Friday, September 24, 2010

Tethering dogs is a form of abuse that creates or exacerbates behavior problems

Sometimes a seemingly simple solution to a perceived problem can result in tragic unintended consequences. Consider tethering. A tether is a rope, leash, or chain used to restrict the movement of a dog.

Many people consider a tether an acceptable solution to a misbehaving dog. Few ever consider its horrific consequences.

Let's think about tethering for a moment in a more personal way. Imagine a two-year old child confined to a small room. The toddler wakes 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 on the other side of the door; she can even smell them.

She only sees her loved ones when they fill her bowl with oatmeal and her bottle with water. She loves this brief interaction and tries to express her love, but they are annoyed by her affection. She is curious and longs to be held. But they always leave her behind, alone. She has no ability to communicate what she is feeling; only that she must be "bad" to be so rejected. She never has the opportunity to learn what is expected of her. No one takes the time to teach her to behave so that her loved ones would want her to be with them.

She gets no mental or physical exercise. Eventually she abandons all hope that the door will ever open. She turns inward, depressed and lonely. To occupy her time, she crawls in circles; she sucks her thumbs raw. When someone does come into her room now, she is afraid. She doesn't know how to behave or interact.

She feels helpless. The little world she knows will not respond to her needs; nothing she does matters. She has learned that people are to be feared. She defends herself by shrinking away or lashing out. A once curious, trusting, happy, healthy, loving little girl is now a cowering, aggressive and unstable child.

Dogs, like children, have an ingrained need for contact with human beings or other dogs. When a dog is tethered, she does not acquire the socialization needed to maintain her mental health. Even when a dog receives proper veterinary care and food, tethered dogs are still apt to develop serious behavior problems.

Tethered dogs often get tangled in their chains, making it impossible to reach shelter, shade, food or water. Tethered dogs have been known to grind their teeth down to stumps. Many compulsively lick an area of their body until it turns into a bleeding sore (granuloma). Tethered dogs inflict one-quarter of all dog bites recorded. Tethered dogs frequently become withdrawn and depressed and resort to compulsive barking, chewing and digging.

Some people tether their dogs because of a bad behavior, not realizing this only compounds the problem by adding hyperactive or aggressive behaviors. These dogs need professional training, not tethering.

Those who tether their dogs may be unaware of the cruelty involved. They tether their dogs rather than spending the time or money necessary to train them.

If you tether your dog, please consider an alternative. If you know someone who tethers their dog, let them know how cruel this practice is, and that they may be in violation of Arizona's felony cruelty law. Your veterinarian, dog clubs and dog trainers can provide the information you need to correct the behavioral problems that led to tethering in the first place.

Please call your local animal control or welfare organization for more information on the dangers of tethering and what you can do about it. When you see it, report it to animal control.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 21.