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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice October 2013 Issue

Dear Doctor - Tethering your dog

Letter to Tufts Veterinarians

Tethering your dog

Q We have a two-year-old mixed breed dog, about 60 pounds. She spends evenings and nights indoors with us but is tethered during the day on a long tether with plenty of shade and water, close to the house. She enjoys being outside as there are many wild things to watch for, and she has a tethered canine companion with her, too. They have to be tied up, as we live in a forested area and cannot have the dogs chasing deer or rabbits. They are walked at least five times every day.

About four months ago, she began to become very excited, even angry, at any vehicle that came into the driveway, as well as on the road where we walk. She barks and lunges at them, and even at our own vehicles when we drive to the store — although she doesn’t react when we drive back in. This all started after we had gone shopping one day. Upon our return, she began to have this reaction with any and all vehicles, especially the UPS truck and large SUVs. Any solutions?
Don Pass
Jasper, Arkansas

Dear Mr. Pass,
A “This is not an easy one with a slam-dunk solution,” says the director of our behavior clinic, Nicholas Dodman, BVMS. But you are not alone. There are plenty of dogs who bark at vehicles; they see them as great steel dragons that need to be vanquished.

In some cases, vehicles frighten them, and in others there could be a territorial component. Either way, dogs devise a protective strategy. They bark, and the vehicle tends to go away. It’s a reward constantly reinforced by the fact that cars pass rather than hang around when the dogs “yell” at them.

Why it hasn’t happened earlier with your dog is anybody’s guess. “Maybe a car backfired” while you were out, Dr. Dodman posits, and the loud noise sensitized her. “Or perhaps vendors or delivery people banged on the front or back door and scared her,” he offers. You say yourself that she is particularly sensitive to the UPS truck. Another possibility is that at age two, when a dog is reaching the point of full maturity, she might simply feel a little braver about trying to change the world around her.

Whatever the reason for the change, “you have to question the wisdom of leaving the dog out on a tether,” Dr. Dodman advises. Consider, he says, that junkyard dogs always act aggressively, and they’re always chained or tied to a rope. “They’ve got this radius that they can operate in,” he explains, “and they spend their whole lives lunging at the periphery of the space. Anybody outside the radius has to be kept out. The shorter the lead, the greater the aggression. They become more frustrated guarding the space.

“You may at least want to re-think the tethered-all-day approach,” Dr. Dodman advises. We are not fans of it. Even though you clearly mean to do right by your pet — leaving her outside with a companion, providing shade and water and animals to look at — spending many hours each day tied up may not suit her. Perhaps she’s not getting enough attention, even with the five walks a day. There’s a lot of isolation that goes with being tethered for hours on end. Your dog may also need a lot of exercise to burn off energy — not just walks but also playing catch or engaging in agility courses or other physical forms of environmental enrichment, like flyball or herding classes.

If keeping the dog with you more rather than leaving her tethered is out of the question, consider putting up a solid fence so she can’t see the cars on the road from where she’s chained or roped. As the centuries-old proverb goes, “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over.” At the very least, give her a Kong stuffed with a treat or even a frozen treat to work on. That will help to distract her some.

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