A bill has been introduced into the Washington State Legislature to limit long-term, unsupervised tethering of dogs in the state.  Specifically, the current form of the bill (and these bills change frequently before final passage, so this is just the latest that I understand) seeks to: ban outdoor tethering of dogs for more than 10 hours in any 24 hr period and between the hours of 10PM and 6AM, require tethered dogs to have constant access to shelter and water, ban the use of choke, prong, shock or pinch collars in tethering, and limit the size and weight of tethering equipment.  This bill, in one form or another, is in hearings before the legislature right now (Jan 2012) and will hopefully come to a vote in the current session.

I was asked to submit testimony in support of this bill, which I was, of course, happy to do, as I strongly support these efforts, here and in other states.  It was interesting, as a scientist and one who explicitly advocates for the use of science, not hearsay and old wives’ tales, in training and dealing with behavior problems, to be placed in the position of not having good science to back up my position.  Is long-term tethering really bad for a dog?  As described below, there really is no science that directly addresses that question.  But it illustrated for me the degree to which people, even myself, can sometimes OVER-rely on science as an answer: sometimes common sense is enough.  While I was disappointed at the lack of good science in this situation, it seems obvious from so many different angles that long-term, unsupervised tethering of a dog is not good social policy.  And I am happy to add my voice to the many that are working hard for passage of this legislation.

I thought that the readers of Behind the Behavior might be interested in my thoughts on the topic, and so I reproduce my written testimony here.  Let me know what you think!


Statement on Tethering Bill

James C. Ha, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

University of Washington and Companion Animal Solutions, LLC

I am a research biologist, university professor, and certified applied animal behaviorist, one of only about 22 in the country at my level of training and education.  My world is about science, facts, experiments and data.  I approach my research, my teaching, and my work with some of the most dangerous dogs in the Pacific Northwest, from the basis of science, and I ignore the hearsay, the “common knowledge,” and the popular opinions which are so often contrary to the facts.  Animal behavior is a well-developed science, with a rigorous methodology, appropriately intense peer review process, and long-standing professional organizations, standards, and professional research journals.


So when I am approached to express an opinion on a topic that clearly relates to animal behavior, like long-term tethering of dogs, my inclination is to head for the library, to search the databases of scientific literature to find out what we know about the effects of tethering from scientific studies.  In this case, I was disappointed: the only publication that refers directly to possible involvement of tethering in aggression is an in-depth analysis of 16 severe attacks by dogs.  In 8 of these 16 cases, the dogs had been tethered.  While indicative and thought-provoking, this does not constitute science: how many tethered dogs were not involved in a severe attack?  If half the dogs in that part of the world were routinely tethered, then this finding tells us nothing.  But it is concerning.


So can I say that there is hard science which clearly points to the negative effects of long-term tethering on dog’s psychological well-being, health, and safety?  No.  Is that a real need in the scientific literature? I think so.  But we need to address this issue here and now.  My scientist side was disappointed.


But then, as I thought about this issue more, I began to realize that at some point, common sense has to be involved in all such human issues.  Science cannot substitute for all human intuition and understanding.  I realized that it was obvious that long-term tethering was not only harmful to the dog, but to society in general.  Long-term tethering of dogs clearly does not protect them from the changing weather conditions, does not prevent pregnancies in the case of reproductively intact animals, does not prevent children or other dogs from encountering a dog that is unfamiliar to them, and potentially aggressive.  There are even more obvious reasons to limit tethering: while outside on a tether, the dog is not under human control or supervision and can suffer physical injury and death, can be deprived, even accidently, of water and food, and may suffer from lack of stimulation and social contact, both among the most common causes of behavior problems in dogs.


Further, tethering is obviously a form of restraint, and there is a well-developed scientific literature, in mice, rats, primates, dogs, and humans, on the effects of long-term restraint.  Long-term restraint, or prevention of access to stimuli, can also include dogs which live their lives behind fences, or worse, in crates (as in puppy mills).  This is well-documented to produce various forms of arousal and eventually, aggressive behavior.  While this has not been documented specifically for dogs on long-term tethers, it is my professional opinion that we can safely extrapolate from the wide literature relating to this type of restraint.


In summary, I strongly support legislation to limit or eliminate the use of unsupervised tethering, especially for long periods.  I believe that the elimination of this type of dog handling will reduce animal abuse, decrease unwanted canine pregnancies, and make for a safer environment for dogs and people alike.  Tethering dogs outdoors for long periods is a form of neglect, and animals deserve better from their caretakers.  I hope that the Washington State Legislature can pass this bill and place Washington State among the more enlightened states in our country that have passed similar legislation.


I welcome questions, and would be happy to provide more information if needed.

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