A “tether” is a short, 2 to 4 foot long piece of coated cable with a snap on each end. When it comes to training a Service Dog in Training (SDiT), few tools are as helpful as the tether. Read on to find out why tether training works, what it does, and how to do it!

Zonko On TetherTether Training Teaches Manners

Everyone knows that every Service Dog started out as a puppy, and puppies are kinda crazy. They jump, they run, they bite, they chew. They’re excitable, and they don’t really know how to be civil members of society. In short, they’re puppies, and they’re masters of chaos and mayhem. It’s part of why we love them, but in order to be a good Service Dog and in order to start working in public, they have to do . . . none of the above.

Enter the tether. When introduced at a young age, tether training helps teach and reinforce manners. Its short length prevents jumping, running around and chewing on inappropriate items, and it allows the handler/trainer to reward the puppy for lying quietly and relaxing. Tethering helps your puppy gain public access earlier than they otherwise would, since they learn very quickly that when they’re tethered, their only option is really to relax quietly and watch the world go by.

Tether Training Assists With House TrainingSDiT Zonko Sleeping on Tether

Tethering is so helpful with house training that it should be considered a hack. Puppies like to be clean. They don’t like to go potty in their immediate space, which is why crate training works. However, for Service Dog candidates and puppies, being crated means they’re no longer in close contact with their trainer/handler and learning active Service Dog skills, like relaxing quietly in all environments.

Tethering allows you to control your SDiT’s immediate surroundings, while allowing your puppy to remain with you. Due to the tether’s short length, your puppy can stand up, walk around a bit, lie down, sit, and relax, but there’s not enough space for him to potty in one area and sleep in another. When used as a house training tool, the tether lets you keep your puppy on a potty schedule, while also allowing you to work on other vital skills at the same time.

Tether Training Helps With Impulse Control 

Puppies are social. Puppies get excited. Puppies steal things and run around like wild, waggy, totally epic fiends. Puppies . . . . well, they do puppy things. (Special note – there’s an awesome article called “It’s a Puppy, Not a Problem” that details why puppies do puppy things. Great read!)

It’s important for Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training to learn to do things calmly and to possess some measure of self control. For very young SDiTs, though, it’s all about practice, rewarding calm and proper behavior, and managing the environment so your puppy can be set up for success.

Tethering limits your puppy’s behavioral options. Introduced early, your SDiT learns that fighting the tether achieves exactly nothing, and that being calm, quiet and settled earns pets, treats, interaction and the right to engage with the environment in an appropriate way, if the handler/trainer allows. A tether Zonko Chilling on Tethertrained SDiT can be taken out in public, even in extremely high distraction environments, and they remain calm and relaxed because the tether sets up expectations for behavior, and prevents unwanted activities.

Tethers Are Inexpensive

Almost all of us have lost shoes, socks, cords, chargers, leashes and many, many, many other items to an exploring puppy. Tethers are extremely inexpensive, can’t be chewed through, are lightweight and when compared to the cost of replacing puppy-destroyed items, pay for themselves many times over. Training and behavioral benefits aside, tethers cost next to nothing to make (all materials to make them are readily available at Home Depot or Lowes), or they can be purchased online. Our favorite place to get them is from Guide Dogs For the Blind, which is one program among dozens that extensively utilize tether training for raising top-tier Service Dogs and Guide Dogs.

Tether Training Is Easy

Tethering is extremely straight forward. Snap one end of the training onto your puppy’s non-slip collar or a harness, and clip the other end around a sturdy piece of furniture or a ring drilled into your baseboard. Give your puppy an activity, like a peanut butter-filled KONG or a bone, and leave them be. Quietly wait for your puppy to settle and lie down, and then toss them a treat. Practice in short increments, increasing time and distraction levels as your SDiT becomes more experienced. Once your puppy can lie quietly and relax for the length of an average movie (90 to 120 minutes), you’re ready to take the show on the road and introduce tethering in public.

IMPORTANT! Tethers should NEVER be utilized on an unsupervised puppy or dog, regardless of level of training or experience. Never leave a puppy or dog alone while they’re tethered, especially if they’re wearing a collar.

9 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great explanation of the use of tethering. As a service dog user, tethering is very important to me, so it’s great that my dog was already tether trained. I am a professor and when I teach class my dog rest under the desk with a tether, I’m there, but I know she’s calm and knows her boundaries and space. She gets to lay on her favorite blanket and has a few of her toys, and the other just is a great added level of appropriate limits. Thank you to all you puppy raisers who are using tethers!

  2. Very much not in favor of tethering except for very extreme cases. At worst, it’s a lot of flooding, at best, the dog may be set up for an extreme case of isolation anxiety, and what Suzanne Clothier has written on the subject of Garrett’s Ruff Love.

      • I did read it thoroughly and have noted your distinction, but I do feel this way, unless it’s an extreme circumstance. I typically only tether for dogs I’ve done behavior modification for aggression, that I’m transitioning into supervised, freedom from separation. Or recovering from injury and is on economy of exercise.

        Other people’s milage may vary, but for service dogs, if the relationship, rich reinforcement history, and correct temperament are there, I haven’t found need to implement this.

        For house training purposes, I prefer x-pens and/or baby gates/closed doors and management/supervision. But if a dog may lose their home/life for house soiling/destruction/PICA, again this would be an extreme circumstance, I may consider tethering but have not had to use it yet.

        We all have our own hierarchy in what methods and tools we use. To each their own. 🙂

    • A friend has extraordinarily happy and well behaved dogs. I asked her for her secret. She tether trains all her dogs even though they aren’t service dogs. She makes it a positive experience and her dogs are clearly happy to be around her. It seems to be work up front that pay significant dividends in adolescence. I can’t wait to work with tethering my next puppy.

    • yes many other vets too, see Dr Dobias for one. You can find incidents on youtube as well. The best tether is to you, you become great friends and all things get taught. Of course the dog must have free time under supervision, life is an on going lesson, and please please please use body harnesses, they are less apt to injure, check that with dog theapists and chiropractors, not just my decades of experience, it will save their necks. You would not tether a child by the neck why a dog? they will sustain the same injuries.

  3. Wonderful resource. Never realized there was so many resources available for owners training their own Service Dogs. Thank you so much.

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