The DINOS Message: Effective Public Education Benefits ALL Dogs

One of the very cool, and truly unexpected, things about DINOS is how crazy popular the term DINOS has become. When I was sitting at my desk in 2011, 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” or “aggressive”, 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). Now you know that 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 and 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 occurred to me that it might be time to have a little pow wow about communication and messaging because if we want the dog-owning public to be responsible for their own dogs and to understand and respect our DINOS wishes, we need to be on point!

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


So, let’s get clear on a couple of things:

 All reactive dogs are DINOS, but not all DINOS are reactive. Just like all Jacuzzis are hot tubs, but not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis.

And, as far as public education goes, this isn’t really about the dogs. DINOS is about teaching PEOPLE to be responsible for their actions and respectful towards others. We’re using the example of DINOS to help the public understand how their actions impact those around them. We’re thinking big picture, long lasting impact, here.

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

First, let’s talk about getting the message heard. There are just so many reasons why a dog might be a DINOS. If you were the average dog owner (not a really reckless person – they’re not listening to us anyway), someone who lets your dog run up – on leash or off – to an unfamiliar 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 aggressive and needs space to keep everyone safe

Now, I know all you DINOS owners will say that it doesn’t matter which – the dogs need space and they should get it. Indeed, you are correct! But being right is rarely the most effective way of changing other people’s behaviors. If we want to reach the largest audience with the message that many dogs deserve space and help people change their behavior around dogs, we should consider how we market our plea for space.

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

reactive or aggressive 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 by 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 typically need to hear our message the most. Which is tough, because they have very little sympathy for our dogs. 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 we need to give people the tools to be more responsible, respectful dog owners. We need to make sure that the world hears that all dogs deserve respect and that a dog can be a DINOS for many reasons that have nothing to do with training or behavior issues.

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 or obeys the leash law because they understand reactivity or if they’re just being polite because they now understand that lots of dogs needs space for lots of different reasons and we should all be respectful towards one another.

Birdie is older and has a bad back. People feel bad for her and don’t want their young, rowdy dogs to hurt her. They can understand why she needs space.



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 or aggression or behavior issues isn’t the way to go.

If we lead with the message that some dogs are “damaged” or traumatized 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. and think we’re a bunch of slackers for not fixing our dogs.

So for everyone out there spreading the message that dogs need space, I’m asking you to consider your messaging and your approach to relaying this idea to the general public. In order for the message to be effectively heard and to increase responsible dog ownership all around, we need to capture the public’s sympathy, 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 be respectful around ALL dogs.


Which brings me to the big picture and those yellow ribbon projects (note: DINOS is not affiliated with the yellow ribbon movement). It’s wonderful that so many people are learning about dogs and their personal space because of the popularity of the yellow ribbon movement. However, when we teach the public that they only need to give space to “yellow dogs”, we’re missing a huge opportunity for public education. Instead of just teaching the public that it’s our responsibility to put a ribbon on our dogs and their responsibility to look for it, we can also be teaching them to be respectful towards ALL dogs and to be responsible for their own dogs 24-7.

If you’re promoting the yellow ribbon, don’t miss this amazing media opportunity to teach the public that ALL dogs should be respected and that all of us must be responsible for our actions. Tell the public what a yellow ribbon means, but also teach the public to ask permission before approaching any unfamiliar dog and to ALWAYS have their dogs under control, including obeying leash laws. This kind of education benefits all of us long term could lead to a future where ribbons aren’t needed.

Think about it: if we teach the public to be responsible and respectful around dogs in general, it’ll save our rear ends when we encounter someone who doesn’t know what a yellow ribbon means, or someone who didn’t see the ribbon, or we forgot to put one on our dogs. Give the public the basic skills they need for safe, polite interactions with any dog they encounter and it’ll benefit dogs wearing yellow ribbons as well.

Finally, non-DINOS dogs deserve respect too. No dog deserves to be greeted rudely. No one should think it’s ok to break leash laws because the other dogs nearby don’t have yellow ribbons on. When relaying information to the public, keep an eye on the big picture:  responsible, respectful behavior should be color blind.


So go forth, spread the message that there are dogs who need space. Tell the world that DINOS are GOOD dogs. But always remember to tailor the message so that your audience listens and try to think big picture: give dog owners the tools they need to be more responsible dog owners.

When more people understand that all dogs have a need for and a right to their personal space and that all of us need to be responsible and respectful, then ALL dogs will benefit, reactive DINOS included.

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