Humane Mushers Don't Chain Dogs

The World Sleddog Association's Position on Chaining:

 “Unfortunately, in some countries it is permitted to keep dogs on chains. Nevertheless, this practice should be rejected by all sled dog organizations nationally and internationally. Sled dog organizations should engage with mushers practicing this with the aim to abolish this practice.”

Comparison of Tethering and Group-Pen Housing for Sled Dogs
J. White, A. McBride, E. Redhead
University of Southampton, School of Psychology

This study investigated differences in behaviour between sled dogs based on housing methods (tethering and un-tethering) and exercise (exercise/no exercise). Research on tethering other domestic species found behavioural indicators of stress, such as increased repetitive locomotory behaviour in sheep (Wemelsfelder & Farish, 2004), excessive vocalisations in cattle (Watts & Stookey, 2000) and stereotypic pacing in pigs (Schouten, et al. 1991). The only study which had previously investigated sled dog behaviour (Yeon et al. 2001), found an increase of repetitive behaviours when sled dogs, that had traditionally been tethered were released from tethers and housed in small, single pens. In this case, the small size of the pens and single-dog housing could have been responsible for the increase in repetitive behaviours, findings which are supported by other studies (Clark, et al. 1997; Hubrecht, et al. 2002). In contrast the current experiment used group housing in large pens as the alternative housing condition to tethering. Sled dogs are highly motivated by social facilitation (Coppinger & Coppinger, 2001), behaviour which is expressed while running with others in a dog team. The current research hypothesised that the prevention of this highly motivated behaviour would impact significantly on behaviour. Therefore “extended periods without exercise” was included as a variable for analysis, as sled dogs are often not exercised (group running) for anywhere between 4 and 6 months during the summer.


Participants The participants were nine dogs (3=male; 6=female) selected at random from a population of 300 purebred Siberian husky dogs at a commercial sled dog establishment. All dogs were born at the kennel and raised there from birth. All have been tethered continually from 4 months of age. The participants ranged in age from 3 to 7 years old, with a mean age of 4.5 years (SD = 1.75). Design A repeated measures design was used in which all dogs participated in all conditions. The participants ( n = 9) were exposed to four different housing conditions and filmed to record behaviours for analysis. The conditions consisted of six-months with no-exercise/tethered (Condition A), exercise (daily running)/tethered (Condition B), four weeks no-exercise/tethered (Condition C) and no exercise/un-tethered (Condition D) (Table 1). Procedure After the installation of each camera, participants were filmed remotely (observer not present) in each of the four conditions for a period of 13.5 hours over three days (4.5 hours per day). Of this, 1.5 hours of filming occurred each morning, from 8:30am to 10:00am, and 3 hours each afternoon, from 2pm to 5pm prior to the evening feed. There was no interaction between the participants and the observer during, prior to, or after filming. Weather conditions were noted, as were uncontrolled variables as they occurred.
Long-term tethering of sled dogs produced evidence of significantly higher levels of alert and repetitive behaviours such as fast pacing ,and significantly fewer social behaviours than the un-tethered housing condition. Placing participants in un-tethered (group housing) significantly reduced rebound and repetitive behaviours. The variable of exercise also affected behaviour. Tethering without exercise (Conditions A and C) produced significantly more vigilance and agonistic behaviour than either tethering with exercise or group housing without exercise. It is likely that social facilitation through sled running exercise produced a calming effect, which enabled the dogs to sleep more in Condition B (Clarke, et al., 1997). The effect of exercise (Condition B) was found overall to produce more a significant difference, especially in the amount of time spent sleeping in Condition B, as was expected. By contrast, when exercise was not provided (Conditions A, C and D), the dogs remained alert. Levels of aggression were highest in the tethered non-exercise conditions of A and C and did not occur in any significant level in conditions B or D. By contrast the most aggression occurred in the condition with the least stimulating condition C, when there were fewer caregivers in the kennel and no exercise provided. When stimuli were presented, such as a caregiver walking through the grounds, dogs would react with a frustrative response which was re-directed onto neighbouring dogs. If the tethers allowed physical contact, aggression took the form of nipping neighbouring dogs’ noses and tails. Although actual physical contact rarely occurred, there was evidence that these aggressive responses were not inhibited and that injury would have occurred more frequently had the tethers allowed more contact. The lack of activity in the non-exercise conditions was expected to increase the number of self-directed behaviours recorded. This did not occur. Less than 1% of behaviours were self-directed, and this took the form of grooming. The most grooming took place in the exercise condition B. This is self explanatory: the dogs had been running previous to filming on a number of snow, ice and road surfaces and were therefore motivated to groom and clean their paws. These behaviours were of short-duration (less than 3 minutes per instance) and were not correlated with any individual dog or sex of dog. In conclusion, long-term tethering without exercise produces abnormal activity patterns and levels of behaviours in sled dogs, which may be indicative of compromised welfare. Further research on sled dog welfare using biobehavioural indicators of welfare and motivation testing in a controlled experimental setting should be undertaken. Such research might provide evidence that the initial investment in building group housing pen facilities would be offset by the physical and psychological benefits associated with good welfare.
Download Study

Submitted by
Alanna Devine, B.A, B.C.L., LL.B, Director of Animal Welfare MSPCA
Lauren Scott, HSI/Canada campaigner
Johanne Tasse, President caacQ

Presented to
Dr. Madeline Fortin, Associate Deputy Minister, MAPAQ &
Dr. Dominique Baronet Director of Development and Regulations, MAPAQ


Permanent tethering of dogs as per s.27

The Montreal SPCA, HSI/International Canada and the CaacQ continue to support the position that the permanent tethering of dogs, even those tethered in groups, is detrimental to their physical and psychological well-being. Therefore permanent tethering, in addition to permanent caging of dogs, should be prohibited.

During the last sub-committee meeting on the draft regulations, there was much discussion about s.27, which prohibits the tethering of an animal for more than 12 hours a day during a 24 hour period. Based on these discussions and further research, we have several comments which we would like to submit on the subject of tethering.

At the meeting, Mr. Lemir, president of the “Association des Mushers du Québec” [AMQ], made reference to the 2001 Cornell University Study “A Comparison of Tethering and Pen Confinement of Dogs” [the Cornell study]. This article, which discusses the use of tethering,   was presented as favorable to the position of the AMQ that permanent tethering of sled dogs is an acceptable form of housing. Following the meeting, and upon further examination of the article, a number of issues with the Cornell Study came to light.

The first thing we would like to point out is that the Cornell study does not in and of itself support the premise that the permanent tethering of dogs is an acceptable form of housing. It is important to note that the conclusion of the study does not indicate that all of the physical or psychological needs of the dogs had been met while they were permanently tethered. Rather, the study concludes that the behavior of dogs who had been permanently tethered their entire lives did not improve once they were confined permanently in pens.  Thus, the study compares the permanent tethering of dogs to the permanent confinement of dogs in cages, which is an equally unacceptable manner of permanently housing dogs.[1]

It should be noted that Cornell University has done similar studies in the past whereby they compared two unacceptable practices [for example two forms of de-clawing]. In both articles, one practice was perceived as superior to the other practice studied, therefore making it seem positive. This, however, is not the case, as neither is acceptable. This is clearly seen when the Cornell study gives the impression that tethering is superior to the pens based on their findings that "Stereotypic pacing in the pens occurred more frequently than circling on the tether". Circling, as seen in the tethered group, is a negative stereotypical behaviour and an indication of stress that should not be ignored.

Secondly, the Cornell study only studied the behavior of dogs that had lived their entire lives tethered, and, as pointed out by the authors, this had a confounding effect on the results of the study. Thus, the dogs that were the subject of this study “had spent most of their adult lives on tethers and were now in an environment they had not lived in since they were puppies” [p.267]. Animals that are under-socialized or subject to neglect often do not have a positive reaction to normal stimulus and activities because they are simply so foreign to them, but this does not mean that these normal activities and stimuli are not important for the long term development and socialization of the animal. Therefore the fact that these dogs, who had spent most of their adult lives tethered, did not exhibit positive behavior once removed from the tether, does not necessarily mean that removing them from a permanent tether was not, in the long term, preferable for their well-being.

Thirdly, there are serious concerns over the methodology used in the study. The fact they did not find any stereotypic behavior does not definitively show that there is no welfare or ethical issue; if you set up a preference test or a motivational analysis, you might get a different result.

Mr. Lemir, on behalf of the AMQ, also expressed the opinion that because sled dogs are social pack animals that it is preferable to house them on tethers because living in a pack is beneficial to their psychological well-being, but this opinion is countered by professionals specializing in canine behavior.  According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, DVM, BVMS, MRCVS, specialist in canine behavior, healthy canine interaction and socialization requires the dogs to be able to physically interact and play with one another – which cannot be achieved when dogs are tethered. “The Cornell Study cannot be used to support the premise that tethering dogs in groups, is favorable for their mental well-being when compared to appropriate forms of housing dogs. There is no way that being tethered increases opportunities for socialization. Claims that tethered dogs have greater access to socialization show how subjective the research was toward what was observed”. [2]
Furthermore opposition to permanent tethering has also come from professional mushers themselves. Ms. Caroline Morin, for example, who houses her sled dogs in groups within large parks, has explained that, contrary to the opinion of Mr. Lemire, there are physical and psychological advantages of housing sled dogs in groups which cannot be achieved if the dogs are tethered. Ms. Morin has chosen to house her dogs in packs in large parks as they are able to play, establish dominance and express natural behaviors in a manner that they cannot do if they are permanently tethered.[3]

The correlation between mental well-being of animals, such as dogs, and “sense of control” (ability to control their environment) also cannot be ignored. Permanently tethered dogs do not have the ability to control their environment or their circumstances as their movement and interactions are limited by what is in reach of the circumference of their chain.[4] According to Dr. Frank McMillan, DVM, DACVIM, the ability to control unpleasant feelings (e.g. fear, anxiety, and boredom) has an important influence on mental health and well-being. “Animals deprived of any control over their own circumstances, especially under persistent or repetitive aversive conditions, may develop severe emotional distress in the form of helplessness and hopelessness [often called ”learned helplessness][5]. The effect permanent tethering has on the ability for sled dogs to control their environment and the psychological impact of this must form part of the consideration when reviewing s.27.

Another important point, which was not discussed during the sub-committee meeting, is what happens to permanently tethered sled dogs after they can no longer race (either due to age or injury). In other words, the effect permanent tethering has on “retirement” options for dogs that can no longer run competitively. The experience of our organizations is that dogs who have spent the majority of their lives tethered do not adjust well to living in a home or to interacting with other animals or humans once unchained. Permanently tethered dogs are used to sleeping and defecating/urinating in the same area and are not used to interactions with humans or dogs without being tethered. A musher Madame Morin explained, permanently tethered dogs often develop defensive/aggressive responses to unfamiliar or unpleasant stimuli as they are not able to escape unpleasant situations and they no longer have the option of flight so they must choose fight. These dogs are extremely difficult to re-home as they have difficulty to adjusting to life off of a chain.
It is recommended that MAPAQ look into the question of how AMQ members (or other mushers) address the issue of “retired” dogs to see if there is a correlation between permanent tethering and the destruction (rather than re-homing) of sled dogs that can no longer compete. From our research, AMQ has not outlined any specific guidelines or policies on “retired” sled dogs. Instead, it appears that their main point of reference on the matter is that of Mush with PRIDE.[6]

In conclusion, s.27 which prohibits the tethering of animals for more than 12 hours a day should not be removed from the regulations. As already presented in the formal report submitted by the Montreal SPCA, HSI/Canada, and the caacQ, the changes to s.27 should instead focus on reducing the number of hours that a dog can be tethered to 4 hours. Additional stipulations should also prohibit any form of outdoor tethering when the temperature is below 32 degrees F, above a public heat warning, and/or when the canines are less than 6 months old or for a female is in heat. Furthermore, the regulations should outline acceptable cords/chains and collars.[7] This section is necessary to protect dogs from permanent tethering, and as well be discussed below; similar requirements should be adopted to protect dogs and cats from being permanently caged. 

[1] This opinion is also shared by Dr. Klinck DVM, DACVB and Dr. Stiles DVM, MSc (see comments attached as Annex A to this document)
[2] Phone interview with Dr. Dodman DVM on September 12th, 2011
[3] See Comments submitted to MAPAQ by Caroline Morin, Musher
[4] See comments by Dr. Klinck DVM, DACVB and Dr. Stiles DVM, MSc
[5] “Development of a mental wellness program for animals”, Franklin D. McMillan, DVM, DACVIM in JAVMA Vol 200, No.7, April 1, 2002 [McMillan].
[6] MUSH with PRIDE is a sled dog lobbying organization. It should be noted that the President of the Board of Director for Mush with PRIDE was implicated in the culling of 100 sled dogs in Whistler B.C.
[7] Please see recommendations submitted by Dr. Klinck DVM, DACVB and Dr. Stiles DVM, MSc