Tethering a dog refers to the restraint and confinement by the use of a chain, rope or any other similar device, not including being walked on a leash. The practice of chaining or fastening dogs to a stationary object or stake usually occurs in a person’s backyard as a way of keeping a dog out of the house if he or she has gotten too large, sheds too much, barks, isn’t house-trained, or is destructive when left alone.
In some places, tethering is an old habit and still too-common practice, especially with hunting and sled dogs. In 2012, a state law passed in Massachusetts that prohibited tethering for more than 24 consecutive hours. In 2016, this tethering law was improved, and a bill passed that prohibits tethering for more than 5 hours per day; furthermore, from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, dogs cannot be tethered, unless it is for less than 15 minutes. Before the state took action, 7 towns and cities in Massachusetts had limits and other constraints on tethering, and these communities’ commitment to protecting animals helped build momentum towards state action.
Tethering a dog can be inhumane, and it can also threaten the safety of the dog and the public. Though some people tether dogs for protection – or because they like the ‘guard dog’ image – the dogs would provide more protection inside the house with the family. Dogs are social animals who thrive on social interaction; in fact, they need socialization for proper development and will get progressively worse over time without interaction. If they are chained in one area for hours, days, months or even years at a time they can suffer serious psychological damage from their isolation, frustration, and boredom. Their personalities soon change; dogs who were once friendly and calm grow unhappy, anxious, and often extremely aggressive.
Dogs who are tethered for long periods of time not only suffer psychological damage, but physical damage as well. Their necks can become raw and covered with sores from the collars that attach to heavy chains; the continual pull from the chains on their necks can even cause collars to become embedded. Reports have also shown that a dog’s tether can become entangled and choke the dog to death. Numerous dogs have been found hung from fences and decks. Tethered dogs often lack proper shelter and are forced to suffer through outside elements such as harsh weather, biting insects, possible harassment from humans and attacks from other animals. They often live in dirt and mud because their constant pacing usually beats down the grass around them. They rarely see veterinarians and often suffer from parasites and inadequate nutrition.
Numerous studies have shown that tethered dogs are at higher risk of biting than dogs who are not tethered. Tying dogs in place is inherently unsafe for the dogs (who are unwittingly exposed to people who could tease or harm them), and tethered dogs can be a bite risk for anyone who may come in contact with them. The Centers for Disease Control reports that tethered dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite; from 1965 to 2001, chained dogs killed at least 109 people, 99 of them were children. Animal Protection New Mexico (APNM) compiled a report entitled “Public Safety and Humane Implications of Persistently Tethering Domestic Dogs”, which states that between October 2003 and September 2007, at least 175 children across the United States were killed or seriously injured by chained dogs.
Animal cruelty and public safety are compelling; both arguments are important when trying to pass local ordinances that ban or restrict tethering of dogs. In Massachusetts, at least seven municipalities, including Provincetown, Easthampton, East Longmeadow, Amherst, Greenfield, Milton, and Leverett have enacted restrictions on tethering. The Animal Legal & Historical Center compliled a table of state dog tether laws.
To learn more about local ordinances, download our local action kit and tethering issues and ordinances, which contains many tethering resources.