The Old Yellow Farmhouse

Linda McVay, CCS CDW

This summer a couple moved into a great old farmhouse that borders a greenbelt trail that I routinely walk with my two dogs. One of the members of their household is a lovely Labrador retriever. During the last days of summer as we passed the house on our daily walks we sometimes watched the couple engaged in play with their dog, while other times they would just be out together working in the yard or enjoying the last of Seattle’s summer sun. On a few of those occasions, the lab would bark a couple of times but the couple always called to the dog who was happy to trot over to them and they would all go back to enjoying each other’s company. Sadly, that little vignette is no longer what happens when we pass the old yellow farmhouse.

The dog now hears us coming from forty feet away and the scene that replays day after day is frantic prolonged barking intermixed with growling. This vocalization is accompanied by the dog lunging and throwing itself into the air. What changed? This lovely dog now spends eight to ten hours a day tethered to the house that it is expected to protect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite sure that the couple is unaware of the danger that they are not only placing their dog in but the danger that they are exposing every trail walker to. After all, when this couple pulls into their driveway they are met with happy tail wags and a lolling tongue.

Imagine if every day your favorite person walked by your house and you were physically restrained from going up to them, giving them a hug, and saying hi. After a few days you would probably begin to yell their name in order to get their attention, and if day after day they simply walked past you would soon begin to anticipate their appearance or recognize the sound of their footsteps and become anxious. After a few more days you might hear them approaching and begin to mutter under your breath, and finally you might explode in anger if given the chance to actually interact with them. What if the scene described above played out ten times a day?

Being thwarted is difficult for us and we understand the sequence of events that can cause us to “lose our cool.” Dogs rely much more heavily on face-to-face meetings and when they cannot greet they can have a chemical dump which raises their heart rate and respiration and can affect the way they process changes in their environment for up to six days after the triggering event. What does that mean for this couple and their dog? My neighbor's dog will probably begin displaying with greater intensity and behavioral changes will begin to occur in the dog's reactions to strangers and guests arriving at the front door. His people might begin to notice an inability to focus or settle even when he is indoors. They might well wonder, “Why is this happening, he used to be such a great dog.”

Tethering dogs is dangerous for a variety of other reasons as well. An animal can become entangled in the tether and injure itself. Each year there are reports of dogs strangling themselves when trying to get over a fence. Dogs can be teased and harassed by passersby, as happened to my neighbor’s dog in Laurelhurst when he was kicked to death by a group of young boys. Coyotes and raccoons can cause injury or kill a dog that is staked out. The AKC has said that they are receiving reports of stolen dogs on a daily basis. Leaving your dog staked out or tied to a post for even a short time allows anything to happen and does not allow the dog to create the social distance that they may need in order to feel safe. You cannot change or interrupt unwanted behaviors from either the dog or the human if you are not present.

Please be responsible when it comes to the safety of your dog and the public at large. If you want to protect your property, block watch programs and walking your dog in the neighborhood are more effective at reducing crime than tethering your dog to the house or staking it in the yard. Going to the grocery store or getting a cup of coffee should not put anyone at risk, least of all your best friend.