Tethering is a controversial method of restraint. I have taught dogs to tether. I have used tethers. My husband and I were avid campers and hikers. Packing a small dog kennel is impractical and allowing a dog loose is dangerous. So what did we do? We taught our dogs to be tethered and to leave distractions alone. It is not tethering itself that is bad but how the average person employs a tether that creates a bad situation. Improper tethering can lead to physical injury and behavioral issues in a dog. Improper tethering can be dangerous to the community. However, I also know people will tether and I have a choice: give tips on safer tethering and try to prevent issues or work to ban it which could result in worse things.
When we hear of no tether laws, we must remember: many communities governed by home owners associations are refusing to let dog owners erect proper fencing. I have had clients move into a community, told fencing was allowed but then their individual request was denied. Even requests to erect kit-style dog runs that can easily be taken down and moved were denied. Electric fences are ineffective for many dogs, work through pain and can lead to a host of undesired fears and behaviors over time. Check lost and found dog lists online. It is scary how many of these dogs have shock fence collars on at the time of escape or when they were found. Therefore, what is the pet owner left with for the times that the dog cannot be walked or the owner wishes to be out with the dog but not constantly holding a leash: a tether. If you are very careful and follow set rules for tethering, tethers can be used to allow your dog to be out with you with less risk than running loose or using an electric fence.
Please read these for the physical and behavioral risks of electric/shock fencing:
First, we need to look at the drawbacks of tethering. A dog can develop undesired behaviors based in frustration because the feeling of chronic, physical pulling back whenever he hits the end of the tether. Knowing the cons can help us avoid them through educated use of tethers. Frustrations can lead to increasingly aggressive responses. Dogs can become entangled and injure legs, their necks, become unable to reach water or shelter, etc. A dog running to the end of the tether can severely damage his neck and/or back when he is pulled short. A tether does not prevent children or other animals from entering unfenced property and therefore provides no physical security for a dog. In order for an owner to use a tether, he must know the cons. I have only mentioned a few of the more common ones. Tethers should not be a primary form of confinement.
Now, if you decide that you have to use a tether, there are various safety aspects you need to consider. If you follow safety guidelines you can reduce the risk to your dog.
- Never leave your dog tethered when there is no responsible adult home and in a position to monitor the dog. NEVER!!! All it takes is a child or loose dog to wander into your yard for tragedy to occur. Laws vary community to community, should your dog injure a child who wanders onto your property, you could be held liable. Your dog could be severely injured in a fight when loose dogs come along. If your dog is tethered outside you are to be outside as well. If you have to go to the bathroom, your dog comes in. If you have a housekeeper or someone who watches the dog while you work, this person MUST follow the rules for tethering. I have had cases where an employee at the house has been the cause of damage to a dog or allowed the dog to cause damage. You are ultimately liable for your pet.
- Never use a tether as your main source of exercise. A tether should be used as a backup to walking (for example it is raining, you are sick, it is 3am and your dog wants to go potty) or for when you are outside with your dog and cannot hold a lead (such as doing yard work). Do not tether your dog and leave the house. The dog must be closely supervised.
- While your dog is tethered, you must ensure that there is nothing he may try to chase. If there is, you need to train your dog to ignore or leave temptation alone. A good trainer can help. Remember, your dog can be injured should he hit the end of that line and snap back. If the tether is rotting or has been chewed, that dash may end in a snapped tether and a loose dog.
- Never allow children to run or play just out of reach of the dog. This can build up frustration behaviors and lead to injury to the dog or a bite to the children. If your dog does not ignore the children, he must come inside. Children who are allowed to tease a tethered dog can develop aggressive behaviors in the dog. Frustrated dogs are a greater bite risk. Even if the children are not teasing the dog, just the presence of them playing may be too much. If your neighbor has children playing in his yard, this may be too much for your dog to cope with and he needs to be inside.
- Children should never be allowed to take the dog to the tether or bring the dog in. All it takes is a small slip or a tug and you have a loose dog.
- Make sure, for the times your dog will be outside with you for an extended period, that he has access to water and shade/shelter.
- For safety, the dog should be walked ON LEAD to and from the tether by an adult. Do not lead your dog out by the collar, one lunge and he could pull free. Always clip the tether to the collar before removing the lead and leash before removing the tether when you bring your dog in.
- Carefully monitor tethered dogs. It is a safety issue. If you are not in a position where you can directly observe the dog, he should be inside with you.
Now, we need to look at types of tethers. Most people tether either with an overhead runner, stake in the ground or the dog is tied to a structure. The best material in my opinion is a covered cable. Rope can be chewed through and chain links move independently, can snag easily in brush and fur and can rot (rust) and break. The attachment to the dog must be a swivel. This will help keep the tether from wrapping up on itself as the dog moves and shortening. Take a string and twist it, what happens? The same will happen to you dog’s tether. A swivel will help prevent this by rotating. Never use a choke, martingale (limited slip), prong collar, head halter, etc., to tether. You should use a body harness for tying out to help reduce the chance of injury to the neck – do not use a no pull harness or a harness where the tether will attach to the front.
You must make sure the tether location you use does not allow the dog to become tangled. Look for small trees, etc, that the cable can wrap around. Not all dogs will figure out how to fix a tangle. If your dog tangles up, he can panic and become injured. He also may be unable to get to water or shade. If you use an overhead runner, make sure that you put blocks near the ends of the overhead so the dog cannot tangle around the posts or trees to which the runner is attached. The tether should allow your dog to range in at least a 20’ circle or if you are using a runner/trolley system, 20’ long. Never tether your dog to a fence as should the dog try and jump or climb over the fence, he can end up choking, even with a buckle collar, or getting injured with a harness.
Tethering is not a form of restraint that should be taken lightly. However, I never want to see tethering banned. I do wish there was more education available on more responsible use of a tether.