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Can dogs be safely confined by tethering?

Where dogs need to be confined outdoors, the best way to do this is in a suitable yard or enclosure. Where these options are not available, some people choose to tether their dogs. This practice is particularly common for working farm and sled dogs. Not to be confused with short-term tying up, tethering involves tying an animal to an anchor point for a prolonged period as a means of confinement. Due to the risks of tethering, it should be avoided as a means of long-term confinement.

Animal welfare risks

Tethering does not provide an environment that meets dogs’ mental and physical needs. Tethered animals are at risk of overly restricted movement, frustration, stress, distress, severe behavioural issues, painful injuries, choking, entanglement, exposure to the elements and potential predation, and inhibition of the animal’s ability to avoid threats, express natural behaviours, and experience positive welfare.

Key considerations if a decision is made to tether a dog

Note that in some jurisdictions there is specific legislation relating to the tethering of dogs (which must be complied with), including for example exercise requirements and whether specific groups of animals can be tethered (some animals are more vulnerable such as young or pregnant animals).

Essential needs

All tethered dogs must be provided with a comfortable resting area, adequate food, water and shelter (protection from heat, cold, sun, wind, rain etc), and opportunities for mental stimulation (such as safe food or puzzle toys).

Exercise

When dogs are tethered for longer periods (more than a few hours), they must be provided with regular adequate exercise off the tether.

Public safety

Tethering of dogs may increase the public safety risks of dog bites and attacks. Long term tethering with no exercise has been shown to increase frustration and aggressive behaviour towards other dogs and people [1].

Time

To minimise the animal welfare risks of tethering, the length of time a dog is tethered should always be minimised.

Training

A dog must be trained to accept tethering before being left alone on a tether.

Relevant requirements

Tethering of dogs must comply with any relevant state/territory and local laws, regulations, standards, and codes of practice.

Supervision

Tethered animals require adequate supervision. They must be inspected regularly and even more frequently in extreme weather.

Tether design

If dogs are to be tethered, swivel tethers on fixed runners reduce the risk of entanglement and injury. Metal tethers (of the appropriate weight) provide greater security compared to rope and other materials which may fray, break or tangle.

Tethering site

A tethering site should be reasonably flat, dry, sheltered, and be clear of hazards, obstacles and obstructions. Dogs can choke if the tether becomes tangled or be hung if they jump over or off obstacles while tethered.

Weather

Dogs have died when left tethered during natural disasters, and on hot days without adequate shade and water. Climate change will increase the risk of tethering as extreme weather becomes more widespread and frequent.

[1] White J, McBride EA, Redhead E (2006). Comparison of tethering and group-pen housing for sled dogs. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) Conference, London, UK.

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Updated on December 16, 2022
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/can-dogs-be-safely-confined-by-tethering/

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