Pet ownership is on the rise as more and more people recognize the joy of a furry companion!
More pet parents also means more dogs being out in public places. Unfortunately, not everyone is savvy on proper pet etiquette — which means not approaching or feeding any dog without their parent’s permission, and not letting your own dog go charging up to a stranger’s dog (even if your dog just wants to say hi).
If you have a shy or anxious pup, and you’re tired of strangers’ overeager dogs getting all up in your pal’s face, you may wish you could walk around with a sign over your head that says, “Please leave my dog alone!”
What you may not know is that other pet parents and dog trainers have had the same thought, and that’s why they devised a “traffic light” system of color-coding: to send a quick “heads up” to people you meet on your daily stroll, letting them know if your dog needs space, or has a disability, or is looking for new friends!
Discover what the different dog collar colors mean, and learn what you should do if you encounter a dog wearing a color-coded leash or harness.
Where Did the Dog Collar Colors Come From?
At equestrian shows and competitions, you may see some horses sporting a red ribbon or bow on the base of their tails. Rather than a cute fashion statement, this red ribbon sends a clear message to other riders: “Stay back! This horse may kick if you get too close.”
In 2000, dog trainer Terry Ryan initiated the “Yellow Dog Project” or (“Yellow Ribbon Project”) in Australia with a similar idea: to use a yellow dog collar or a yellow ribbon on a dog’s leash to warn other dog-walkers and members of the general public that this dog needs space — for whatever reason — and should not be directly approached. From there, the yellow ribbon as a signal was adopted and spread by dog trainers and behaviorists to Sweden, Canada and beyond.
In 2012, this initial concept was further expanded to include other dog collar colors (as well as a clearly printed word, such as “Nervous” or “Training”) by Friendly Dog Collars in the UK.
Friendly Dog Collars’ founder Jon Saville recognized that while it’s helpful to advertise when a dog needs space, it can be equally helpful to send the message that your pup is friendly and well-mannered — especially when combating harmful breed stereotypes.
Saville’s own dog Roxy was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a breed similar to the American Pit Bull Terrier in appearance and unfortunately suffering from the same unfair reputation. Poor, gentle Roxy was often avoided by nervous passers-by — until Saville started dressing her in a bright green “Friendly” leash. This simple and silent message caused the people Saville met on his walks to be much more relaxed, and more willing to interact with his people-loving pooch.
Today, both the yellow ribbon and the color-coded dog leashes are growing in popularity in Europe, Australia and North America.
What Do the Colors of Dog Leashes Mean?
Red = “Caution”
What it means: “Don’t get too close!”
What you should do: If you see a dog with a red “Caution” harness or leash, the best thing to do is to avoid and ignore the dog completely. Dogs with this warning may react badly to unexpected encounters with strange people or other dogs, but they still deserve the dignity of a peaceful stroll around the block.
Do not make eye contact with this dog, or speak to the dog or its owner, or allow your own dog to bark or lunge. If your dog is currently off-leash, call them back immediately and leash them. Give a red “Caution” dog and his owner more room, perhaps crossing the street if you have to, and continue your walk with the knowledge that this dog has a loving and responsible owner who was forward-thinking enough to give everyone a heads up.
Orange = “No Dogs”
What it means: “I like people, but I’m not fond of other dogs!”
What you should do: An orange-clad dog is fine with people but fearful of other dogs, typically because of the trauma of a past attack. If you are walking with your own dog when you see an orange “No Dogs” leash, treat them the same as you would a red “Caution” leash and avoid interacting with this dog and owner.
If you don’t have a dog with you when you encounter an Orange pup, it’s generally okay to greet their owner and politely ask if you can pet their dog. Of course, still use your best judgment: if this pup’s owner seems occupied for whatever reason, it may not be a good time to ask!
Yellow = “Nervous”
What it means: “I’m anxious, please give me space!”
What you should do: If you see a dog with a yellow “Nervous” leash or harness, avoid interacting with them and give them more space.
A pup with a yellow dog collar may not be as overtly reactive as a red “Caution” dog, so their owner may be requesting more space for a different reason: perhaps this pup is recovering from an injury, or in heat, or elderly.
Regardless, it’s polite to honor this owner’s request for some breathing room. You may say, “Good morning,” to the owner, but otherwise avoid interacting.
(Note: Some rescue organizations also use a yellow safety vest or bandana to say “I’m up for adoption.”)
Green = “Friendly”
What it means: “I like meeting new people and dogs!”
What you should do: A dog with a green “Friendly” collar is open to making new friends, both human and canine. If you encounter this dog, it’s generally okay to ask politely if you and/or your pup can come over and say hi!
Note that a green “Friendly” collar does not mean it’s okay to approach a dog (or allow your dog to approach them) without asking first — that’s just basic politeness. You should also continue to use your good dog-sense, and end the interaction if either dog looks uncomfortable.
But overall, a green “Friendly” collar means you and your dog might make some great new friends! (Puppy playdates, anyone??)
Blue = “Training/Working”
What it means: “I’m either at work, or learning how to do my job. Please let me concentrate!”
What you should do: There are many pups out there who are hard at work! The dog you see with a blue “Training” or “Working” collar may be a future therapy dog or service dog, and would appreciate the chance to learn or work without distraction.
Don’t talk to or pet this dog unless invited to by their owner, even if this dog seems perfectly friendly (as most working dogs are). They’ve got an important job to do, after all!
Purple = “Do Not Feed”
What it means: “Please do not give me any snacks, treats or food!”
What you should do: You’d be surprised at how many people think it’s okay to feed other people’s dogs! A pup with a purple “Do Not Feed” harness may have food allergies, be on a weight-loss diet, or have other medical needs.
Resist the temptation to sneak this dog a bite of your burger — even if they have masterful puppy-eyes!
White = “Blind/Deaf”
What it means: “I am partially or completely blind or deaf!”
What you should do: A dog with a white “Blind” or “Deaf” leash has a disability that requires special consideration. This dog may not be able to see or hear you or your dog approaching, so try not to startle or surprise them.
Are There Any Concerns With Using Color-Coded Dog Leashes?
One consideration to be aware of is that using a color-coded dog collar does not absolve you from your responsibilities as a pet parent.
Even if your dog is wearing a red, orange or yellow leash or collar that alerts the people you encounter of your pup’s need for space, it’s still your responsibility to keep your dog and those around you safe. Not everyone will read or understand (or respect) your request. It may be wise to take additional precautions to protect your pup, such as walking during less busy times of the day or in less busy areas, or even training your dog to wear a safe and nonrestrictive muzzle.
Also, the considerations go the other way, too: a green “Friendly” leash is not an open invitation to pet strangers’ dogs without permission. Even if you see a “Friendly” collar or a happy, wiggly pup, always, always ask for permission to pet!
One concern that some pet parents have relates to the potential legal repercussions. They worry that by using a leash that says “Caution” or “Nervous”, they may be viewed as acknowledging that they own a “dangerous” dog — and therefore, that they may be held liable for any incidents that occur.
However, in the twenty years that yellow ribbons or color-coded dog leashes have been in use, that fear has not occurred. It would be difficult to interpret a colored leash as a legal admission, especially as dogs may be in need of additional space for a variety of reasons. Therefore, such concerns seem to be unfounded.
Finally, some critics say the color-coded system is not worth using because it is not widely known, which is a classic catch-22: the system won’t become more widely known until it is used!
Also, a clearly printed word conveys the message to members of the public who may be unfamiliar with the “traffic light” color system. The users of Friendly Dog Collars have expressed that most members of the public do understand, and that declaring a simple message greatly improves their dog’s experiences while out and about.
Color-coded dog leashes represent a creative way to enhance communication with fellow pet parents and members of the public. For example, a white “Deaf” or “Blind” collar alerts everyone around to a dog’s disability — which may be especially important if the dog somehow slips their lead or gets away from their parent.
Also, green “Friendly” leashes can help to combat harmful breed stereotypes, assuring everyone around you that your intimidating-looking Rottweiler or Doberman is in fact a total lovebug! This can make the people you walk near feel more at ease. They may even ask to pet your pup, and come away from the interaction thinking that “scary” dogs aren’t so scary after all!
What do you think of the idea of using color-coded dog leashes or a yellow ribbon to ask for more space for your dog? Do you have one for your own pooch? Share your thoughts on our Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest!
Review some of our other pet safety topics like: