When Sarah Jones realised her adorable puppy Bella was an anxious dog, she could have resigned herself to 5am walks, stares from other dog owners and a life hiding away.
But she wanted her Cocker Spaniel to enjoy life like any other pup, so instead she went on a mission to find a way to tell other people and dogs to give her space.
Fast forward nearly ten years and Sarah’s idea is now My Anxious Dog, a thriving business and community giving freedom and understanding to tens of thousands of dogs all over the world and their owners.
Her #DogsInYellow awareness day on March 20th and yellow space awareness products and mission gives a voice to anxious dogs themselves.
We spoke to Sarah who lives in Berkshire with her husband Matt about her work and her ‘what if everyone knew’ campaign.
Hi Sarah, can you tell me about My Anxious Dog and how it began?
The reason I got involved into the world of yellow is because of my dog Bella.
I didn’t know she was anxious as a puppy, this was in 2012, and I didn’t even know dogs could be anxious.
We went to socialisation sessions at the vets, and all the pups would play and she’d be under my chair. She’d be transfixed, looking at me all the time.
At classes, she’d want to be by my side and actually, when I think back to chatting to her breeder when we chose her, she was shy even then.
She had a bite mark on her back when we took her home, and maybe it was those weeks of rough and tumble with her brothers and sisters that started it.
Bella didn’t want to see other dogs or other people, she didn’t want to engage, and I was a new dog owner, I had no idea.
It was when she was attacked by another dog that she started to react to other dogs and people by barking, and I knew I needed to try to help her.
So I went to see a behaviourist and they explained she wasn’t aggressive, she was scared. I was devastated and wanted to do all I could to protect her.
How did the dogs in yellow start?
The behaviourist told me about the Yellow Ribbon. It was an initiative in America where if you had an anxious dog, you’d try to tell people with a yellow ribbon on their lead.
Bella is a lively Spaniel who loves running round and exploring, so the little ribbon didn’t last long, it would get lost.
Or people would see her in it and say, ‘Oh she’s so sweet,’ and run over to pet her and that would scare her.
I knew I had to do something so I decided to make my own yellow products with ‘Anxious’ ‘Do Not Touch,’ and ‘Keep Away,’ to spell it out that she needed space.
My background is manufacturing, so purchasing, designing and ordering samples. At the time, there wasn’t really anything like that out there, so I did it myself.
You made the products for your own dog, how did it grow to what My Anxious Dog is today?
Our local rescue had a show, and the behaviourist I was working with and who had seen what I’d made for Bella suggested I went there.
She said to take them along and see what the response was and that is when I started to realise there were other anxious dogs out there.
And it’s built since then. I make leads, harnesses, lead covers, hoodies, t shirts, vests, poo bin stickers, posters, everything you need.
Bella wearing yellow gave her a voice and I was on a mission to make sure everyone knew. I spoke to my parish council and asked if I could put up posters.
They said yes, so they went on notice boards and bins. I became known as the Yellow Lady around where I live.
And the message is far and wide now?
Yes, I started making and selling the dog products, and I’d go and try to raise awareness in Facebook groups.
Sometimes I’d be told off or kicked out for promoting, even though it was to help our anxious dogs.
So I set up my own, and there’s now 13,000 people in there, plus trainers and behaviourists supporting the owners of anxious dogs, because that’s what they need, support and kindness.
They can buy the products – I’m a not for profit so I keep things as affordable as I can – along with the awareness packs with posters, car stickers, bin stickers, so they can do what I did in their area.
The Yellow Army is a community of advocates for our shy and fearful dogs who don’t have a voice, a safe place for owners to ask anything they want.
(Join the Yellow Army Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/215979409295118)
It’s not just anxious dogs who need to wear yellow, they could be recovering from illness or surgery, or senior dogs who aren’t as confident
Yes, I know we’ve chatted about this and you experienced it with your late dog Daisy. There are lots of reasons why a dog might not want to be approached. If they’re recovering from an operation, or they’ve not been well for example.
Or like Daisy, who had dementia when she was older, they may have gone from being very confident, then in later life, they might not feel so sure of themselves or just want to be left alone. And the yellow is a way to politely say that.
You should be so proud of what you’ve done to help Bella and so many others and I so wish I knew you when Daisy was struggling
Thank you, it’s not always been easy. I’ve had and still do have dog trainers who say, ‘What’s the point? Or ‘No-one will take any notice,’ which is frustrating
It makes me more determined to keep going. When I see a dog in yellow it makes me so happy because I know they will have better walks and a less stressful life.
It’s not about them buying from me, I don’t care who they buy from. It’s about getting the message about yellow out there.
What’s your mission?
In the group, when I see posts where people have had positive experiences, where someone has seen their dog in yellow and given them space, that’s what it’s all about.
By stopping, being kind, acknowledging the dog in yellow isn’t a bad dog, it means the world to the owner.
Think about what it’s like coming back from a happy walk with your dog.
Then compare it to one where another dog or person has upset your dog. It’s horrid. That’s what anxious dogs and owners face every day.
Many anxious dogs have had an awful start in live, they might be rescues, they may have been abused, they may be from puppy farms, they could have come from a war zone.
My mission is for all dog owners to know about yellow, because if everyone can be kind and considerate towards our anxious dogs, their lives become a little easier.
How can people get behind you and My Anxious Dog?
For anxious dog owners, come and join our Yellow Army and you will be given so much support.
If you know someone with an anxious dog, please tell them about what yellow means.
For dog lovers, if you see an anxious dog while you’re out, give them space, you will make their day.
We’ve got a guide on my website on how to support your anxious dog that you can download and we have our #DogsInYellow day on March 20th that you can join in with.
The day is all about raising awareness of what yellow means and looking out for our anxious dogs and celebrating them too.
What’s your message to other anxious dog owners?
Don’t hide away and feel embarrassed. Be their voice, and their advocate. Life doesn’t have to stop because you have an anxious dog.
Bella goes everywhere with us, to shows, out on our bikes, out running, to see human and dog friends and she’s happy and confident in her yellow with me by her side.
Having a dog who finds the world a little scary isn’t something to be ashamed of, so wear your yellow and enjoy your life with your dog.
Want to find out more about Bella, Sarah and My Anxious Dog
Visit Sarah’s website: www.myanxiousdog.co.uk
Follow My Anxious Dog on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/myanxiousdog
Join the Yellow Army Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/215979409295118