Have a Heart for Chained Dogs Week

February seventh to the fourteenth has been declared Have a Heart for Chained Dogs Weeek by the Dogs Deserve Better organization in the United States. I can’t help but applaud their efforts to raise awareness around the plight of dogs who spend most of their lives at the end of a chain. It’s a heart-breaking image and unfortunately it is also reality for countless animals across the continent.

Image via Unchain Your Dog.org 

Before the brief research I conducted for this post, I knew very little about the facts behind dog tethering. I still don’t feel very knowledgeable, and I was hoping to inspire a conversation.

For what it’s worth, we have never tied Shiva up outside. The only time I would ever consider doing so is if we were going to be with her the entire time, such as when camping. I know tethering creates frustration, something she already doesn’t handle very well. With all the fantastic gains we have made with her reactivity, I’d never risk backstepping. However, even if we had a fenced yard, I’d still never leave her outside alone. Chain-link in front of her would be just as bad as a chain behind her. When we do eventually move and get the yard of our dreams, I don’t intend on ever putting her out there alone. After three years of taking her out on a leash every time she needs a bathroom break, I’m not sure how she’d handle being out there by herself. She’s an indoor dog, through and through. Why give her a chance to learn (more) bad habits?

I don’t think all forms of tethering are necessarily bad or cruel. Not everyone can afford to put up a fence, after all. Like myself, not everyone is permitted to do so even if it is one’s preference. One could make the argument that those without a fence should not own a dog, but I think many other bloggers have blown that theory to smithereens. The ideal obviously is for a dog to never be out alone, but that’s not always possible. Besides, I’d rather a dog be tied up every once in a while than remain in a shelter to be euthanized because potential adopters couldn’t afford construction costs. 

In my opinion – when used appropriately – a tether isn’t really all that different from a fence. Truly, I don’t believe any dog should be left alone outdoors for that length of time, no matter how he is restrained. Twenty minutes to a half an hour is probably the maximum, depending on the dog. My childhood dog was often outside in our fenced yard all day while we were at work or school. It’s one of my largest regrets. She quickly became very good at escaping, either by jumping over or chewing through the wooden slats. She didn’t always get away without injuring herself either. Dogs that are tethered can get tangled quite easily. They are also more vulnerable to attack by other animals or abusive humans. But if only out for brief periods at a time, all of these problems  are avoided.

I guess my primary concern relates to legislation. Dogs Deserve Better  advocates for laws that prohibit chaining, in all its forms. While I don’t disagree this would be the best situation, I don’t know if it’s exactly practical. Legal pieces like these make me cautious as I worry they only serve to punish people who are doing the best they can, people who may just need a little more education, or some financial help. There are many extreme cases of tethering in which I do believe the dog’s owners should be charged. But the context surrounding those cases isn’t usually a simple chaining problem. There is a whole lot of neglect and abuse going on, the chaining itself is just a more obvious symptom.

No dog should be left outside all alone twenty-four hours a day, every day of her life. Chain or no chain, that is obviously cruel.

But are all chains created equal? I guess that’s what I am trying to figure out. Have you ever tied your dog up outside?

29 thoughts on “Have a Heart for Chained Dogs Week

  1. Pearl jumps over our fence and has horrible recall, so we thought about putting her out on a tether while supervised to let her enjoy the yard. We hooked her up to a harness as opposed to a collar so she wouldn’t take off after a rabbit or something while tethered and break her neck, but it ended up being a failed experiment anyway. She just didn’t get it, she would stand at the end of the tether or lie down, she wouldn’t go to the bathroom while tethered, she just didn’t enjoy it. I am still not sure whether tether’s are ever a good idea, it probably depends on the dog. The idea of them getting tangled up or hurting their necks makes me nervous. I would have to do more reading about it- when we tried it we were pretty much dog newbies and didn’t even know how much we didn’t know, if that makes sense. I am interested to see what other people say about this issue.

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  2. I am also very leery when it comes to animal advocate groups pushing for legislation rather than education. The people that they’re really targetting, like you said, are usually the ones who are also abusing the dog in some way. Competitive mushing kennels keep their dogs individually chained with their own dog house and water source. Depending on the musher, they may have well over a hundred dogs. Those dogs are very well taken care of. Otherwise they wouldn’t be worth spending the time and money on to be part of a competitive team. These dogs are well adapted to the environment and keeping that many dogs in doors is impractical. Additionally it wold most likely cause stress related problems with the dogs themselves. I think there are definitely instances where tethering a dog is not a bad thing. It’s the people who do this and general abuse and/or neglect are part of the package, that are the problem.

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  3. We leave our dogs outside for part of each day. They love it and if they are stuck inside too long due to weather or illness they get very antsy. They have fully enclosed runs with appropriate shelter. Every dog is different, but there are breeds that do just fine kenneled outside. That said, chaining is a different story and usually not best for a dog.

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  4. We’ve only tethered outside when camping. But we have a nice (big for Portland) fenced yard. I won’t leave them outside when I’m not home but on a nice summer day, Sadie prefers to spend the entirety laying about in the sunshine. She gets sad when I make her come in. Maggie on the other hand, will want to come in to get some shade. Our fence is cedar and they’ve never escaped. Sadie did jump over our chain link before we had the new fence installed so they didn’t get much alone time outside before.

    I agree that an anti-chain law may have unintended consequences of hurting those who can’t afford a fence. So maybe there’s a middle ground? Laws that prohibit tethering for longer than x amount of time, that require water and shelter to be provided at all times? I don’t think all tethering is bad but a lot of it can be. And you’re absolutely right – laws won’t solve the problems that need to be solved. Education is our #1 tool to help all dogs in need.

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  5. Hi Kristine, we’ve never been chained outside, ever. There was a cute little husky that a neighbour had purchased for himself. When it grew up a little, it spent most of the time chained outside on a little deck, howling, barking or whimpering. It broke my mom and dad’s heart, but the man who owned the dog was the kind of guy who bought it for “show”. It was always all about him and no words otherwise would have changed that. Just when my parents had had enough, it “disappeared”. So whether he put it up for adoption because now he had a family or someone “rescued it”, we don’t know. Some months later, his wife took and kids and moved out. The man stayed in the house until it was sold. My dad said “good riddance” and hoped that the husky found a better home.

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  6. Years ago we would tie our dog to the clothes line – before we had a fence – and then once the yard was fenced we would let them outside in the yard. Both of our shepards would on occassion jump the fence – but they would come right back when called. When we left the house – and at night the dog would be inside the house. Kita goes out now by herself -and she loves it – I leave the back door open so she can come and go as she wants.
    The problem is not everyone has the time to go out in the yard with the dog and supervise them when they are outside. If you work, have kids, need to do laundry and cook meals etc – you may not have the time to be outside with your pet for several hours a day. As most dogs like to run/walk and sniff for a considerable length of time – if you can’t leave them outside on a tether for a period of time – the dog is then not getting the stimulation they need.
    Being chained 24-7 is not something I agree with – but if you don’t have a fenced yard I see no problem with them being tied in a safe area for short periods of time

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  7. I am not against fighting for legislation to regulate tethering (for example a growing number of cities limit the amount of time a dog can be tethered outside and some places require the tether be of a certain length and of a certain material) but I don’t think making ANY form of tethering illegal is right.

    There are many people who do not have fenced in yards so when they are working in the garden or reading on a back porch or enjoying a BBQ they tether their dog outside so the dog can be with them and enjoying the weather… it would be a shame if this became a fine-able offense.

    We just put in a fence last year and I know how EXPENSIVE installing a fence (even just chain link) can be–it’s really not something everyone can afford.

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  8. I think you’re right in saying that legislation to ban it completely would be a little extreme. I mean, in Olympia when Adam and I would wash cars, or I’d garden in our front yard I’d tether Oly to the tree in our yard so she could be with us. I would never have chained her up there and left her all day, but to make a law that I couldn’t even do what we’d done in the past would be insane.

    Tethering is good for camping, or for a yard without a fence IF it’s for short amounts of time and the owner is home in case of complications/twists/injury. So I think the law should be geared towards cruelty, not tethering. The issue is always that the people doing horrible things to pets need to be educated and punished. And those of us doing things right should be used as examples for education.

    It’s a topic I never realized I felt strongly about! Thanks for starting a discussion.

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  9. I considered a tether for Elli for a long time because she figured out (after 10 months) that she could jump our 4′ fence. She’s only outside alone to go potty in the AM, in the PM, I or my mom is usually with her. She never went far, usually to chase a cat who was tormenting her from the other side, but I worried and I considered it. She’d only ever jump it if she were left outside for a longer amount of time than normal and she began doing it whenever my mom was outside with her.

    But, I figured her out — I started giving her treats for coming back inside — faded them appropriately and now she sits outside the door and waits to be let in — no matter how long it takes. 🙂

    Fences for Fido is an amazing organization that builds fences for people who cannot afford to take their dogs off the chains. They build shelters for the dogs as well. They also will foster dogs when a family realizes that they cannot care for the dog — chained or not. They check in with all the dogs they’ve given fences to every year. 🙂 I think it’s a step in A direction — whether it’s perpetuating a problem or not, I still can’t decide.

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  10. California has had a dog tethering law for several years, but it is unenforceable. It requires an AC or police officer to witness the dog being tied for 3 or 4 hours, I forget which. Obviously they have more important things to do. The problem with legislation for dog welfare is that we get the impression something is being done for the dogs when it really isn’t.
    Most of the houses in our town have six foot redwood fences. My guys need to go out for short breaks and usually they can be trusted.

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  11. Gwynn was tethered in our campsite this summer -a long line up high across the site, with his long-lead attached to it by a carabiner, so that he could basically be in any part of the site he wanted, and explore a bit in the woods nearby. The other option would have been that he’d have had to be tied to someone, which might have worked, but wouldn’t have allowed him nearly as much freedom to sniff all the interesting trees. He also gets tied to our tree when I’m shovelling snow, or working out front in the garden. I think there’s a time and a place for tethering your dog. It serves a purpose, but does require supervision. I agree with the other commenters – it isn’t about whether the dog is tethered or not, it’s about how the dog is treated, cared for, and lives.

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  12. Looks like you’re getting lots of interesting discussion on this topic. I also only rely on a tether when camping. One of the key features is that the leash spirals around so it’s almost impossible for a dog to get restrained by a twisted leash. And that, along with the shelter and water issue, is probably why the legislation was suggested.

    The program Ximena referred to sounds like the best approach. I know that the guys from Rescue Ink have taken a similar approach when they find dogs tied up outside.

    On the other hand, as some folks have pointed out here, some dogs are happy being outside alone sniffing the world. In that situation, a tether that run a long a long line giving the dog room to roam without getting tangled might be better than being tied to a stake or dog house.

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  13. I am so glad that you posted about this. While I am against tethering a dog all the time, I see no harm in them being tethered for potty breaks, if a fence is not in place.
    Before we had a fence our Beagle was tethered for potty breaks, and he had no problem with it and neither did we. He loves to be outside and we could be out there with him for an hour doing yard work and not have to feel bad that he was stuck inside .

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    • That’s an excellent point. ownres sometimes overlook the fact that dogs are always learning- old dogs pick up quite a few new tricks. And most house dogs devote incredible amounts of time to testing their environment. This is rarely anything obvious like suddenly trying to leap the fence, but they will constantly check, observe, and fiddle around with things. Problem solving dogs are really dedicated to this activity. If they have a goal such as raiding the food supply or escaping from the yard, they will work on it constantly. Some dogs are so dedicated to escape that they cannot be allowed outside unsupervised under any circumstances. That is an extreme example, but Teddy is a typical example of the type of dog that is really adept at exploring his environment. In contrast to common perceptions, smaller dogs have advantages over larger dogs in this respect. They are more agile and get into and onto places that big dogs cannot reach. They also have smaller feet and skinnier legs that can fit into tight places or effectively manipulate doors, etc. Not long ago, I got a new dishwasher. Dogs normally like dishwashers because they associate them with warmth, food and dinnertime. But this never posed a dog related problem in my house until I got a new dishwasher. the new one is pretty similar to the last one, and it is installed in exactly the same place in the kitchen. Unfortunately, for some reason I have yet to figure out, my dogs have learned how to turn this one on. The first few times this happened, I thought I had done it and forgotten. After a while, I began to doubt my sanity because I thought I was running the empty dishwasher! Eventually, I realized that this only happened when dogs were unsupervised in the kitchen. But I still have not figured out exactly how they do it.

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  14. At one of the houses we rented, the back deck had to be rebuilt and there wasn’t a gate into the fully fenced back yard. So, we bought a tether for Moree so he could go out front and move around. We almost always sat out on the front porch while he was outside. We also bought a 30′ lead so that we could go to the nearby park and he’d have room to run.
    I used to wrap that 30′ lead around the column of our first house so that Smokey could be out front with me when I was gardening.
    I think this is one of those situations where people only really notice the extremes, so they determine an extreme law is needed, instead of realizing that there is a responsible middle ground. Our state recently passed a law about how long a dog could be chained up. It varies based on whether they have access to shelter and/or water.

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  15. We tether when camping. When I adopted my first dog, he came used to a tether. I would put a harness on him and run one of the plastic coated lines sold as tethers from a tree branch. He would spend hours sometimes, just out there in the sun. When he barked I’d come see what was up, and bring him in if that’s what he was asking.

    All my dogs are small, so when we could afford it, we put up a yard for him with the drive-in stakes and rolled fence material. That worked great for my 10 and 12 pound dogs, but I still needed to keep an eye out for large free-roaming dogs that occasionally thought my mutts were fun to harass.

    Now we rent a place with a doggie door and the only time they don’t have free access to the yard is at night when they are kenneled. (Small dogs + scary dark = nighttime ‘accidents’)

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  16. Also, I think tethering and chaining are distinctly different concepts. Chaining is usually just that – a heavy chain pulling on the dog’s neck all day and set short enough that the dog won’t tangle in anything. Bloody horrible way to live. Would like to treat the ‘owners’ exactly the same way they treat their dogs. (Unfortunately we have laws against cruel and unusual punishment. damn.)

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  17. In a lot of rural communities, tethering a dog is considered normal. It’s not uncommon for us to drive along and see dog after dog tethered in yard after yard – and the people that own these dogs care about them and believe they’re treating them well. Their dogs are more like farm animals than family members because that’s the only thing they know. I’m not sure how they’d react to being told what they’re doing is now illegal. Convincing them that the dogs should be living inside the house with them is going to be a non-starter in a lot of cases. I completely understand where the folks driving this legislation are coming from, but my feeling is that we’re more in need of a shift in consciousness more than a statute.

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  18. We are lucky that Cali has always been a reliable off-leash dog. She enjoys being outside on nice days, but I constantly check on her. When she was young we left her outside a few times while we were at work with access to the garage – but I worried too much! I feel like they are just so much safer inside! In Portland we have a group called Fences for Fido (http://www.fencesforfido.org/) that is 100% volunteer and builds fences for houses that have chained dogs, so the dogs have the ability to run around. There are not many places in Portland that don’t allow fences, so it works.

    Our neighborhood in South Carolina didn’t allow fences, so Cali always needed to be supervised, but a neighbor down the street used to tie out his sweet pittie, George all day in the front yard. He seemed happy enough – but every opportunity he had to escape, he took . . .and it was always hard to get him back. I think education is definitely KEY, not legislation 🙂

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  19. I have always personally been against tying dogs up, but I found myself with a dog, and 2 cats and needing a place to live. So I made an offer for a rental to have the dog outside, which meant tying him up. I made every effort to let him run two to three times a day. It was the only way I could keep him and I would have died than give that dog up. So I did what I had to. And while I still don’t agree with it, I can understand if it is the only option. But I believe it comes with it’s own set of responsibilities.

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  20. Luckily we have a fenced yard. When I was young, my best friend’s family kept their dogs tied up with one of those suspended wire contraptions. It did give them a little more room without getting tangled, but they never went inside. They had a doghouse. I don’t think that was a great way for those dogs to live–no real exercise, limited environment to explore, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and limited socialization.

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  21. When we first got Sampson we didn’t have a fence. Hubby put up a line similar to a clothes line that ran from the house to a tree in the back. He then attached a chain to the line and we could hook Sampson out and he could run back and forth with a some side to side movement as well. He would never be outside for a long period of time, I could hook him out to potty and then bring him in when he was done. If Hubby was working outside then Sampson was outside with him on the tether.

    Then we fenced in the yard and got Delilah, again the dogs weren’t left outside alone for long because quite frankly I don’t trust people, but the dogs did go outside to potty.

    Then we moved and the backyard is totally fenced in and we are set far back from the road, I am a bit more comfortable letting them stay outside a bit longer. On a nice day they love to sun themselves on the deck. Most of the times though they just like to go outside, do their business and come in. On those days where they do spend more time outside, I am constantly checking on them to see where they are and what they are doing.

    All that being said, I too feel saddened when I see a dog on a chain, but I do realize that sometimes that is an only option, say if a person has small children and can’t leave the house to take the dog out, chain them out let them do their business and bring them in.

    The problem with legislation is generally they take it too far, for instance they will ban all tethering and so once again the people who use it properly will be punished, while the people who abuse it (and probably their animals too) won’t care and will do it anyway, it’s a fine line to walk and I hope they find a way, because no animal should be tethered all day, every day.

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  22. Great post! And great questions. I am with you about not banning all forms of tethering. I agree that there are people that use it as a wonderful tool to allow the dog to be out with them, or to have some outside time. Some dogs would go mad being indoors all day as 2browndogs mentioned. I taught my dogs at a young age to give in to being tied down/up… basically to give in to restriction not to fight it, in hopes that it teaches them to just wait patiently rather than find their own means of escape. This really helped any long line work we did, and allows me to tether them at my parents house (inside) so they can still visit with us but I don’t have to keep harping on them about staying with us.
    I have however seen a recent case of tethering gone bad just down the neighborhood from me. I watched for nearly 10 minutes as a JRT struggled to untangle itself, most of its time on its back. In looking back I feel horrible for not just going over and untangling it, but I was waiting for the owner to come out as I knew they were home. Next time I shall just go over and untangle it, and forget about what the owners might do or say, but hopefully there won’t be a next time.
    Anna

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  23. We tether Felix when we are working in the front yard. His recall is spotty at best and non-existent if he sees a new “friend” headed down the street. But, we are out there with him 99.9% of the time (I might dash into the house to answer a phone or refresh his water bowl, but that’s about it. The dogs do have free run of our fenced yard, particularly in the summer when it is nice out and I can leave the slider open for them to come in and go out as they please. I have no problem with people who tether their dog in their unfenced yard while they are out there or for short amounts of time, but I just can’t agree with a dog who spends all or even most of every day chained up.

    I support legislation that sets limits for how long a dog can be chained and in what conditions. There are working dog operations here in BC that raise sled dogs that and the conditions can be heart breaking. Dogs tethered to their houses in all weather except when they are hired out to work. As much as I would like to believe that education is the key, situations like that are only likely change if they are forced to.

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  24. For me, in Australia, we have very few people chain their dogs. Most of our homes have fenced yards, and most fenced yards are good fences that keep dogs in. When you get into more regional areas, the fences decline, and the chains increase, especially for working farm dogs, but in general, it’s untypical for dogs to be chained in Australia.

    My major concern with chaining is that it increases aggression, and I’m big on dog bit prevention. I think prohibiting chaining will also reduce dog bites. There is a nice video here: http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2011/12/video-showing-connection-between-chaining-and-dog-aggression.html

    (However, I also would rather a dog go to a home on a chain than die in a shelter.)

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    • I agree that chaining can be a huge factor in dog aggression. I’ve seen it myself. It’s one of the reasons I will never approach a dog that is tied up. But one of the things I was curious about is whether or not fencing is just a different sort of chain. It too can create a lot of frustration and there are many dogs in my area that spend all day running along their fences, barking at everyone that walks by. It doesn’t seem to be a great alternative. Really when it comes down to it, I don’t think it’s the chain itself that causes aggression, but the combination of that and neglect.

      Thanks for the link to the video! The more awareness the better, I think. There is still a lot we don’t understand about the dog mind but I think we’re off to a good start.

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