, if our dogs are so “bad”, then we don’t have a right to walk them in public. Lost of folks believe that a friendly dog should have the right to go up to any dog it sees. If the other dog doesn’t like it, then they have the problem and shouldn’t be allowed out of the house.

So how do we reach these people – the ones we’re really hoping will hear the DINOS message?  We need to make DINOS sympathetic and more relatable. We need to make sure that the world hears that a dog can be a DINOS for lots of reasons. Many of which are no one’s fault, have nothing to do with training or behavior issues, could happen to them even, and therefore, these dogs have the “right” to be out in public and have space.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some sort of attempt to shove reactive dogs into the closet or deny that some DINOS are dog-aggressive.  This is about how to get our message heard by the largest number of people and move them to change their deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviors.

Because if a lot of people get the message, reactive dogs will reap the benefits. It won’t matter to Boogie if someone gives him space because they understand reactivity or if they’re just being polite because they now understand that dogs needs space for lots of different reasons.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the average dog owner is at all interested in learning about what reactivity is or how it works. Trying to explain DINOS by focusing on teaching the world about reactive dogs is a sure way to lose a sizable chunk of our audience.

On the other hand, if I tell people that Birdie’s back is really sore and she’ll snap at a strange dog who jumps on her: they get it. They’re nice people and they don’t want my old dog to get hurt. Maybe they had an old dog once or are saddened when they think about their own dog aging. If I say the message right, they might even remember what I told them the next time they’re out walking their dog.


I’m old and my back hurts. What’s so hard to understand about that?


So, if you’re like me and you’re trying to get as many people as possible to understand that some dogs needs space, leading with reactivity isn’t the way to go.

If we lead with the message that some dogs are “damaged” or traumatized or have “issues” or something else considered negative, DINOS will likely become synonymous with “dangerous” or “bad” and then, trust me, no one will give a turd about respecting our dog’s needs. They’ll just want our dogs banned/muzzled/etc.

So for everyone out there spreading the message that dogs need space, I’m asking you to consider your words, your messaging, and your approach to relaying this idea to the general public. In order for the message to be effectively heard, we need to capture the public’s sympathy and help them understand that many dogs are DINOS (or will one day become DINOS), and since you can’t always tell just by looking at them, it’s best to give ALL dogs some space.

So go forth, spread the message that there are Dogs in Need of Space. Tell the world that DINOS are GOOD dogs. And don’t hesitate to throw in that reactivity is common and pretty normal. But always remember who your audience is and try to tailor the message to them.

The more people who understand and respect that many dogs need space, the more all dogs will benefit, reactive dogs included.

**Why yes this is a Big Bang Theory reference. Bazinga!

  1. Angie H. #

    BAZINGA! Thank you once again for posting yet another thought provoking post about our precious DINOS. I have two DINOS and though they are PERFECT for each other, they aren’t always perfect for others. They are in day care today, but they have their select group of dogs that they play with due to being DINOS. The day care staff/trainers understand DINOS and their “needs”, so they accomodate and are always working with the DINOS.

    Thank goodness there are people out there like you that put things into perspective. I always look forward to your blog posts. Makes me realize that I am not the only one out there, and though our DINOS have made great strides, there is always going to be something.


    September 21, 2012
  2. Juli #

    My DINOS is very obviously young and healthy, so my two-second explanation is, “She’s afraid of .” I plug in whatever noun is appropriate for the situation.
    I don’t care if it’s an exaggeration. She’s not afraid of dogs – she’s afraid of dogs who are off leash when she is on leash. But that’s a hard concept to get across.
    Heck, I don’t think I’d even care if it were an outright lie, if it kept someone safe.

    September 21, 2012
    • In person, speed is everything when it comes to an effective message! So, “She Bites!” “She’s Afraid!” “She’s Sick!” or “She’s Contagious!” are all winners – true or not! ; )

      September 21, 2012
  3. I’m not really sure where to go with this. Brewster isn’t in pain, he isn’t old, he isn’t contagious. He just doesn’t like strangers. It would be weird for me to explain the concept of a DINOS by saying, “You shouldn’t approach Brewster because some dogs have medical problems. Not Brewster, he’s just scared of you. But some dogs.” As far as I can see, the best option for me is to continue to explain that my dog is frightened of strange dogs and people. That usually gets him some sympathy–more or less the same type of sympathy an injured dog receives, I would think. Of course my concern is not so much with publicizing the DINOS cause (tho that’s important) as it is with making sure the Little Dude gets through his day safely and happily.

    September 21, 2012
    • Totally understood. I didn’t mean to imply tht you should tell people Brewster is anything other than what he is: a wee scaredy pup. When you’re talking about your own dog – say it straight. But if you’re talking about ALL DINOS, then it’s got to be a wider net. For me this blog was more about people who are now writing newspaper articles, blogs, yellow ribbon signs, etc. It’s important for them to consider how to most effectively reach a large audience when they try to educate the public about DINOS.

      September 21, 2012
  4. brutusthepit #

    Any words of advice you can offer on what to tell people with their dogs off-leash who let them approach your dog? I don’t want them to think MY dog’s aggressive (though he might be if he doesn’t like their dog) but I want to convey to them not only to leash their dog but that it’s making my dog stressed. And it makes me sooo stressed when it happens that I’m not so nice to them – in trying to be a pit bull advocate and in not wanting them to think my dog’s bad – i’m not sure I’m handling it well (as you can imagine).

    Thanks for the blog – it’s great to read and I’m introducing it to my condo community where lots of folks need help (though I don’t think they know it!)

    September 21, 2012
    • In those moments – I think you need to say whatever is most likely to motivate them to get their dogs, before the situation goes south. So, lots of people who don’t want to say “my dog is aggressive/doesn’t like other dogs/will eat you”, will say that their dog is sick, has fleas, or is contagious. Something to make folks move quickly. If you have more time, you can tell them your dog is scared of other dogs. I’ve told people my dog was bitten by a loose dog that looks just like their dog, so now he’s fear aggressive (all true, except for the “looks just like yours” part). They seem to get that. But again, depends on how much time you have to safely explain yourself!

      September 21, 2012
  5. brutusthepit #

    I ususally yell at them to get their dog on leash first (with my heart in my throat) and, of course, they have no recall of their dog (why it’s off leash I, naturally, fail to understand). In my last episode I told her it made walking through the park incredibly stressful. It’s just hard to know what to say to them after yelling since I don’t want to let them off the hook for being irresponsible pet owners, but I don’t want them to think my pit bull is aggressive. sigh.

    September 21, 2012
    • If it makes you feel any better, there are a bajillion of us who have lost their cool, yelled like a lunatic, and then turned around for home, totally frustrated that we didn’t handle it better and may have caused the downfall of pit bulls/rotties/dobies everywhere. In fact, this happens to me most days, usually around lunch time. Sigh. It’s why I started writing about this topic to begin with!

      September 21, 2012
  6. Tina #

    Thank you for this blog…..
    Over the years, we’ve had 6 rescued dogs…..all DINOS except for 1. We ONLY adopt dogs & cats w/issues &/or abuse cases. We strongly believe these animals deserve a good, solid second chance at Life. At any appropriate opportunity, I mention & explain DINOS. It’s been countless #s of people–some dog/animal-caring people, some not. But everyone, so far, has been interested & asks me good questions. The conversations were wonderful & the humans, very understanding. The 2 dogs we have now, one is an abuse case & the other, although not physically/mentally abused, was surely neglected(a form of abuse). One of our cats was also physically/mentally abused……she came w/one of our dogs–they are “best buds” & remain very close to this day. We would never separate them & we had other cats, so she actually sealed the adoption deal b/c we knew he would get along w/cats.
    If anyone is taking dog classes, Obedience, Agility, etc…..DINOS can eventually do very well in classes but you need to discuss your situation w/the Instructor prior to signing up for the class & ask if the Instructor has any suggestions for bringing your dog into the building, while other dogs are entering or use a back entrance. I always arrived earlier to set up my water bowl, put my stuff down, walk around outside for a pee break, etc…..this made it so much easier on our dog(&me!), while dogs were arriving. I could distract him, treat him, etc…..majority of the times it worked out well. By the 3rd class, he was much better dealing w/everything, including other dogs. The one thing that would’ve made everything so much better would’ve been if I was wearing one of the DINOS t-shirts. I was more exhausted repeating to folks to “STAY BACK” , my dog gets scared & he needs room!!” than from the class itself !!! So I HIGHLY recommend getting a couple of DINOS t-shirts (no!, I’m not profiting from the sales!) & wear them at EVERY class! And on walks. I’m planning on purchasing some for classes & walks.
    BTW….most townships, boroughs, cities, etc…..have laws, ordinances that all dogs MUST be walked on visible leashes. Some areas specify NO FLEXI-LEASHES. That’s a great thing!
    Life is wonderful w/DINOS !!!!! It’s certainly much more interesting!!!! I’m just glad there’s a name for them in addition to “sweeties!” Dino Flinstone would be proud!!!

    September 21, 2012
  7. Reactive Momma #

    Great message overall, and an important one, but I think one we have to consider separately from what we do/say when we are out with our DINOS.

    When I am out with my fear reactive dog, my primary responsibility is to keep him safe. IDEALLY I would like to have a rational discussion about things, but If I have to behave like a raving bitch to get my message across to a clueless / tuned out / irresponsible MDIF owner, although I’d prefer not to, I’ll go there if I need to.

    If an MDIF is approaching, once I have politely asked that they not let their dog approach, the situation has *already* gone south. At that point I’m not concerned with what people think, but with keeping my dog safe. I have neither the time, focus, or emotional bandwidth in that moment to launch into DINOS PR mode.

    September 21, 2012
    • Totally agreed! That’s why I wrote that this blog is aimed at groups and others who are trying to spread the DINOS message by talking/writing about DINOS as a whole. When it comes to your personal dog and their safety – say what you gotta say!

      September 21, 2012
      • JamesGIRLJones #

        Agreed! This post was a timely one for me, as I had been mulling over the dilemma I’ve found myself in lately with a group of casual friends who happen to be MDIF’s. My guy is a DINOS when it comes to the over-the-top off leashers. Off leash, he can just escape and it’s all good, BUT the problem is a two-fold one. See, he hates unaltered males and he has had knee surgery in the past, and since I can’t know the play style (don’t want to risk the knee) and I can’t scan the reproductive status of every dog we see, I call him (I am selective in letting him off and do so in situations he has proved reliable) and leash him and make evasive moves if needed. These MDIF friends of mine are awesome in that they help scout out potential problems when we’

        September 21, 2012
        • JamesGIRLJones #

          tare out together, but the problem is that they don’t seem able to make the connection that MY dog isn’t the only one who has a reason to want to be left alone when leashed. They don’t seem to make the leap in thinking that perhaps other dogs feel the same way about being catapulted into but THEIR “friendly” dogs as MY dog does about the strange dogs my friends seek to help US avoid. Up until I read your post, all I could do when we were out with them was look mortified and mouth a silent “I’m
          sorry” over my shoulder to the parents of the terrified toddlers, or ailing, arthritic dog, or joggers that had been MDIF’d, while my fella walked next to me, getting praise
          for his good job he’d done. But after I read your post, I realized that maybe I should change tactics. Soooo, I
          used peer presure! When a leashed dog came by, I called
          my boy’s attention to me, and said “Now, let’s not harrass this nice dog. He needs space cause he’s working on his
          good boy skills.” And we’d pass quietly but while the friends dogs caused a kerfuffle. Ditto with kids…”Now, let’s not accidentally scare this little girl or get her pretty
          dress dirty,” and on past we went. Lady with newly
          adopted, uncertain dog…”Hey, sweetie boy, Let’s Go This
          Way! Nobody ever went to the emergency vet for being to careful, did they? Noooo they didn’t! Here’s a treat for
          being such a good, polite boy”… Toward the end of the
          walk tonight, I noticed an incredible thing. My friends
          actually started calling their dogs BEFORE they
          approached a stroller full of kids! Man with a dog on a
          flexi and in danger of loosing his arm? Yep..They not only called them back, but even attempted to have their dogs pay attention to them the way mine did to me! It was kind of amazing and gratifying at the same time.
          So, I guess I’ve found a new way to promote the DINOS message, or rather, I’m reviving an old way to promote it; Lead by example. Teach, don’t preach.Walk it like you talk it.
          And if they don’t like it? Well, they can just good “coitus” themselves. BAZINGA!! 😉

          September 21, 2012
          • Nicely done! It’s really interesting that we, as humans, have such a hard time making the leap from “My dog likes space” to “Hm, maybe that strange dog likes space too!” I think we must do this all the time, in every aspect of our lives. So, I’m very glad you found a way to educate them in a way that really made a difference in the way they think and act. Way to be a good role model!

            September 22, 2012
          • Love it! What a great idea. Leading by example is sure to catch on!

            September 22, 2012
  8. It definitely is all in how we say it. People are definitely more sympathetic to older or injured dogs. I have used that my dog is in training and told people that its not a good idea to have their dog run up on him (he’s one who will only react if a dog jumps on his back, but who wants to take the chance). It has worked and the people have been pleasant about it. But I like using the injured, sick, and sore card mixed with the phrase he/she might snap because of it. Thank you for another great post!

    September 22, 2012
    • JamesGIRLJones #

      I’m thinking of adding a new one to my personal responses…”Sorry, but I have a bum knee and don’t want risk the Dance of a Thousand Leashes.” and keeeeep on rolling along. Hoping maybe it’ll encourage people to think of the possibility that just because they don’t SEE anything out of the ordinary about a dog/human team, there could be an unseen issue and its not always with the dog, you know?

      September 22, 2012
      • It’s so true. You never know what someone is dealing with on the inside.

        p.s. sometimes I think about saying “Sorry, but I’m really drunk right now” – I bet that would stun them long enough for me to make my get away ; )

        September 23, 2012
        • JamesGIRLJones #

          I am SO saying this next time I get the chance! Its all I can do to not leash up and try it right now, but in an ironic twist, I really can’t right now because I’ve had too many beers! Maybe I’ll tell them the dog’s really drunk! Or high. “Sorry, can’t. Rover’s tweakin’ out right now!”
          However, I DID tell someone “Sorry, but he’s got an STD!” When they expressed surprise over that, I said, “Short Term Disability, dumbass!” and kept on cruising!

          September 26, 2012
  9. Great post. Thanks for the emphasis on language and messaging. Always the eternal problem, in every area of life. Totally agree, nobody understands or appreciates reactivity until they experience it (including myself). All it took was one super awesome, and super reactive foster dog to curb my overly-relaxed approach with my other dogs.

    September 22, 2012
  10. Kristine #

    It’s so true! My dog is in reactive remission but she is still working on her manners. As a result I really don’t want her to meet strange dogs when on a leash. She doesn’t necessarily mind but it screws up all of our training. Unfortunately, a lot of other walkers don’t understand why I don’t want my friendly-appearing dog to interact with theirs. I have been called a snob on more than one occasion, which used to bother me a lot but I’ve learned to brush off. My dog’s sanity is more important than being polite to every person I see.

    Thanks for another awesome post. I really wish DINOS had been around back when we were dealing with the worst of my dog’s reactivity. I would have felt a lot less alone!

    September 23, 2012
  11. I have a leash reactive pitbull, Brodie, who can also be people-scardy at times. He needs a TON of space around other dogs, but can walk by people on the street ok UNLESS they try and come over to say hi and pet him. My favorite thing to say when they start to approach, or ask to pet, is that he has an ear infection so he’s very uncomfortable and doesn’t really want to be touched. I always thank them for asking (if they do) and remind them they should always ask before coming up to a strange dog, because you can’t always tell from the outside how the dog is feeling and even though they look happy and healthy they may need space.

    September 28, 2012

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