Have you seen chained dogs in your neighborhood and wondered what to do? Here are some common questions about chaining and tethering, including how you can help:

What is meant by "chaining" or "tethering" dogs?

Generally speaking, the terms “chaining” and “tethering” refer to the practice of fastening a dog to a stationary object and leaving them unattended. The term “chaining” tends to refer to situations where thick, heavy chains are used. “Tethering” is more often referred to partial restraint on a rope, lighter chain or pulley, which is the more prevalent form of tethering. These terms are not meant to refer to an animal being walked on a leash or cases of supervised, temporary tethering while an owner is present.

Why do people tether their dogs?

People tether their dogs for a variety of reasons. Most people who do this are unaware of the harm it can cause to their dogs. Social norms of pet-keeping have made tethering unpopular, so it is declining as a practice, but some reasons people do it include:

  • The dog is a repeat escapee and the owner has run out of ideas to safely confine the dog. Sometimes this is the reason dogs are kept on heavier chains—they have chewed through or otherwise escaped lighter tethers and the owner is trying to keep them from getting loose.
  • The owner is trying to protect their dog from something on the other side of their fence (kids, another dog, etc.) by keeping the dog in one area in the yard.
  • The owner's fence is damaged or the owner doesn't have a fenced yard.
  • The dog's behavior makes keeping them indoors challenging and the owner doesn't know how to correct the behavior.
  • The landlord may not allow the pet owner to keep the dog indoors or install a fence.
  • The pet owner comes from a family that always tethered dogs and may not realize there are better options.

Why is tethering bad for dogs?

Dogs are naturally social beings who need interaction with humans and/or other animals. Intensive confinement or long-term restraint can severely damage their physical and psychological well-being. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained or intensively confined in any way, becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious and often aggressive.

It is common for continuously tethered dogs to endure physical ailments as a result of being continuously tethered. Their necks can become raw and sore and their collars can painfully grow into their skin. They are vulnerable to insect bites and parasites and are at high risk of entanglement, strangulation and harassment or attacks by other dogs or people.

Tethered dogs may also suffer from irregular feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care and extreme temperatures. During snow storms, these dogs often have no access to shelter. During periods of extreme heat, they may not receive adequate water or protection from the sun. Owners who chain their dogs are less likely to clean the area of confinement, causing the dogs to eat and sleep in an area contaminated with urine and feces. What's more, because their often neurotic behavior makes them difficult to approach, chained dogs are rarely given even minimal affection. Tethered dogs may become "part of the scenery" and can be easily ignored by their owners.

How does tethering dogs pose a danger to humans?

Tethering is not only bad for dogs—it is a high risk factor in serious dog bites and attacks. Dogs unable to retreat from perceived or real threats can act out aggressively when approached. Dogs tethered for long periods can become highly aggressive. Dogs feel naturally protective of their territory; when confronted with a perceived threat, they respond according to their fight-or-flight instinct. A tied dog, unable to take flight, resorts to fight, attacking any unfamiliar animal or person who unwittingly wanders into his or her territory.

Tragically, the victims of such attacks are often children who approach the dog unaware of the risks. Furthermore, tethered dogs who finally do get loose from their chains may remain aggressive and is likely to chase and attack unsuspecting passersby and pets because they have developed severe behavior problems from long-term, intensive confinement.

It is important for people with tethered dogs to understand these risks.

How should dogs be confined and restrained safely?

The Humane Society of the United States believes that dogs are part of the family. We recommend that all dogs live indoors, receive regular exercise and are provided with adequate attention, food, water and veterinary care. Dogs living outdoors part or all of the time should be provided with a safe, escape-proof enclosure with proper shelter, where they may express natural behaviors.

Should tethering ever be allowed?

To become well-adjusted companion animals, dogs should interact regularly with people and other animals and should receive regular exercise. Sometimes situations with tethered dogs can be improved incrementally, such as by bringing the dog indoors at night at least, so advocates should be open to options. Placing an animal on a restraint can be acceptable if it is done for a short period or while supervised and if the tether is secured in such a way that it cannot become entangled with other objects. Collars should be comfortable and fitted properly; choke chains should never be used. Keeping an animal tethered for long periods or during extreme weather and natural disasters is never acceptable.

What about attaching a dog's leash to a "pulley run"?

Attaching a dog's leash to a long line—such as a clothesline or a manufactured device known as a pulley run—and letting the animal have a larger area in which to explore is preferable to tethering the dog to a stationary object. However, many of the same risks associated with tethering still apply, including hanging, attacks on or by other animals, lack of socialization and safety.

What can I do to help chained/tethered dogs?

Find out if your community (city, county, township and even some states) has laws regulating tethering. If not, consider working with community officials to create regulations in your local ordinance. Visit our section on how to pass a tethering law for more information. If your local animal services agency is well funded and effectively enforcing basic laws, adding tethering regulations may be a good idea. If not, take a step back and evaluate what is needed to strengthen existing resources and efforts.

If you are concerned about a specific dog who is tethered, you may want to consider asking your local animal care and control agency to pay the owner a visit. Even if tethering is legal, agents can make a friendly visit to see if they can improve the situation by helping the owner troubleshoot and gather resources to address the problem at its root (i.e. a behavior problem or repeated escapes). Most situations can be improved through positive engagement and support services; punitive measures can be used to address the most egregious of situations.

Aside from an enforcement approach, many communities benefit from having a nonprofit organization focused on reaching out to pet owners with information, resources and services on pet care. 

Trying to address dog chaining by “rescuing” all tethered dogs is not recommended for a number of reasons. First, most owners care about and want their dogs and it is critical to try and keep as many animals as possible in the homes they already have. Second, the owner is likely to replace the dog (because they like dogs) and tether future dogs. Removing the dog adds to the already overwhelming number of dogs competing for homes, and an animal sheltering and rescue infrastructure which is already well above capacity. Working with owners to improve the situations for their existing dogs is always the best option and our experience shows that most people are open to support.

As advocates, it is important for us to find positive, constructive ways to empower owners to unchain their dogs themselves. They will be more likely to keep their dogs untethered, keep future dogs untethered and spread the word to others they know who may tether their dogs. This also preserves precious resources of nonprofit animal welfare organizations or under-funded animal service agencies so they can be used for the serious cases of cruelty and neglect.