Imagine a two-year-old child confined to a small room all the time. The toddler wakes up each day full of natural curiosity and energy, with a need to be touched and loved by those around her. The child can hear the family laughing and interacting just on the other side of the door, and can even smell their food.
The toddler only sees the ones they love ones once a day when they fill the food bowl with oatmeal and bottle with water. This brief interaction means the world to them, and the child tries to show love to the family to what they see as an annoying and obnoxious behaviour. But before even calming down, they are gone without showing any love in return. And once again, the child is left alone.
With no ability to articulate what they are feeling, they assume that they are bad, and this is why the toddler is rejected by the ones they loves. The child is never given the opportunity to learn what is expected of them. No one takes the time to teach how to behave in a way which would cause loved ones to want to be with them all the time.
They get no exercise and turns inward, depressed and lonely. To occupy time, the child crawls in circles; sucks their thumbs raw. And when someone finally does come into the room, they are now afraid and doesn’t know how to behave or interact.
The story above gives most people a real feeling of sadness and injustice. They empathise with the toddler and truly imagine how she is feeling. The American Psychological Association has conducted studies showing that dogs have emotional and intellectual abilities similar to a 2 to 2.5-year-old human. And it is a sad truth that the story above reflects the existence of many dogs who are caged or chained.
Keeping a dog on a chain might not always seem like a malicious act. After all, dogs enjoy being outside and keeping them on a leash is one way to keep them from running away. Sometimes dogs do need to be confined, for example being prescribed by the veterinarian due to injuries or if the dog is at a risk of falling or hurting themselves without supervision. However, it should never be for extended episodes and there should be steps taken to ensure that the dog is cared for, given the chance to relieve themselves and have access to water, fresh air, food and socialisation such as doggie day care and walking services.
With that in mind, it is important to understand that for the sake of this article, “Dog chaining” describes a practice in which dog owners tether or cage their dogs for extended periods of time. In some cases, chained dogs may be tethered for days, months, or even years.
Working alongside Chained Dog Awareness Singapore, I have attended a number of these cases in an attempt to help educate owners and improve the lives of the dogs in these situations. One thing I have found is that the owners are not always malicious in their actions. They genuinely feel that they are keeping their family safe or stopping the destruction of the home. There are many reasons cited and while the intentions behind this act might not cruel, unfortunately, keeping dogs in this state, restricting their freedom to move around can be extremely detrimental to a dog’s health, well-being, and ability to properly socialise with humans and animals.
The countless problems that chaining a dog presents may not be completely obvious to those who choose to confine their pet in this way, although there are some owners who do know better and have malicious intentions towards their dogs.
Without the freedom to roam around, play and engage in their natural behaviour, dogs become bored, lonely, depressed and often become reactive (aggressive). Chaining confines a dog to a small area of space on the property, and they are not free to explore and engage with other pets or with people. Many owners who keep their dogs chained up often don’t realise the emotional and psychological harm it inflicts and most don’t check on their dogs often enough to find out.
Chaining Dogs Comes with Behavioural Issues
Chaining your dog does more harm than good and even fostering the beginnings of even more concerning behaviour problems. Dogs chained for extended time regularly develop many different disorders, including aggressive reactivity, emotional shut down, over excitability, depression, eating disorders, obsessive licking and biting of themselves, separation anxiety, excessive barking and many other behavioural disorders.
Dogs are naturally territorial, and when they are confined to a small, confined space, this instinct is enhanced. Their small space of movement becomes theirs to defend, so when people approach them, they act out with aggressive, territorial behaviours like barking and even snapping or biting.
In his book ‘Understanding Your Dog,’ Dr M. W Fox writes that approaching a chained dog will regularly result in a “show of aggression or territorial defence by barking and lunging” because a dogs that are confined into a constructed territory zone tend to develop “territorial defence behaviour … [that is] abnormally intense.”
Dogs are naturally social beings who thrive on interaction with humans and other animals. A dog kept chained in one spot for hours, days, months or even years suffers immense psychological damage. An otherwise friendly dog, when kept continuously chained, becomes neurotic, unhappy, fearfully anxious and reactive.
It has been shown time and time again that in many chained dog rescues, once the dog is removed from their chain, cared for properly and given appropriate rehabilitative training, they lose these reactive tendencies, illustrating that the dog is not “naturally” fearful or aggressive, but behave that way in response to their environment.
Chains and Cages Present a Potential Risk of Injury & Illness
Along with the behavioural issues of pacing and compulsive actions which comes with prolonged confinement, chains and tethers often cause neck and back injuries, and it is even possible for a dog to hang himself if the chain gets caught on something. Similarly, caged dogs can seriously injure themselves on the cage itself with obsessive biting and scratching at the metal.
Depending on where the dog lives, it is possible for chained dogs to be vulnerable to venomous insects or reptiles and extreme heat, cold, rain, lightning and even more extreme natural disaster.
Chained Dogs Rarely Get the Care They Need
“I didn’t know there was no water in the bowl!”
“How was I to know he was depressed?”
These are genuinely things I’ve been told by owners during chained dog cases. Out of sight, out of mind, seems to be the way many pet owners who chain their dogs treat these poor dogs. A chained dog very rarely receives sufficient care. They suffer from sporadic feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care, and extreme temperatures. During periods of extreme heat, they may not receive adequate water or protection from the sun. What’s more, because their behaviour is fearful and reactive, many are difficult to approach. Chained dogs are rarely given even minimal affection. They become ‘part of the scenery’ and can be easily ignored by their owners.”
What Can You Do?
If you are unsure of how to care for your dog, do as much research as you can and reach out to a professional veterinarian, behaviourist, carer or trainer for guidance. With proper care, behavioural consultation and obedience training, any issues which may make an owner feel that chaining or caging their dog is their only option can be improved greatly.
If the above describes the kind of treatment of a dog you know, the best thing you can do is to contact your local animal welfare organisation or rescue shelter. In Singapore, you can report any cases to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and contact Chained Dog Awareness Singapore (CDAS).
No matter what the conditions, dogs who are allowed inside and are properly socialised and trained make much better pets than dogs who are continuously kept in chains or caged. Remember the story at the beginning of this article, dogs are like children in many ways; they need a loving home, the ability to exercise and socialise appropriately and to be taught how to act in a home setting. The better you treat your dog, the better companions they make and the better they’ll treat you.