It’s A Tie! (i.e. How Tethering Your Dog Can Sometimes Be Kosher)

I recently visited with a couple that had just adopted a rescued pomeranian named Henry. Henry’s problem was that at bedtime he would run around barking and jumping on and off the bed, not letting his owners (or even neighbors) get any sleep. Crating Henry only exacerbated his acting out. And if his owners tried to impose discipline, they’d get barked at more furiously, nipped, and even bit. They were at their wits end, having gotten only an hour of solid sleep a night the entire week, and scarred by Henry’s behavior – both mentally and physically.

The owners had told me that Henry was severely “annoying”. My slightly more technical behavioral assessment was that he suffered from a combination of dominance, impatience, and separation anxiety. My solution included, as it often does, a holistic mix of physical exercise, leadership, and socialization through home obedience training, leashed walks, and socializing routines at the dog park. But when it came to bedtime, there was only one answer that broke the cycle of sleeplessness: using a tether.

We attached a leash to Henry’s harness and looped it under the bureau leg, then the owners went to bed. Henry barked and tried to jump – but was stopped. Not by the owners’ yelling “No!” at him, or interacting in any other way, but by the leash itself. The leash is silent and always calm – unlike sleep-deprived humans in moments of stress! Yet the tethering provided the same discipline, rules, and correction that Henry needed. After a half hour or so the first night, Henry calmed down and went to sleep on his little bed next to the bureau. The next night, it took less time and Henry slept longer. He’s made leaps and bounds, and so has the owners’ sleep schedule. And the progress is still continuing.

Here are three extremely helpful uses of “tethering” (meaning tying a dog by leash to a stationary object). Remember, never tether tightly; the point is providing cageless boundaries in order to produce greater relaxation and happiness, not punishment or torture to create unhappiness or negative consequences.

Therapeutic uses of tethering:

1. Impatience.

An impatient dog hasn’t learned to trust in his owners, to be calm and relaxed and confident that he will get all the good, delicious, and exciting things he wants and needs without demanding them. You can teach your dog patience by tethering him to a fence in or near the dog park (or anywhere), asking him to sit/lie down where the leash is still somewhat loose (shaped like a “U”, not like a taut line), then walking a little bit away and back. As you approach, the impatient dog will jump up and strain on the leash. When that happens, immediately put your treat back in your pocket and back away. If you are consistent and patient (you can’t teach it without being it!), your dog should quickly learn to stay sitting/lying down until you’ve come all the way up to him. Only then do you treat him. Release him, walk around, re-tether, and repeat.

2. Separation anxiety.

When a dog is a “Velcro dog”, he can’t let his owners out of his sight, even from one room to the next at home. Tethering at home while you wander to another room can force your Velcro dog to experience being apart from you, and if you make it a happy experience for him, both during and after, he can have “reparative experiences” and gradually learn to be happily independent. To keep the experience happy, first of all don’t walk so far away or stay away for so long that Fido becomes anything more than slightly anxious. If he starts whining, barking, or pulling on the leash, you’ve pushed too far; return and start at an easier level. Second of all, toss him a pig’s ear or treat while you walk away. Finally, once you’ve pushed just far enough, calmly return and untether. Make sure not to reward Fido after you reunite and/or untether him; you want his moments separated from you to be as delicious and joyous as possible, while your reunion is as boring as possible.

3. Environmental/generalized fear.

An excellent exercise for a fearful, anxious, or otherwise un-confident dog is to be tethered to a more relaxed, strong, confident pal. Do this especially on walks and at the dog park. The submissive one will follow – he has no choice, first of all; and also he’ll often respond better than when walked by a human, as the other dog’s leash skills flow in a naturally understandable doggie rhythm. Once again, the fear case will be forced (in a gentle, happy way) to experience new and intimidating sights, sounds, and smells in a new way.

The dog-to-dog tether
Tethering a dog (again, only for extremely short periods of supervised time, during occasional training exercises) provides the dog with immediate rules, boundaries, and limitations, while avoiding any interference from the owner’s frustrated or excitement-inducing energy, voice, or body language. Remember there are tethering laws and it’s unsafe and inhumane to do for extended periods of time. But done in the right way, as part of a careful training plan, tethering can be a helpful and calming tool when dealing with certain hyperactive or anxious dogs.

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