While I haven’t seen as much of it lately, I do still see dogs chained in yards. It is a worrisome sight. Even a dog that will wag its tail, approach people with loose body muscles, and lower itss head for head scratches in other situations can…and more than likely will become reactive to stimulus in its environment when constrained on a tether, alone outside. For a dog that already barks, growls, or lunges at stimulus in other circumstances, it is likely to exhibit those behavior at even heightened levels.
Dog Bite Research does not lie
CDC officials found that of 50 children aged 1 or older who were killed by dogs in the U.S. from 1979 to 1988, 28 percent had “wandered too close to a chained dog.” A similar 1996 study, partly authored by CDC officials, found that nearly 30 percent of 38 children aged 1 to 9 killed by dogs in the U.S. between 1989 and 1994 died after “wandering too close to a chained dog.”
Why the problem?
There are a number of reasons why tethering a dog can lead to reactivity and aggression.
Tethered dogs (usually without fences) are very accessible to moving vehicles that may trigger a chasing or fear response; passerbys, including people who do not recognize or choose to ignore stress signals by the dog and come too close, or who may intentionally tease (or worse) the dog; loud noises; or other animals running by or wandering onto the property.
Internationally renowned trainer and expert in dog aggression Michael Shikashio of Complete Canines, CDBC, and president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, explained it this way, “The problem with tethering a dog is you are gambling with the ‘F’s.’ When a dog is tethered, you are removing one of the ‘F’s’ — flight. This leaves only a few other choices for the dog, one of them being ‘fight.’ It’s far better to increase the odds in our favor by allowing for all the ‘F’s’ to be available for the dog to choose.” (By the way, the ‘F’s’ he is referring to include fight, flight, freeze, fidget/fool around, and faint.)
Additionally, there is the barrier frustration that comes from seeing something (or someone) and wanting to get closer but being held back by a chain that is tight against your dog’s neck. Michael reminded me this is actually how many protection dogs are trained. “The dogs are put on a harness and tied to something sturdy, and the agitator stands just outside of range to frustrate the dog. Once the leash is released the dog takes off like a rocket ship,” he said.
Try seeing things from a dog’s perspective.
If a chained dog could speak human, more than likely we would hear it explain its thoughts like this:
“Yay, I am outside! There is SO much to see and smell and chew on!”
“Ok, so I am done smelling things. Now I am bored. What can I find to pay attention to, and bark or lunge at?”
“Ouch, why was my neck jerked when I ran to see if I could get closer to that car? What is this awful thing holding me back? Get this thing off of me now!”
“Hey, what are you doing on my property? Get out of here now! I will chase you out of here if I have to! What the heck? Why was I jerked again for protecting my land? Now I am REALLY getting mad. My adrenaline is pumping now. You better not get within where I can reach you or you will be sorry!”
And don’t forget, even when taken inside, a dog that has been in a state of stress, is much more likely to startle and be affected by other activities in the environment. Additionally, that dog that is self-conditioning itself to react to passing stimulus while being tethered will more than likely also react to passing stimulus while on a walk.
I ask of you, if you are considering chaining your dog outside because you do not have a fence and you feel like your dog needs to spend time outdoors by himself, to think again. There are so many other ways to manage your dog and engage your dog in enrichment.