Code of practice for the tethering of animals (Revision 2)

1. Introduction

For the purposes of this Code, tethering is defined as the securing of an animal to an anchor point to confine it to a desired area. It is used to prevent animals straying in the owner's absence (e.g. dogs) or to allow animals to graze unfenced pasture (e.g. sheep and goats) or to display animals (agricultural shows). Tethering should not be confused with short-term tying up or with hobbling. Tethering is regarded as a temporary method of restraint that is not suitable for long-term confinement.

Tethering of animals exposes them to increased risk of stress, injury or death. In particular, tethered animals may be:

  • unable to evade predators
  • unable to obtain shelter from climatic extremes
  • unable to obtain sufficient exercise
  • isolated from their companions
  • exposed to environmental hazards, such as road traffic.

For these reasons, other confinement methods appropriate for the species should be sought. Tethering of animals requires a high standard of animal husbandry and exceptional care, including regular inspections.

This Code has been developed to assist people to tether animals correctly when circumstances make it a necessary method of confining and protecting animals. Persons tethering animals should also refer to relevant legislation including the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019.

The Code specifies the requirements for tethering dogs, sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and horses. Birds and cats must not be tethered under any circumstances. The restraint of sows by neck tethers is considered an unacceptable practice. This Code does not refer to exotic wildlife and other animals on exhibition, for example circus animals.

Animals should never be tethered in conditions where they are vulnerable to heatwaves, severe cold or driving rain.

2. General requirements

2.1 Site selection

A suitable tethering site should:

  • be reasonably flat (steep sites are unsuitable)
  • be clear of obstructions that may cause the tether to become entangled or cause injury to the animal. An animal can be choked when the tether becomes entangled or can be hung when the animal jumps over a fence or other obstacles.

A suitable tethering site should not be:

  • rocky
  • prone to flooding
  • waterlogged
  • across a footpath or be close to any road where there is fast moving traffic. The proximity of people or vehicles should not cause animals to take fright. Tethers should not allow the animal to stand within two body lengths of a road.

2.2 Type of tether

There are two basic types of tether:

  1. Fixed tether — the anchor point is fixed.
  2. Running tether — the anchor point can move freely along a wire.

For both types of tether an appropriate neck band or halter should be fitted to the animal. Tethering by the leg or foot is unacceptable. The collar or halter must be fitted with a swivel to which the tether is attached. The other end of the tether should be firmly attached via a swivel to:

For a centre fixed anchor point:

  • an appropriate fixed anchor point, such as a steel spike or stake driven to ground level, which allows 360 degrees of movement at ground level. The anchor point must allow the animal to cover the area without tangling. An additional swivel halfway along the length of the tether may help to keep it tangle-free.

For a running tether:

  • a strong wire which should be firmly secured at either end to trees, fences or posts but must have stops at either end to ensure that the running tether cannot become entangled or injure the animal.

Metal chain is an acceptable material for a tether. Chain provides greater security than other materials. The chain should be of an appropriate weight and strength for the animal to be tethered. Chains for dogs would obviously be lighter than those used for cattle and should not be so heavy as to cause an animal a problem in moving. Rope, cord, baling twine and other similar materials are not considered to be suitable for tethering because they are likely to become twisted and cause entanglement, or fray and break.

Tethered animals must be able to lie down and stand up without restriction.

Animals tied together rather than tethered to a fixed point

Because of the risk of entanglement and consequent strangulation or death from hanging, animals must not be tied together unless under very close supervision in safe surroundings. Animals tied together must be of similar weight.

2.3 Training

Animals should not be tethered unless they are of placid temperament. All animals must be closely monitored when left alone on the tether for the first time. Some animals may adapt quickly and others may require a period of training. Training requires a gradual increase in the amount of time left alone on the tether.

2.4 Frequency of inspection

Tethered animals require greater supervision and owner vigilance than other animals. They must be inspected at least twice during daylight hours in each 24-hour period. This should be increased to three times, or preferably more, in very hot weather.

Collars and head collars should be regularly inspected to ensure they are properly fitted — they must never interfere with or constrict throat passages. They should be well maintained and regularly checked to ensure they are not causing injury or discomfort. Collars and head collars should be removed if wounds are apparent.

Tether chains, wires and anchor points should be inspected regularly for signs of wear.

2.5 Food and water

All animals must receive sufficient food containing adequate nutrients to meet their requirements for good health and vitality. Herbivorous animals must be able to graze or browse freely. Tethered grazing animals should receive supplementary feeding where pasture is not adequate.

Sufficient clean potable fresh water to meet the animal's physiological needs must be available at all times, for example in troughs or heavy containers, which are firmly fixed on the perimeter of the tether.

Animals that are tethered for the purposes of exhibition as part of an event, such as an agricultural show, are not required to have continuous access to feed and water provided they are given access to feed and water at least twice daily.

2.6 Shelter

Tethered animals must have access to physical shelter at all times. For animals classified as equids and bovids, this shelter may be provided by a tree.

2.7 Duration of tethering

All animals should be taken off fixed tethers and exercised at least daily. The amount of exercise should be appropriate to the species and to the age, health, working status and breed of the individual animal.

3 Specific requirements

3.1 Dogs

  • The site must provide a minimum tether radius of 3 metres allowing 6 metres of run.
  • Dogs less than 4 months old should not be tethered.
  • Bitches in season must not be tethered where entire males may have access.
  • Bitches about to give birth must not be tethered.
  • Tethered dogs must have ready access to a kennel, shed or other protection from the elements and for sleeping. The kennel should be of an appropriate size for the particular animal and must not cause a threat of entanglement.
  • As a guide, working farm dogs should be let off tethers at least two hours per day during daylight hours. It is recommended that wherever possible all other dogs that are tethered should be released under supervision for 2 hours in every 12 hours.
  • Dogs must not be tethered adjacent to a fence in a manner that places them at danger of death by hanging.

3.2 Sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and horses

  • The site must permit a minimum tether radius of at least 6 metres for sheep, goats, cattle and donkeys and 9 metres for horses.
  • The site should be well grassed and provide adequate grazing at all times, especially if grass is to be the sole source of food. Periodic inspection of the site should be made to ensure feed availability and suitability of site. It should be free from poisonous plants, shrubs and trees.
  • Horses or donkeys less than 2 years old should not be tethered.
  • Mares in season must not be tethered near stallions.
  • Mares about to foal or with a foal must not be tethered.
  • Stallions must not be tethered near any other horses.
  • The temperament and exercise needs of cattle, goats and sheep are such that they should not be tethered if under 6 months of age. Young animals need more exercise than a tether would permit and they are likely to resist the tether and sustain injuries.
  • Because of the risk of entanglement, animals must not be tied together unless under very close supervision in safe surroundings. For example, calves tied together for foster feeding. Animals tied together must be of similar weight.
Page last updated: 29 Jan 2024