Chaining: A cruel and dangerous practice

Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV

Dogs have been bred over thousands of years to be a “human’s best friend.” Michigan alone has an estimated 2.2 million dogs living in 1.4 million households. Our canine companions are inherently social, faithful and affectionate. They make loving companions. They teach children compassion, respect and responsibility. They are loyal protectors and a cure for loneliness. They sacrifice their lives as search and rescue dogs. Studies now show that dog (and cat) ownership provides numerous benefits to our health and well-being, from reducing heart disease, to helping kids with learning disabilities, to staving off depression. Our bond is undeniable. For all they give to us, our responsibility back to is to ensure their well-being. 

However, in Michigan, chaining is still completely legal despite being unquestionably inhumane and potentially harmful to humans.

Chaining (also called tethering) refers to the act of forcing a dog to live all of his or her life outdoors on a chain attached to a stationary object. Our tethered canine friends must live in a cruelly confined space — eating, sleeping and eliminating all in one small worn down spot. The dog’s movement is tightly restricted, making it difficult to get comfortable and to find protection from harsh weather or other threats.

Because of their social nature, forcing a dog to live his or her life continuously on a chain in a state of social deprivation is known to cause depression, anxiety and pent up frustration. Not unlike children, puppies and young dogs that are not properly socialized, that go unprotected from negative experiences, also tend to endure lifelong fearfulness.

Tethering also leads to physical suffering. Chained dogs are at greater risk of pain and injury from arthritis, neck sores (from chains that wear down the skin or become embedded), eye hemorrhaging, parasites, fly bites, and urine burns. Michigan’s freezing temperatures frequently cause death (most chained dogs are short-haired breeds), as does accidental strangulation.

Without consistent attention and care, often forgotten, chained dogs commonly go unfed and must contend with frozen or dried out water bowls and are denied the most basic of veterinary care.

One of many preventable tragedies seen over the years…

On a cold winter afternoon a neighbor watched a young child out her window. The child pulling hard on a chain connected to something inside a small plastic dog house. Whatever was inside didn’t budge despite the child’s best efforts. Suspicious, the neighbor called HSHV. Our Cruelty Investigators found a small light brown dog, emaciated and frozen. Dead. The mother claimed, while her son cried in the background, that she had been ill and had forgotten about the dog. Although successfully prosecuted for animal cruelty, it was too late for this dog.

In addition to owner neglect, chained dogs are also greater targets of intentional cruelty. Unsupervised and unable to escape, they are easy victims of harassment and callous acts.

Further, chained dogs can become a community danger. Increases in territorial behavior, fearfulness and poor socialization make them more prone to aggression and likely to attack those who enter their space (AVMA, 2009). There are many documented cases of chained dogs biting children or getting loose from their chains to attack passing people and pets. According to a CDC review in 2002, chained dogs are nearly 3 times more likely to bite than an unchained. It is also known that dog fighters keep their dogs tethered, often on heavy logging chains, to help spur aggression.

At the Humane Society of Huron Valley we receive many calls from concerned citizens about outdoor chained and poorly treated dogs. Unfortunately, there is little help we can provide because the owner is following the law. When state animal cruelty laws can be applied the animal has already suffered needlessly or it is too late.

Some worry that an anti-chaining law might overly restrict needs to tether dogs for temporary tasks. But such a law can and should allow for the use of tethers to restrain a dog for brief periods of time needed to complete temporary tasks (e.g., getting fresh air, elimination, spending time outdoors with the family). The goal of such a law is to promote, not hinder, responsible, compassionate care.

Perhaps Michigan can follow 19 other states and more than 140 U.S. local communities in banning or strictly regulating chaining/tethering? Such regulation will provide a tool to prevent neglect and to help in the battle against dog fighting; help make a safer, more responsible community; and ensure that our dogs receive the care they deserve to be healthy, well-adjusted pets. The best place for our loyal canine companions is inside with their family.


Tanya Hilgendorf is president and CEO of the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor.