By Dr. Becker
A tether can provide a safe way for a dog to enjoy the outdoors, provided it’s a tether that gives the dog plenty of room to romp, and it’s used only for short periods of time and under close owner supervision.
Sadly, some dog owners use tethers or chains as a means of permanent restraint. Many dogs are tethered outdoors without access to food, water or shelter. Dogs trapped at the end of a tether or chain suffer immensely, both physically and emotionally.
In addition to being exposed to the elements, including extreme heat and cold, tethered dogs are vulnerable to other people and animals, as they have no way to escape. As a result, tethered dogs may become aggressive and are far more likely to bite than dogs living in a healthy environment.
Phoenix, Arizona Passes Law to Protect Dogs From Cruel Tethering
Because the practice of tethering or chaining is a form of animal cruelty that also poses a public safety hazard, many U.S. cities have enacted legislation against it. Phoenix, Arizona is among them. In June 2016, city officials passed a tethering ordinance to protect dogs.
The new legislation makes it illegal to restrain a dog outside under the following conditions:1
• Using a restraint that unreasonably limits the dog's movement during extreme weather conditions.
This includes using a collar that does not properly fit the dog or using a tether that is shorter than 10 feet, places the dog in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, causes injury to the dog, or does not permit the dog to access food, water, shade, dry ground or shelter.
• When the outdoor temperature is below 32 degrees or above 100 degrees.
• When a heat advisory has been issued.
• When a monsoon, hurricane, tropical storm, dust storm or tornado warning has been issued.
I agree with the Arizona Humane Society calling the new ordinance a “huge win for dogs.” The Society said in a statement:2
“Neglect starts somewhere. And it’s long before ribs are showing. Long before collars are embedded into skin.
Long before the sun scorches an animal’s skin. Neglect most often starts with the simple act of tethering an animal outside in Arizona — and the City of Phoenix is working to end the epidemic of animal neglect where it starts.”
Dr. Steven Hansen, president and CEO of the Arizona Humane Society, continued:
“Every year, we field thousands of calls from concerned neighbors regarding an animal’s welfare, including dogs who are tied up, outside, in distress …
This ordinance allows us to contact the owners, correct the situation and work with law enforcement to cite those that don’t improve the conditions of their pets. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to stop neglect where it starts.”
Dogs Should Not Be Tethered for Extended Periods
Dogs are social creatures that thrive on close interactions and bonds with humans and other dogs. Left alone and restrained for long periods of time, dogs that would otherwise be friendly may turn aggressive, anxious or neurotic. Dogs left tethered often fall into the category of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Their owners may neglect to feed them or provide water regularly. They’re also often left out in extreme temperatures without adequate shelter and rarely do they receive veterinary care, even if they’re obviously injured or ill.
Physically, a dog’s neck can become raw from a tight collar. In severe cases, the dog’s skin may even grow around the collar.
Dogs may become strangled by their tethers, attacked by other animals or people, or infected by parasites after being forced to live, eat and sleep in the same area they use to eliminate.
The dogs typically lack even the most basic forms of attention and care. The Humane Society of the United States explained:3
“What's more, because their often neurotic behavior makes them difficult to approach, chained dogs are rarely given even minimal affection. Tethered dogs may become ‘part of the scenery’ and can be easily ignored by their owners.”
Tethered Dogs Are a Public Safety Hazard
Dogs clearly suffer from extended tethering, but this practice also places the public at risk. A tethered dog will feel compelled to protect his small territory, and any perceived threat will trigger his fight-or-flight instinct. Since he cannot run away, he will fight the perceived threat.
Often, this threat may be a child who has approached the dog, unaware that his forced restraint may have made him unsafe to pet. If a tethered dog does break free from his chains, he may still act aggressively due to his long-term confinement. He may chase or attack people or pets as a result.
Nineteen states have laws addressing tethering, while nearly 100 U.S. municipalities and counties prohibit it. Many others have legislation that allows tethering dogs only for a limited time.4
What to Do If a Dog Is Tethered in Your Neighborhood
If a dog is tethered for long periods or under cruel conditions in your neighborhood, check to see if there are any laws regulating the practice in your area (this could be at the city, county, township or state level). If the practice is banned, contact your local animal control agency and report it.
Even if there is no legislation in place, an animal control officer can approach the owner and try to create a plan to get the dog untethered. In severe cases, the dog may also be removed from the home.
Most cities also have animal cruelty ordinances that make it a crime to leave a dog without adequate shelter, food or water, which often apply to tethered dogs. If the dog appears to be in immediate danger, such as being overly thin, lacking water or left outside in extreme weather, contact authorities immediately.
If the dog is not in an emergency situation, you may be able to help him by getting to know the dog’s owner and sharing information about why tethering dogs is not ideal.
You may explain that dogs crave human companionship and even act as better guard dogs if they live indoors. You might even offer to take the dog for walks and role model responsible and ethical pet ownership. Sometimes fostering a relationship allows for ignorant people to become educated. On a larger scale, community outreach services are important to inform dog owners about the risks of tethering, and alternative solutions.
For instance, some dog owners tether their dog because he has repeatedly escaped or has a behavior problem that would be better solved via positive-reinforcement training than tethering.
Organizations such as Fences for Fido in Oregon also help by building fences free of charge for families keeping their dogs on chains or tethers. This simple act is often instrumental in helping the families to bond with their dogs in a new way they may not have recognized before. Fences for Fido explains:5
“When a dog is unchained, a transformation begins. It starts with what we call ‘zoomies:’ The running, jumping, exuberant joy our Fidos display once unchained — many for the first time in years.
That visible happiness puts smiles on the faces of our volunteers and most importantly, on the faces of our client families who through this process, begin to connect with their pets in a more meaningful way. This single moment represents the beginning of an even deeper bond between a dog and his or her family.”