OUTDOOR CHAINING/TETHERING OF DOGS
As a veterinarian, member of the American Veterinary Medical
Association, the British Veterinary Medical Association, and with doctoral
degrees in medicine and also animal behavior/ethology, and with 45 year’s
experience doing research in animal health and well-being, I wish to offer my
professional opinion on the outdoor tying up of dogs.
The common practice in many communities, where it is not yet
forbidden under local ordinance, or is accepted with strictly specified
time-restrictions and effective inspections and enforcement by animal control
authorities, of keeping one or more dogs restrained on a chain or other
material such as a wire cable or rope, is unacceptable for several reasons.
Regardless of whether the dog has adequate shade and shelter and is provided
water and sufficient freedom of movement so as not to become tangled or hung,
being kept out on a chain/tether affects the flight and critical distance
reactions of dogs.
The longer and more frequently
a dog is kept outdoors under such restraint, the more the dog’s behavior will
change. Normal flight and critical (attack) distances are disrupted by such
restraint, making friendly dogs more likely to become aggressive when
approached by a stranger; turning timid dogs into so-called fear-biters; and
aggressive dogs into dangerous animals.
The longer and more frequently a dog is so restrained, the
more behavioral abnormalities or pathologies are likely to develop from a
combination of being physically, behaviorally and psychologically confined to a
life-space dictated by the length of the constraining tether. Signs of behavioral
pathology, that are
indicative of stress and emotional distress, include stereotypic ( repetitive,
obsessive-compulsive) pacing, spinning,
running to and fro, frenzied chewing to get free; and displacement
behaviors such as digging, and excessive
self-licking, even to the point of self-mutilation. Many such dogs bark and
whine incessantly, resulting in cruel retribution when neighbors complain, or
no less cruel surgical de-vocalization.
Some people believe that dogs are like wild animals and can
adapt to being kept outdoors in any and all seasons, but this view is
erroneous. Many breeds and individuals do not have adequate coats of insulating
fur nor the metabolic capacity, especially the young and old, to adjust to cold
temperatures. Cold exposure weakens their immune systems leading to pneumonia
and increased susceptibility to other infections and diseases. Extreme and prolonged
cold exposure results in hypothermia, depression and compromised circulation
that leads to frostbite requiring amputation of afflicted extremities. High
ambient temperature and humidity can similarly compromise the immune system,
cause behavioral depression, disorientation, shock and collapse from
hyperthermia: Coupled with dehydration from panting and lack of adequate water
to drink, death is inevitable without emergency veterinary intervention. Also
dogs kept outdoors in hot climates and seasons can suffer interminably from
biting insects that can cause infections, transmit diseases, permanently damage
dogs’ ears and eat away parts of the dogs’ bodies when flesh-eating fly larva
(maggot) infestations take hold.
The suffering of dogs chained outdoors, extremes of weather
not withstanding, is compounded by the fact that the dog is a pack animal and
wants to be with his or her family and ‘master’ in the house. Such
emotional/social deprivation is in many instances intensified by the outdoor
dog seeing one or more pet dogs in the house who are never chained outside.
Nobel prize laureate
the late Dr. Konrad Lorenz, and author of the best selling book Man Meets Dog,
would insist that these tethered
outside- dogs, who should be inside with their human pack, manifest a pathological
disruption of their ethos or behavior, meaning a total distortion of their
conceptual, emotional and social space as a result of being confined to a
universe defined by the length of their chains.
This can make for a dangerous dog, turning a gentle dog into one that is
more likely to attack; and a trustworthy and friendly dog into a public safety
risk, especially toward children.
Dogs who are routinely kept chained/tethered outdoors result
in the most frequently reported public nuisance complaint for incessant and
uncontrolled barking, and worse: Prolonged chaining/tethering can result in
permanent changes in dogs’ temperaments, making them hyper-excitable and
unpredictable when set free. I have been consulted on several occasions, and
served as an expert witness, for dog-bite cases involving children especially,
but also adults, who were injured, in some cases fatally, by their own or
neighborhood dogs. The best preventives are proper rearing, socialization, care
and handling of dogs, coupled with public education and effective enforcement
of anti-cruelty and animal protection laws that include the prohibition of
keeping dogs outdoors permanently chained/tethered.
I would concur with Dr. Lorenz, and as author of a best
selling book myself, Understanding Your
Dog, add that if dogs are to be outdoors they should be free to run and
play, ideally with members of their own kind rather than being alone, in a
safe, confined area, for short periods of time during the day.
A 2007 Bill in North Carolina to prohibit such mistreatment
of dogs, like similar Bills in other States, was defeated, in large part
because of the effective lobbying of the American Kennel Club, for whom the
suffering of thousands of dogs every day is of less concern than protecting the
vest interests of those who find perverse profit in keeping dogs tied up
outdoors most if not all of their lives. The compounding welfare concerns of
exposure to climate extremes of heat and cold, too often with inadequate
provision of shelter and even food and water, as documented on many occasions
by people for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and others, call for strict
legislation and effective enforcement in every State of the Union.
In sum, from the perspectives not of tradition, custom, or
cultural values, but of veterinary bioethics and animal behavior and welfare
science, the prolonged tethering of dogs outdoors is inhumane, and unethical.
It is likely to turn a good dog into an aggressive dog, and a healthy dog into
a neurotic and emotionally unstable one. The practice, therefore, of people
tying their dogs up outside for hour upon hour should be prohibited by law in
the name of compassion, and in the spirit of a civil society that equates
social progress with the humane treatment of all animals within the community.
Michael W. Fox B.Vet. Med., Ph.D., D.Sc. M.R.C.V.S.
of nationally syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor.
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: drfoxvet.net