Chained Dogs

A chained dog can only watch as life goes by ...

One of the cruelest punishments for dogs is “solitary confinement” on a chain or in a kennel. Dogs are pack animals who crave companionship. Scratches behind the ears, games of fetch, or walks around the block mean the world to them. Curling up at your feet while you watch TV is their idea of heaven.

Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS) strongly recommends that all pets be kept indoors with the family. We do not discourage pet owners from letting their dogs spend time outside, as long as the animals are supervised and under control at all times. But leaving a dog outside for long periods, especially if he or she is chained or otherwise tethered, can be physically, emotionally, and behaviorally detrimental. Dogs need companionship, care, exercise, and attention.

Chaining or otherwise leaving a dog outside for an extended period without supervision not only deprives the animal of these things, but can also lead to behavior problems (including aggression). It may place the dog in serious physical danger: A confined or tethered dog is unable to escape the harsh effects of weather (heat, cold, storms, etc.), attack by other animals, or theft or abuse by humans. SCCAS receives countless calls from pet owners and neighbors about dogs who have died from exposure or been stolen, abused, or even killed while left tied outside.

1. What is meant by "chaining" or "tethering" dogs?
These terms refer to the practice of fastening a dog to a stationary object or stake, usually in the owner's backyard, as a means of keeping the animal under control. These terms do not refer to the periods when an animal is walked on a leash.

2. Is there a problem with continuous chaining or tethering?
Yes, the practice is both inhumane and a threat to the safety of the confined dog, other animals, and humans.

3. Why is tethering dogs inhumane?
Dogs are naturally social beings that thrive on interaction with human beings and other animals. A dog kept chained in one spot for hours, days, months, or even years suffers immense psychological damage. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained, becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious, and often aggressive.

In many cases, the necks of chained dogs become raw and covered with sores, the result of improperly fitted collars and the dogs' constant yanking and straining to escape confinement. Dogs have even been found with collars embedded in their necks, the result of years of neglect at the end of a chain. In one case, a veterinarian had to euthanize a dog whose collar, an electrical cord, was so embedded in the animal's neck that it was difficult to see the plug.

4. Who says tethering dogs is inhumane?
In addition to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and numerous animal experts, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a statement in the July 2, 1996, Federal Register against tethering:

"Our experience in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act has led us to conclude that continuous confinement of dogs by a tether is inhumane. A tether significantly restricts a dog's movement. A tether can also become tangled around or hooked on the dog's shelter structure or other objects, further restricting the dog's movement and potentially causing injury."

5. How does tethering or chaining dogs pose a danger to humans?
Dogs tethered for long periods can become highly aggressive. Dogs feel naturally protective of their territory; when confronted with a perceived threat, they respond according to their fight-or-flight instinct. A chained dog, unable to take flight, often feels forced to fight, attacking any unfamiliar animal or person who unwittingly wanders into his or her territory.

Numerous attacks on people by tethered dogs have been documented. For example, a study published in the September 15, 2000, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that 17% of dogs involved in fatal attacks on humans between 1979 and 1998 were restrained on their owners' property at the time of the attack. Tragically, the victims of such attacks are often children who are unaware of the chained dog's presence until it is too late. Furthermore, a tethered dog that finally does get loose from his chains may remain aggressive, and is likely to chase and attack unsuspecting passersby and pets.

6. Why is tethering dangerous to dogs?
In addition to the psychological damage wrought by continuous chaining, dogs forced to live on a chain make easy targets for other animals, humans, and biting insects. A chained animal may suffer harassment and teasing from insensitive humans, stinging bites from insects, and, in the worst cases, attacks by other animals. Chained dogs are also easy targets for thieves looking to steal animals for sale to research institutions or to be used as bait for dog fighting. Finally, dogs' tethers can become entangled with other objects, which can choke or strangle the dogs to death.

7. Are tethered dogs otherwise treated well?
Rarely does a chained or tethered dog receive sufficient care. Tethered dogs suffer from sporadic feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care, and extreme temperatures. During snow storms, these dogs often have no access to shelter. During periods of extreme heat, they may not receive adequate water or protection from the sun. 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.

8. Are the areas in which tethered dogs are confined usually comfortable?
No, because the dogs have to eat, sleep, urinate, and defecate in a single confined area. Owners who chain their dogs are also less likely to clean the area. Although there may have once been grass in an area of confinement, it is usually so beaten down by the dog's pacing that the ground consists of nothing but dirt or mud.

9. But how else can people confine dogs?
The HSUS recommends that all dogs be kept indoors at night, taken on regular walks, and otherwise provided with adequate attention, food, water, and veterinary care. If an animal must be housed outside at certain times, he should be placed in a suitable pen with adequate square footage and shelter from the elements.

10. Should chaining or tethering ever be allowed?
To become well-adjusted companion animals, dogs should interact regularly with people and other animals, and should receive regular exercise. It is an owner's responsibility to properly restrain her dog, just as it is the owner's responsibility to provide adequate attention and socialization. Placing an animal on a restraint to get fresh air can be acceptable if it is done for a short period. However, keeping an animal tethered for long periods is never acceptable.

11. If a dog is chained or tethered for a period of time, can it be done humanely?
Animals that must be kept on a tether should be secured in such a way that the tether cannot become entangled with other objects. Collars used to attach an animal should be comfortable and properly fitted; choke chains should never be used. Restraints should allow the animal to move about and lie down comfortably. Animals should never be tethered during natural disasters such as floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, or blizzards.

12. What about attaching a dog's leash to a "pulley run"?
Attaching a dog's leash to a long line—such as a clothesline or a manufactured device known as a pulley run—and letting the animal have a larger area in which to explore is preferable to tethering the dog to a stationary object. However, many of the same problems associated with tethering still apply, including attacks on or by other animals, lack of socialization, and safety.

A world out of reach...
If you are concerned about a dog that is frequently chained, tethered or otherwise left outside without proper shelter, food, or water, please call Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter at (831) 454-7303.

SCCAS enforces laws and ordinances that apply to a particular situation. Even if the dog's owner is not violating any laws, a police officer or an animal control officer or cruelty investigator may be able to persuade and empower the dog owner to take steps to improve the situation. In some instances, persuading the individual to voluntarily give up the dog is the best solution for the animal.

A chained animal is caught in a vicious cycle; frustrated by long periods of boredom and social isolation, he becomes a neurotic shell of his former self—further deterring human interaction and kindness. In the end, the helpless dog can only suffer the frustration of watching the world go by in isolation—a cruel fate for what is by nature a highly social animal. Any city, county, or state that bans this practice is a safer, more humane community.