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Bandanas, harnesses, leashes and collars have been designed with alerts to others that your dog may need space or not like other dogs. While they are popular – and the concept is understandable – the reality is they could land an owner in hot water depending on local laws, circumstances behind an incident and even interpretation.

Please note, this is not to be taken as legal counsel. However, over the years I have looked closely at issues with these warning devices. Before you use such a signal, you should know what could happen if there is an incident. Learn your local laws and what effects they may have with insurance.

Perception is powerful. The concern is not the message given but how it is perceived.

Yellow ribbons indicate military support in many areas. Would a yellow ribbon in the Washington area with a high number of military personnel be perceived the same as a yellow ribbon elsewhere in the country, where the yellow ribbon as a signal to leave a dog alone originated? The second Gulf War started a few years after I moved to Northern Virginia. There were yellow ribbons all over many communities where I had clients.

Leashes, collars, and harnesses indicating caution is needed around your dog may be interpreted as announcing the dog has a propensity to be problematic. If anything happens, your insurance and/or the local law enforcement may not be as understanding as you hoped. It may be deemed that by bringing the dog out as you did, you allowed a risky situation to happen. Your insurance could refuse to cover any injuries. You could lose coverage for having a known dangerous dog (you announced it with the device). Your homeowners association or landlord could insist the dog must go.

The green “friendly” leashes, collars and harnesses are also concerning. Why? They give a false sense of security. These devices may attract unwanted attention to your dog. You are announcing a friendly dog. Even friendly dogs may not appreciate a rude person or canine.

How would you feel if a stranger ran up and gave you a hug or a hearty thump on the back? What if your dog is having an off day? What if you miss early stress signals indicating the dog does not want attention? What if your dog responds to stop the unwanted attention?

Along the same lines, “Beware of Dog” signs could be interpreted as knowing you have a potentially dangerous dog on the premises. If there is an issue, you may not be covered. A “No Trespassing” sign may have more legal weight if there is an incident on your property from someone who should not be there.

“Beware of Dog” signs will not prevent lawsuits if there is a bite. You need to know your local laws and insurance coverage. 

I applaud those trying to educate, but sometimes the message can cause more harm than good. Instead, advocate for your dog – become his voice.

You need to educate people for the safety and sanity of everyone, dog included. If needed, put “STOP – IN TRAINING” on a jacket or lead to help get people to pause and talk. Never use this to pass your dog off as a service dog! This notice is only to get people to pause in a way that is neutral. You have a dog and you are training him, simple as that.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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