Dog accessory more than fashion

Okotoks: Town supports local colour-coded bandana warning system

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 08:28 am

Tanya Thorn holds Rogue the Brussels Griffon wearing a green bandana to identify her as a friendly pooch. The Dog Early Warning System (DEWS) uses colour coded bandanas to signify the friendliness level of a canine when out in public.
Tanya Thorn holds Rogue the Brussels Griffon wearing a green bandana to identify her as a friendly pooch. The Dog Early Warning System (DEWS) uses colour coded bandanas to signify the friendliness level of a canine when out in public.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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In a community where thousands of residents own dogs, coming face to face with one on the street or pathway can be intimidating.

That’s why the Town of Okotoks is working with local non-profit organization Dog Early Warning System (DEWS). Both aim to reduce the risk of negative encounters with dogs by educating the public about the organization’s colour-coded bandanas that signal oncoming pedestrians if and how they should approach the bandana-wearing dog.

Coun. Tanya Thorn learned about the initiative while canvassing for last fall’s municipal election. The green bandana tells the public the dog is safe to approach, the yellow bandana encourages people to approach with caution and ask for instructions and the red bandana suggests the dog not be approached.

“I think it’s a program that makes our community safer,” Thorn said. “Anything that educates parents and children about behaviour around dogs, especially, is a good thing.”

With thousands of residents owning dogs and walking them in public areas, Thorn said the colour-coded system is an education tool for pedestrians.

Okotoks dog owner Keith Spangler said when he approaches people walking dogs he never knows if the approaching animal is friendly and if he should keep his small dog’s leash loose or tight.

When he was told about the DEWS bandanas, he said it’s a great awareness tool.

“You could buy one of each colour,” he said. “You might have a busy day you might want to carry on without being disturbed.”

Saddlebrook resident Roger Hagall, who sometimes walks his dog in Okotoks, also likes the idea of the bandanas.

“I would do it with Zeus because he loves people, generally,” he said.

In instances where people are bitten by dogs in public, Thorn said these unfortunately situations can be prevented and aren’t always the animal’s fault.

“It’s how people approach a dog,” she said. “We’ve got this natural instinct that we want to get right in their face and down at their level.”

In the case where a dog is wearing a green bandana, this is fine. But a dog wearing a yellow bandana could be nervous around certain people or might not like being touched on the head, she said.

In this case, a person interested in approaching the dog will know to ask for instructions because it is wearing a yellow bandana, said Thorn.

“It’s not that the dog is unfriendly,” she said. “If you are going to approach him you have to approach him a different way. Better communication results in better interactions between the person and a dog.”

Dogs wearing red bandanas aren’t necessarily dangerous, said Thorn. She said the owner might be in a hurry and not want to stop and talk or is training the dog and doesn’t want people interacting with it at the time.

Thorn said there are instances when her own dog, a friendly 12-year-old border collie heeler cross named Sunny, might not wear a green bandana.

“If I’m out walking him he’s friendly,” she said. “If my daughter it out walking him and I’m not with her he’s very protective, especially if he doesn’t know who you are.”

While the town supports the DEWS initiative, Thorn said it’s important the organization provide education on its own in schools, pet stores and veterinary clinics.

Brigitte Blais, who developed the program in 2012, said she is getting in touch with more pet-related businesses and plans to bring a bite prevention program developed in Tennessee into schools to educate children about how they should behave around dogs.

Blais said she came up with the idea for the bandanas when taking her bull Mastiff, Diesel, for walks. She said Diesel wasn’t great with other dogs and was recovering from surgery and she didn’t want people approaching her.

“I just wished that there was a way I could communicate to people to just leave us alone,” she said. “People just run up to them and put their face in the dog’s face. I wanted to protect other people and I wanted to protect her.”

An avid volunteer at Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue Foundation in High River, Blais worked with many dogs that aren’t comfortable around certain people and other dogs. In their cases, a red bandana would be very useful for their owners until the animals are properly trained and socialized, she said.

Blais said there is a lack of awareness around how to approach dogs and that’s where DEWS comes in.

“Hopefully we get it into schools and hopefully we can make some changes so when a dog comes running at them they know what to do,” she said. “If they see someone walking a dog with a red bandana they know not to approach it. If it’s yellow they can ask, ‘can I touch your dog’ and get instructions. My vision is to have a safe community.”

The DEWS bandanas are available at Elizabeth Street Pet Hospital in Okotoks, at the Diamond Valley Veterinary Clinic in Turner Valley or online at

The bandanas cost $5.95 each, $10.95 for two or $15.95 for three.

To learn more about DEWS and its partners go to


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