To tether or not to tether has become an important issue as certain groups of people try to get anti-tethering laws passed throughout the United States. This is not an easy topic to deal with for a number of reasons.
What is a tether? Is it defined by the material it is composed of, (cable, rope, leather, nylon, chain)? Is the length of the tether a qualifying factor? Could it be defined by the way it is anchored or attached? Or is a combination of these things?
Most people consider a dog to be tethered when it is tied in some fashion that restricts where it can go. This could be a trolley line, a leash, or any other means of tying the dog to an object or person. There are both good and bad situations that involve tethering. Consider the elderly person who is not fully mobile, and must let the dog out during the day or night to relieve itself while the rest of the family is at work or not at home. The ability to tether the dog not only allows the person to have the dog as a companion, but also keeps the dog safe in an environment where fencing is not allowed or not practical. The dog may only be out for a short time and the owner could be watching the dog to be sure that it is safe. Then there is the situation where people live in a community that will not allow them to erect a fence around their property. The only exercise the dog can get on a daily basis is on a tether. Working dogs such as Search and Rescue dogs, police dogs, and even Seeing Eye dogs sometimes must be tethered while waiting to work. Seeing Eye dogs work entirely in a harness, which could be construed as a tether. It is common practice to tether sled dogs when they are not working, a practice that has been done for a very long time.
Does the safety of the human and dog come into play? Can a dog hurt itself on a tether? If so, how quickly can this happen. Does that mean there should be a time element when considering what constitutes the definition of tethering? Does tethering keep a person safe from a dog that is not social?
The safety issue involves a number of possibilities. Some dogs do not like children and to keep the dog and child safe, the dog must be tethered. Certain breeds of dog have a tendency to run; they cannot be trusted off leash or outside of a fence. These dogs must be tethered. In an urban or suburban setting, no dog should be allowed to run free, which means they must be tethered or fenced for their own protection. Certain breeds of dog do not get along with other animals and they must be tethered. Some dogs are fence climbers and diggers, making a tether the only means to keep the dog safe. Granted, a dog can wrap itself in a tether and get hurt, but so can a dog injure itself on a fence or totally free. This can happen in a matter of minutes, so limiting the amount of time a dog can be tethered is pointless.
Should mental cruelty to the dog be an issue connected to tethering?
Dogs are social animals; they need to interact with humans and/or other dogs. Tethering a dog to a house or confining a dog to a kennel run or isolating a dog in any manner for most of its life without meeting the social needs of the dog, is in my opinion, cruel. The latest research shows that dogs and animals in general, are far more aware, intelligent and have similar needs as humans. Dogs are able to make decisions, recall the past, plan for the future (episodic memory) and are aware of themselves (metacognition). Neglecting the mental and social needs of a dog, regardless of how it is housed, is cruel and can result in a maladjusted and mentally ill dog. Tethering is not the culprit by itself.
There are many situations where confining a dog, whether it be on a tether, behind a fence or in a crate, is necessary and a wise thing to do, both for the safety of the dog and people. Each dog and situation must be assessed individually to determine whether or not it is necessary, cruel, unfair or unjust. Because of the many factors involved, it is virtually impossible to write a law that will be fair to every situation, dog and dog owner. The real issue about tethering is not the tether itself, but responsible dog ownership and defining responsible dog ownership is another issue entirely.
Susan Bulanda, M.A. C.A.B.C. is a certified animal behavior consultant and former vice president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She has developed The Canine Training and Management and Canine Behavior programs for Kutztown University where she teaches.
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