A seemingly simple solution to a problem can have traumatic, unintended consequences. Consider tethering. A tether is a rope, leash, or chain used to restrict the movement of a dog. Some people believe it controls and tames a misbehaving pet.
In 2005, the Los Angeles City Council disputed that notion by passing a tethering ban. Tethering your dog in Los Angeles can result in a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both.
Indeed, 32 states place tough restrictions on tethering dogs, citing the psychological damage it causes animals. Unfortunately, states like Kansas, Iowa, and Mississippi have failed to place common-sense restrictions on owners’ use of tethering.
Imagine a two-year-old child confined to a small room all the time. The toddler wakes up each day full of natural curiosity and energy, with a need to be touched and loved by those around her. She can hear them laughing and interacting just on the other side of the door; she can even smell them.
She only sees her loved ones once a day when they fill her bowl with oatmeal and her bottle with water. This brief interaction means the world to her, and she tries to lavish her love on her parents to an annoying and obnoxious degree. Soon they are gone and she is left alone again. With no ability to articulate what she is feeling, she assumes that she is so “bad” as to be so rejected. She is never given the opportunity to learn what is expected of her. No one takes the time to teach her to behave in a way which would cause her loved ones to want to be with her all the time.
She gets no exercise and turns inward, depressed and lonely. To occupy her time, she crawls in circles; she sucks her thumbs raw. And when someone finally does come into her room, she is now afraid. She doesn’t know how to behave or interact.
Just like young children, dogs are curious and trusting creatures who can easily be transformed into cowering, aggressive, and unstable monsters when they are neglected.
Dogs, like children, are social beings. They have a deeply ingrained need for contact with either human beings or other dogs. When a dog is tethered or chained outside, they do not receive the socialization they need to maintain their mental health.
Tethering also denies dogs proper exercise. Even when given proper veterinary care and food, tethered dogs are still apt to develop serious behavior problems because their existence is ruled by the length of the tether.
Although it may seem as if the dog has plenty of room to move about, dogs still get tangled up in their chains, making it impossible for them to reach shelter, shade, food or water. Dogs that spend their lives tethered have been known to grind their teeth down to stumps. Many will compulsively lick an area of their body until it turns into a bleeding sore, known as a granuloma. According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association tethered dogs inflict over one-quarter of all dog bites recorded.
Tethered dogs frequently become withdrawn and depressed. Compulsive barking, chewing and digging may also result. Tethering a dog for “bad” behavior only compounds the problem, resulting in hyperactive or aggressive behavior in addition to the original behavioral problem. These dogs need professional training, not tethering. Unfortunately, many people who tether their dogs are unaware of the cruelty they are inflicting on their pet.
Many dogs are kept tethered because their guardians do not spend time or energy to properly train them or because they do not have the proper facilities for keeping a dog in the first place. There are even some cultures that consider tethering acceptable because they view dogs as working animals, not companions.
If you tether your dog, please consider an alternative. Veterinarians, dog trainers, and other dog owners can provide the information you need to correct the behavioral problems that may have led to tethering your dog in the first place. If you know someone in your community who tethers their dog lawfully or otherwise, let them know your concerns with a confidential note or a polite conversation.
If you are unable to resolve your dog’s behavioral problems without resorting to tethering, you should re-home your pet with someone able to give your dog the love they deserve.
Ed Boks is a former Executive Director of the NYC and Los Angeles Animal Care & Control Departments. His work is published in the LA Times, Newsweek, and Real Clear Policy.