Convenience Before Compassion

Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism

Tethering and hobbling should be discouraged and where unavoidable should only be conducted using appropriate materials and methods that do not cause risk to the animal's welfare. Tethering should be for a limited time of no more than a few hours per day. The animals should be able to walk, lie down and stand up without putting tension on the tether, and reach basic resources like food, water and shade. Tethered animals should be regularly monitored.

World Sleddog Association

Runs or pens must be large enough to allow dogs to perform most behaviors that are typical of their species. Good weather protection must be provided. Chain attitude is rejected.

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.

Animal Welfare Act

On August 13, 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture amended the regulations for the humane treatment of dogs under the Animal Welfare Act by removing the provisions for tethering dogs as a means of primary enclosure.

Our experience in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act has led us to conclude that permanently tethering a dog as a means of primary enclosure is not a humane practice that is in the animal's best interest. 
Five Freedoms

Sled Dog Welfare Needs & Best Practices, Based on the Five Freedoms

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.

​​Sled dogs should receive daily, high-quality food, of a sufficient amount for each animal. A varied diet of various types of meat and dry foods, including minerals and vitamins, is recommended. Dogs should also have constant, plentiful clean water, and be provided with clean water buckets and food receptacles.

2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Tethering of sled dogs should be discouraged - but if it happens, it should not be for long periods of time. Operations with a small number of dogs are preferable, as they allow greater individual attention and socialization for each dog. Secure, well maintained yards are preferred - as they allow for regular exercise and can accommodate a number of animals comfortably. Individual housing should be well maintained and clean - including clean, dry bedding - and should provide protection against heat and cold.

3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

​Sled dogs should have regular access to veterinary care, including at least one annual health check. Routine checks of nail length, collar size, paw condition, joint mobility and body condition is recommended. Operator policies should include a life cycle plan to ensure that retired sled dogs can be properly rehomed. Euthanasia should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian, and only in the event that the animal is suffering from an incurable disease, or suffering from severe pain which cannot be alleviated. Dogs should not be overworked - and should train and work within their physical capacities.  

4. Freedom to express normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

​Sled dogs should not be worked beyond their willingness or capacity during racing or tours. Dogs should be provided with plenty of exercise, stimulation, and socialization to avoid anxiety, aggression, and other behavioral problems. Long periods of tethering without adequate stimulation can be a significant harmful factor - dogs should be untethered for a significant part of each day and be allowed to play and socialize with other dogs and humans.

5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Evidence of physical or psychological abuse of sled dogs is unacceptable - dogs should appear energetic, take an interest in their surroundings, and demonstrate fearless interaction with people. Calm, positive handling should be utilized. Owners should also establish a life-cycle plan for each dog, setting out the provisions it will need throughout its life.

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Chaining sled dogs by their collars can cause irreversible damage to the vital organs in their necks.

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Montreal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society International/Canada, Center de Adoption des Animaux de Campagnie du Quebec

Additional comments on draft regulation for the Animal Health Protection Act Division IV.1.1 (R.S.Q., P-42), following August 11th sub-committee meeting.

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.

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.”

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."

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. 

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. 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]. 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. As 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. MUSH with PRIDE is a sled dog lobbying organization. It should be noted that the Vice President of the Board of Directors for Mush with PRIDE was implicated in the culling of 100 sled dogs in Whistler B.C.

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. This section is necessary to protect dogs from permanent tethering.