Containment Laws

Containment laws—including leash and tether/tie out laws—are powerful, yet often overlooked, tools in the effort to reduce dog bites in a community. After all, how does a dog threaten the public when it cannot reach the public?

Leash Laws

All communities should have a leash law in place. A leash law requires a dog owner to keep his or her dog on a leash when the dog is off the owner’s property. The leash ensures that the dog is under the owner’s direct control and supervision.

Leash laws should also specify the proper length and material of the leash, and should require that the dog only be walked by a person who is physically and mentally capable of doing so. The law should also provide for increased punishments for repeat offenders.

Some people argue that voice control is an acceptable alternative to a leash, but this author disagrees. Dogs can become distracted and temporarily “forget” about their training if they see a rewarding stimulus (a squirrel, a cat, whatever). Only a leash provides the best control.

At-Home Containment

A community’s laws should require dog owners to keep unsupervised dogs on their own property.

If there is one thing to remember when discussing containment, it is that it is inhumane and dangerous to contain a dog without any socialization or interaction with humans on a daily basis.

When we talk about “secure” containment, we mean “containment that does not allow the dog to interact with its environment except as determined by the dog’s owner.” Containment ensures that a dog doesn’t get loose. It does not determine the dog’s temperament or behavior. Dogs can become dangerous through isolation and neglect; it is up to the owner to balance proper containment with fulfilling socialization.

Indoors

The preferred method of containment is indoors, meaning behind a solid door (not a screen) and walls. It is basically impossible for a dog to get loose if contained in this manner. Additionally, dogs kept indoors tend to be better socialized and trained than dogs that are left outdoors most of the time.

Outdoors: Kennel

Indoors is, unfortunately, not an option for some dog owners. If the dog must be kept outdoors, the preferred method is in a completely enclosed (top, sides, and possibly bottom), yet spacious kennel.

Requiring a lid on top of the kennel prevents the dog from climbing out and/or people climbing in (such as an incident where a child climbed into a dog’s kennel to retrieve a ball and was killed) Requiring a concrete strip or railroad tie where the chain link walls hit the ground will prevent the dog from digging out (quickly at least).

This is the most secure method of outdoor containment, but it is also the most expensive, and probably overkill for many dogs, especially small, unathletic, or elderly dogs.

Outdoors: Tethering

Tethering is cheap and easy, but it has a number of serious disadvantages. Dogs may, of course, break loose. But an improperly tethered dog may also become tangled on the tether, and may strangle himself or cut off circulation to a limb.

Tethering also does not prevent people or animals from approaching the dog and entering its territory. There are numerous cases of children wandering over to and being attacked or killed by tethered dogs, and of people becoming tangled in the tether. Tethered dogs have played a large role in fatal dog attacks, and Karen Delise argues that it is one of the most dangerous ways to keep a dog.

Tethered dogs tend to be aggressive, but whether the tethering causes the aggression or whether the dog’s aggression results in tethering is unclear. There is correlation, but no definitive link, between tethering and aggression. More likely, aggressive tethered dogs are aggressive because of lack of socialization and neglect.

Outdoors: Fence

The fence is the most common, but least secure, method of containment.

Dogs may climb over the fence or dig under the fence. Any damage to the fence presents the possibility of escape, and owners are unlikely to inspect their fence on a regular basis; even known weaknesses are generally not repaired promptly because of expense. Gates can be opened by anyone, providing yet another escape route. Consequently, most loose dogs caught by animal control are dogs that have escaped from a fenced backyard.

Increased Security For Known Dangerous Dogs

A good dog law increases security requirements for dog owners who have proven themselves incapable of containing their dog at a basic level, or for dogs that have bitten someone.

Generally, the kennel (mentioned above, usually with secure lid, concrete floor, and lock on door) is the required method of containment for known dangerous dogs and/or repeat offenders of the containment laws. However, some organizations suggest the addition of a “second layer” of protection—a freestanding fence around the kennel. A kennel in a fenced-in backyard would fit this description, provided the fence does not act as one or more of the walls of the kennel. The second layer (fence) not only provides an additional hurdle in case the dog escapes the first layer (the kennel), it also makes contact with the dog by the general public extremely difficult.

Evaluation of Your Community’s Dog Containment Laws

Containment laws are not only good for the community, they are also good for the dog. Loose dogs can run into the road and get hit by a car or cause a traffic accident. They can get into garbage cans, chase bicyclists, kill cats and other small pets, or bite people. Some dogs form loose, roaming packs that are even more dangerous than a single dog alone.

Enforcement of containment laws is, sadly, lax in many communities. This is because

  • loose dogs are time-consuming and difficult to catch—they are usually gone to a new location by the time animal control arrives at the last known location of the dog
  • the punishment to the owner amounts to a slap on the wrist and repeat offenders are not dealt with more severely
  • the dog usually isn’t causing problems (until it is), so animal control gives priority to calls regarding immediate threats
  • citizens don’t call animal control when they see a loose dog—especially if the dog is frequently loose, because “animal control hasn’t done anything about it so far, so why bother?” Sometimes, the dog’s owner is a well-known troublemaker, so neighbors are afraid to report their dog as loose, especially in jurisdictions where anonymous reporting is not available.

If your community has containment laws in place, yet dog bite problems and dog complaints seem to center around loose dogs, it’s time to investigate the reasons why your containment laws are not doing the job.

  • Are your fines paltry? Increased fines deter repeat offenders.
  • Is animal control putting loose dog calls at the bottom of the priority pile? Maybe it’s time to add another officer to the department to help tackle loose dogs.
  • Are citizens aware of the leash law? Perhaps they need a reminder; publish a notice in the water bill, on the city website, at the local pet stores, or anywhere else that will reach your audience.
  • Are the loose dogs strays? Get a handle on your pet population through licensing, breeder permits, and microchip and spay/neuter initiatives. Local animal shelters may be willing to help with these things since fewer strays means an easier workload for them, too.
  • Do citizens know how and when to report a loose dog, and is it convenient and safe for them to do so? Dogs don’t just get loose M-F, 8-5; are officers available nights and weekends? Dog owners aren’t always grateful that their pet was picked up by animal control; is anonymous reporting available?
  • Are the same dogs getting out over and over again? Maybe it’s time to consider requiring repeat offenders to contain their dog in a more secure manner.
  • What types of containment are acceptable in your community? Safety could be improved by prohibiting or putting conditions on the least secure containment methods.

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