Know The Law: Dogs on Chains & Tethering

As long as dogs continue to have legs and free will, dog owners will need to find ways to keep dogs at home.  The most accessible and inexpensive method is tethering; the practice of securing a dog to a location with a rope or chain to prevent it from running loose.  Sounds simple enough, but there are legal requirements that must be met or this seemingly simple practice can get owners into a lot of trouble.  From collars to tether lengths to potential hazards, we’re breaking it down for you to keep you on the right side of the law.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy are dogs tethered?

Dog at Large is a fancy way to say “Dog Running Loose”, which is bad and can be expensive if Poochie is pickup up and turned over the local animal shelter.  It can also result in fines, and the owner is held responsible for anything Poochie did while have a good time in the  neighborhood.  If Poochie isn’t the nicest dog on the block, that can cause even further issues if he bites or injures another animal or person.  The bottom line:  Poochie must stay at home! Tethering is affordable and quick.  Tethering doesn’t work for every dog, especially dogs that have a knack for escaping, but in many cases it does the trick and eliminates the need for the owner to have to remain outside with Poochie when he’s out getting his fresh air for the day.

How long can a dog be tied out for?

In relation to Michigan State Law, it doesn’t matter if a dog is tied out for 15 minutes or 24 hours a day.  As long as the legal requirements are being met, there is no legal reason why a dog cannot be tied outside.  Some local jurisdictions may have more restrictions, such as time limits.  The City of Battle Creek is one example of a city that has time restrictions for tethering a dog stating:

City of Battle Creek Ordinance 608.09 Cruelty to Animals:

7.  Confine an animal on a tether unless the tether allows the animal access to suitable shelter and:
         A.   For dogs, the tether is at least ten feet in length; the tether and collar, harness or other type of collaring device when taken together weighs not more than one-eighth of the dog’s body weight and does not, due to weight, inhibit the free movement of the dog; the manner of tethering prevents injury, strangulation, or entanglement on fences, trees or other man-made or natural obstacles or objects; the collar, harness or any other type of collaring device being used is designed for that purpose and made from material that prevents injury to the dog; the period of tethering does not exceed one continuous hour, except that tethering of the same dog may resume after an hiatus of three continuous hours; and the dog is tethered no more than a total of three hours per day.
It is the legal responsibility of every dog owner to know the laws that exist in your communities.  Some mobile home communities, apartments, sub divisions or other neighborhoods and developments may have rules about tethering, however Animal Control departments cannot enforce private rules; only laws and ordinances.  Your management company can enforce rules, and any consequence for violating those would be determined by your landlord-tenant agreements.

What kind of collar can be used?

By Michigan State Law, only a harness or nonchoke collar designed for tethering can be used.  Pinch/Prong collars, choke chains, and various other training type collars cannot be used.  Martingale collars are permitted as they do not fully constrict and are a good solution for many dogs that know how to back out of a collar.

What kind of tether can be used?

The State of Michigan doesn’t give any specific material that can or cannot be used other than to define tethering as the restraint and confinement of a dog by use of a chain, rope, or similar device.  There are length requirements however, which state the tether must be at least 3 times the length of the dog as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail.  A tether that is too short could be considered Failure to Provide Adequate Care or Neglect/Cruelty depending on the circumstances the dog was found in.  Furthermore, putting a 34 lb. chain on a 38lb. dog (this actually happened…) could be considered cruelty if the Officer or a Veterinarian would be able to prove the dog suffered as a result of the weight of the chain.  While the law doesn’t specify the material or weight of the tether, dog owners need to make sure they aren’t violating any other animal protection laws including those that determine adequate care. Like any other State Law, local jurisdictions may have stricter ordinances in place, so be sure to know what they are, if any, in your area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpecial Considerations:

  • Don’t tether a dog within reach of a fence line or other barrier.  Every year Kalamazoo County Animal Services & Enforcement responds to reports of dogs hanging over fences or porch/deck railings.  Owners can be charged with animal cruelty for allowing this to happen to a dog, whether they knew it was happening or not.
  • Dogs will often wrap themselves around a tree, dog house or debris and become immobilized when they can’t untangle themselves.  Please check on your dog periodically and untangle the tether before it becomes a problem.
  • Coated wire cables will become brittle in extreme weather, and when water gets trapped on the inside of the protective coating, it can rust and weaken the cable.  This can result in dogs breaking free.  Check your cable frequently and always use the appropriate weight as recommended on the package for the size of your dog.
  • Thin wire or ropes can get wrapped around the limbs of your dog and cause rope burns or other injuries.  Avoid materials that are abrasive, sharp or too thin.
  • Remove any debris, stumps or other potential hazards away from the area your pet is going to be tethered in.
  • Never tether two dogs within reach of each other, even if they normally get along.
  • A tethered dog must have access to shelter – If you plan to leave your dog unattended for any length of time or overnight, get a dog house.
  • Screw-in stakes and other shallow anchors do not work for strong or large dogs.  If you need to tie out a dog that is strong, or pulls, consider anchoring the tether to a permanent or firmly fixed object like a deep post or a tree.
  • Never leave an aggressive dog unattended on a tether.

Concerns about Tethering:

There are many thoughts on tethering dogs, especially “outdoor dogs” that spend most if not all of the time outside on a tether.  This article is not intended to judge or choose a side, but rather to educate all dog owners about the specific legal requirements concerning tethering.  This is not an article about the keeping of outdoor dogs.  If you plan to tether your dog, take the time to consider all available containment options, and make choices based on the well-being and health of your pet. Any dog owner in the possession of a dog kept outside because the dog is no longer wanted is strongly encouraged to try to find placement for the dog before making it live outside 24/7.  Not all outdoor dogs are neglected, but it is important for all dog owners to understand the social and emotional needs of animals even if those needs are not clearly defined or addressed in the law.

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