dog howling

Anti-tethering legislation: What is it and why is it important?

What is tethering?

Tethering is the practice of chaining or tying an animal to a stationary object for a period of time or under conditions that could be harmful to that animal.  While it is still common in some communities to see dogs chained to a tree or stake in a yard, the practice is, thankfully, becoming less common and many states and municipalities have enacted legislation either prohibiting the practice or setting out strict guidelines under which an animal may be tethered.

 Chaining = Cruelty and can foster aggression

As stated by the Humane Society,  “[M]any dogs still live their lives on the end of a chain or tether. Tied-up outside, dogs become lonely, bored and anxious, and they can develop aggressive behaviors.  Bring a dog inside (or help a chained dog in your neighborhood) and you’ll keep everyone safer….In addition to animal welfare concerns, tethering has been proven to be a high risk factor in serious dog bites and attacks. Tethering is unsafe for dogs and for the public, and it is important for advocates and officials to understand this connection, so they can incorporate tethering regulations into effective community dog management strategies.”

dog tied up on has a comprehensive list of reasons why chaining or tethering dogs is not only cruel but can be dangerous not just to the chained dog but to other animals and to humans.  The list includes the following:

  • Dogs are social beings who thrive on interaction. In the wild, canines live, eat, sleep, and hunt with a pack. Dogs are genetically determined to live in a group. A permanently chained dog suffers great psychological damage. An otherwise friendly dog becomes neurotic, unhappy, and often aggressive.
  • Their necks can become raw and covered with sores from tight collars and straining to escape. Some chained dogs have collars embedded in their necks. The dogs often get tangled and can’t access food, water, and shelter.
  • Chained dogs can become aggressive. Dogs are protective of their territory; when confronted with a threat their fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. A chained dog, unable to take flight, often feels forced to fight.
  • Numerous attacks on people by tethered dogs have been documented.The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that 17% of dogs involved in fatal attacks on humans between 1979 and 1998 were restrained on their owners’ property at the time of the attack, and the book Fatal Dog Attacks states that 25% of fatal attacks were inflicted by chained dogs of many different breeds.  Tragically, the victims of such attacks are often children who are unaware of the chained dog’s presence until it is too late. A tethered dog who does get loose from his chains may remain aggressive and is likely to chase and attack passersby.
  • Chained dogs do NOT make good guard dogs. Chaining creates aggression, not protectiveness. A protective dog is used to being around people and can sense when his family is being threatened. A dog learns to be protective by spending lots of time with people and by learning to know and love his human family.  Leaving a dog on a chain and ignoring him is how to raise an aggressive dog. Aggressive dogs can’t distinguish between a threat and a friend, because they are not used to people. Aggressive dogs will attack anyone: children who wander into the yard, the meter reader, the mailman.
    Statistics show one of the best deterrents to intruders is an inside dog. Intruders will think twice about entering a home with a dog on the other side of the door.
  • In addition to psychological damage, dogs forced to live on a chain make easy targets for other animals, humans, and biting insects. Chains can become tangled with other objects, which can choke or strangle a dog to death.
  • Chained dogs generally suffer from irregular feedings, overturned water bowls, little or no vet care, and extreme temperatures.
  • Because their excited behavior can make them difficult to approach, chained dogs are rarely given affection. They become “part of the scenery” and are easily forgotten.
  • Lastly, because the dogs have to eat, sleep, urinate, and poop in a small area, most chained dogs’ living conditions are filthy and uncomfortable. Owners who chain their dogs are less likely to clean the area. Any grass is usually beaten down by the dog’s pacing, leaving just dirt.

Anti-tethering legislation

dog leashed on sidewalkPETA provides a comprehensive list of states and communities which prohibit tethering or chaining of dogs and another list of communities which permit tethering for a limited period of time.  Note that there are many local communities which do either prohibit or limit the chaining of dogs in states which do not have state statutes/laws prohibiting tethering.

The University of Michigan College of Law, Animal Legal and Historical Center published in 2016 a complete list of all state laws which address tethering . provides a similar list of anti-tethering legislation, organized by state and municipality  and current through February 2015.  It also provides the text of all state and local community anti-tethering/chaining laws.

What do anti-tethering laws require?

While there is quite a bit of variety from state to state and municipality to municipality, most anti-tethering regulations specify a time limit during which an animal may be tethered, the type of tether that may be used and certain requirements and prohibitions with regard to the environmental conditions the tethered animal is subject to. By way of example, Chapter 140 of the Massachusetts General Laws specifies the following with regard to tethering:

(a) No person owning or keeping a dog shall chain or tether a dog to a stationary object including but not limited to any structure, dog house, pole or tree for longer than 8 total hours in any 24-hour period. Any tethering employed shall not allow the dog to leave the owner’s, guardian’s or keeper’s property. The tether must be designed for dogs. No logging chains and other lines or devices not for the purpose of tethering dogs may be used. No chain or tether shall weigh more than one- eighth of the dog’s body weight. Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting a person from walking a dog on a hand held leash. No dog under the age of 6 months shall be tethered outside for any length of time.

(b) A person owning or keeping a dog may confine such dog outside, subject to the restrictions in this section, through the use of any of the following three methods:

dog fence(1) Inside a pen or secure enclosure, if the following conditions are met:

(i) The pen or secure enclosure has adequate space for exercise with a dimension of at least 100 square feet. Commercial dog kennels with pens intended for the temporary boarding of dogs are exempt from this requirement.

(ii) The pen or secure enclosure is constructed with chain link or other similar material as determined by the Building Inspector, with all 4 sides enclosed.

(iii) The minimum height of the fence is adequate to successfully confine the dog.

(2) A fully fenced, electronically fenced, or otherwise securely enclosed yard, wherein a dog has the ability to run but is unable to leave the enclosed yard.

(3) A trolley system or a tether attached to a pulley in a cable run, if the following conditions are met:

(i) Only 1 dog may be tethered to each cable run.

(ii) The tether must be attached to a properly fitting collar or harness worn by the dog, with enough room between the collar and the dog’s throat through which 2 adult fingers may fit. Choke collars and pinch collars are prohibited for the purposes of tethering a dog to a cable run.

(iii) There must be a swivel on at least 1 end of the tether to minimize tangling of the tether.

(iv) The tether and cable run must each be at least 10 feet in length. The cable must be mounted at least 4 feet but not more than 7 feet above ground level.

(v) The length of the tether from the cable run to the dog’s collar or harness must allow continuous access to clean water and appropriate shelter at all times as described in subsection (c). The trolley system or tether must be of appropriate configuration to confine the dog to the owner’s, guardian’s or keeper’s property, to prevent the trolley system or tether from extending over an object to an edge that could result in injury or strangulation of the dog, and to prevent the trolley system or tether from becoming tangled with other object or animals.

dog standing on a fence(c) Any person owning or keeping a dog confined outside in accordance with subsection (b) must provide the dog with access to clean water and appropriate dog shelter. The dog shelter must allow the dog to remain dry and protected from the elements. Such shelter shall be fully enclosed on at least three sides, roofed and have a solid floor. The entrance to the shelter shall be flexible to allow the dog’s entry and exit, and sturdy enough to block entry of weather elements. The shelter shall contain clean bedding and be small enough to retain the dog’s body heat and large enough to allow the dog to stand, lie down, and turn comfortably. The enclosure shall be structurally sound and in good repair. Suitable drainage must be provided so that water, ice, or waste is not standing in or around the shelter.

(d) No person owning or keeping a dog may leave a dog chained, tethered or confined outside between the house of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

(e) Exceptions to the above restrictions on outdoor confinement shall be made for dogs actively engaged in conduct directly related to the business of shepherding or herding cattle or other livestock or conduct that is directly related to the business of cultivating agricultural products, if the restraint is reasonably necessary for the safety of the dog.

(f) No person owning or keeping a dog may subject the dog to cruel conditions or inhumane chaining or the tethering at any time. Cruel conditions and inhumane chaining or tethering are defined as, but not limited to, the following conditions:

(1) Filthy and dirty confinement conditions, including but not limited to exposure to excessive animal waste, garbage, dirty water, noxious odors, dangerous objects that could injure or kill the dog upon contact, or other circumstances that could cause harm to the dog’s physical or emotional health.

(2) Taunting, prodding, hitting, harassing, threatening or otherwise harming a tethered or confined dog.

(3) Subjecting the dog to dangerous conditions, including attack by other animals.

There are also communities outside the United States, like Nova Scotia, Canada, which include anti-tethering provisions in the animal welfare regulations.

 pug on a leashHow To for Anti-tethering legislation

If you would like guidance on proposing and passing anti-tethering legislation in your community, provides step-by-step instructions  to help you through the process.

If you see a chained or improperly tethered dog (or any animal) in your community, contact your local animal welfare organization.  If there is none in your area, contact an organization like PETA, the ASPCA ( or the Humane Society.



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