Fostering made easy(er) – the Tiedown

There are a few tools in our fostering toolbox that we can barely imagine living without. Kongs and other food-dispensing puzzles are one; baby gates are another; and the holy tiedown is the third. If you took these tools away, we would first cry for a very, very long time, and then we would drive ourselves crazy and possibly even quit fostering. Well, we probably wouldn’t quit, but we would drag our feet a bit and probably drink a lot more.

The tiedown is an especially valuable tool to us since we live with one fussy dog who doesn’t necessarily appreciate energetic young dogs bouncing and pouncing all over him, but we insist on fostering anyway. Our tiedowns keep Chick happy, fosters out of trouble, and us from having to supervise closely every minute of the day.

A tiedown is essentially a short length of leash, cord, wire, or rope that is attached to something heavy or permanent on one end (such as a sofa or a piece of furniture), and to a dog’s collar on the other end. The device limits the dog’s zone of activity to a few feet, and really cuts down on the number of bad choices the dog can make. While on tiedown, our foster dog can’t try to play-wrestle with our Chick, can’t pee on the rug, can’t drool all over our new sofa, and can’t tackle visitors when they come over to visit. If introduced and trained properly, the tiedown can be a happy place to solve a puzzle, have a snack, or take a nap.

Dora the Explorer took to her tiedown instantly, but in order to reinforce a positive association, we were careful to feed her all of her kongs and other food puzzles in her crate or on a mat by the tiedown for the first few days. Now when Dora sees the tiedown wire come out of its drawer, she waggles her little butt so hard that her tail almost whips her in the face — she knows it’s kong time. Detailed information about the various uses of tiedowns is available from the East Bay SPCA here.

When introducing a new foster into our household, it is critical for us to ensure that the getting-to-know-you phase between our own Chick and the new dog goes as smoothly as possible. We take this phase very slow — in the past it has taken us anywhere from two days to a month to fully integrate our foster with our Chick. We have a regular routine that involves parallel walks, side-by-side obedience, baby gates, and finally the tiedown. Some organizations and advocates warn against using tiedowns in dog-dog interactions, and with good reason — if used incorrectly or not supervised properly, a tiedown can lead to teasing, abuse, frustration, and fighting. If you’re considering using one to smooth your own dog-dog integration, first make certain that the dog on the tiedown will not be pestered or bullied. This is critical.

Our home includes a near-guarantee that Chick will never approach a dog he doesn’t already know well to bully, play, snuggle, or otherwise engage. He does not like strong come-ons from other dogs, and is very nervous in new canine company. Chick’s strong preference for being left alone by other dogs means that a tiedown works beautifully for us — it allows Chick to slowly warm up to another dog’s presence without the risk of the other dog coming on too strong — an event that sometimes flips on Chick’s reactivity switch.

We begin with plenty of parallel walks, limited sniffing, and supervised interaction through a tall baby gate. We know it’s time to move to the next phase when both dogs consistently display happy, calm body language, a willingness to lay on either side of the gate calmly, and maybe some occasional face-licking through the gate. Next, we move our foster dog to a tiedown and allow Chick free-range status. Chick generally spends the first few short sessions across the room on his own dog bed, avoiding any interaction at all. Still, we offer much positive reinforcement for calm behavior by both dogs. If the foster is able to settle down and be calm in Chick’s presence, we start bringing Chick closer to work on puzzles, eat snacks (only ok if neither dog is a resource guarder), or do obedience. Chick is usually able to roam the house freely shortly after, walking a wide circle around the overenthusiastic foster without so much as blinking.

Eventually, Chick becomes comfortable enough to settle in within a few feet of the foster, and the foster dog is calm enough to accept Chick’s presence without needing to sing a song or breakdance. Because of Chick’s distaste for rowdiness, he does an exceptional job of teaching fosters what behaviors make him stay close and what behaviors make him run away. An illustration of this process with a previous foster, Stevie Wonder, is here.

Once we feel confident about the budding relationship we take the foster off tiedown but leave on a leash as a dragline that we can grab or step on if needed. Eventually, the dogs learn to be together. The whole process can take a while, but if done correctly should be drama-free. BAD RAP did a great post about tiedowns as part of a series on dog fostering. We loved this post, which is available here.

In our new house we decided to install a “real” tiedown instead of relying on leashes and doorknobs, which can certainly fail or be damaged. The process took about 30 minutes and cost about $10. Here’s how we did it.

First, we went to the hardware store and purchased a heavy-duty eye hook, a 3′ length of plastic-coated wire, two leash-type clasps, and a ferrule and stop set.

Next, we drilled a hole in the wood door frame between our living and dining room, and installed the eye hook.

Third, we attached both leash clasps to either end of the length of wire using the ferrule and stop sets.

Finally, we attached one end of the tiedown to our new eye hook, the other end of the tiedown to our new Dora the Explorer, and we put down a dog bed and a nice stuffed kong. Voila!

A few stray thoughts:

-Be sure to purchase hardware that’s rated at a high enough weight to contain your dogs. We bought hardware and wire that can handle a load of at least 150 lbs, even though our dogs rarely weigh more than 55 lbs. Better safe than sorry.

-Take plenty of time to get your dog accustomed to the tiedown before introducing another dog into the scene. Some dogs will get it right away, others will be unhappy. Approach training a tiedown just as you would approach any other form of training: reward good behavior, ignore bad behavior, and do it in short increments.

-Never leave a dog on tiedown when you’re not home. You don’t need to have your eye on the dog every minute, but you should be nearby and checking in frequently.

-Have fun, be careful, and let us know how it goes!


35 responses

  1. I have always loved this concept, heaven knows I used it lots with Luna as a puppy just as a means of controlling where she could go a bit but allowing her some freedom too. Worked out really well. Thanks for sharing more details on how you go about introductions, Chick does sound like a great teacher. Luna hates enthusiastic greetings from dogs she does not know as well, but I could totally see her being a tease when other dogs are tied up.. she is a HUGE flirt. Would definitely be an area I would have to work on with her.

  2. What a great idea! We may have to install one of those – we hate locking Monty up when company comes over, but only the very doggy oriented people don’t mind his constant attention!


    • That would be a great use for it Sam. I find that Luna can be a little crazy for the first ten minutes people walk in the door. Typical Vizsla wiggle butt frenzy, but I have started to pop her in her crate for a couple minutes to sort of chill her out and she always comes out much calmer. I imagine the tie would do much of the same.

  3. We tried tie-down attached to a “heavy piece of furniture”. Kermit attached to couch resulted in Kermit pulling couch across floor. Tie-down attached to wooden support beam in dining room was a success.

  4. We’ve been having leashes on Izzy and Mia for most of the time indoors, since I saw Chick on leash at Thanksgiving! Gives us control and for some reason, makes them calmer. As I write this, Mia is snoozing in her crate on the floor and Izzy is laying on the bed with me!

    I don’t think a tiedown would work well in our house, because Izzy does love the bouncing interactions. We need timeouts for our sanity, but the crate seems to work better, and miss Mia doesn’t mind!

    What is your solution for leash aggression??! Ugh, this is our latest issue. Going to need a long foster break to work on this one…

  5. Excellent post! There are soooo many people out there with good intentions, but not much ‘dog sense.’ Practical, easy info like this can make all the difference and help remove some of the frustrations involved in bringing a new dog into the home.

  6. Great post! I learned a lot!
    How does the tie-down differ from using the crate in terms of getting a new dog acclimated to the new environment? Is the crate only for use when you leave the house or when you’re sleeping?

    • Tiedowns are a lot more flexible — you can bring the dog into whatever room you’re in and snap the tiedown on. I currently have one in the frame between my living and dining room but will likely install one in the kitchen and another in the master bedroom. That way wherever we are, dog can go.

      The crate is more of a physical barrier for a dog, while the tiedown really just limits the distance that the dog can roam. To me, it’s a step toward freedom. It’s also a lot more helpful for teaching calm behavior, since you can walk over and easily reward/pet a tied down dog when it’s being good, vs having to open a crate and release the dog. Does that make sense?

  7. Great step by step, and great cautions! I’ve definitely heard of tiedowns being less than positive for some dogs in some situations, so I’m glad that you outlined the way that you do it properly!

  8. This is really helpful! Though we use the crate, babygates and parallel walking a ton, we have only used the tiedown infrequently and not consistently at all (usually only when we know the delivery guy is coming…etc). I think we may give in another try with the foster de-jour, Lola!

  9. Love the idea! Our house is so small that I’m not sure this would work well… and Corbin is definitely the “teasing” kind, although, I don’t think he really means it. We always do a long side by side walk, a face to fanny introduction and we keep leashes on in the house and yard until we’re sure both dogs are comfortable… our routine backfired a little this week when introducing timid Brookie – who we talked about on the blog today. She was nervous and anxious after her uproot from her previous foster home, transport to NY from TN, new people and a new hyper brown dog. After the walk and sniffs she seemed fine… even after a few minutes in the house, she looked to be settling down a bit and Corbin stayed out of her fur for the most part… but his last quick sniff of the butt must have put her over her limit and she snapped and got his nose. I was still holding onto her leash, so was able to break it up quickly before any serious damage was done… we walked them both outside again and I put her in the crate for the night so she could settle in… haven’t had any issues since. I think we get spoiled after having a handful of really adjustable and instantly friendly fosters.

  10. This is so great! I remember you referring to the tie-downs, and I wasn’t sure how they were used, or even what they were tied down to. And I love hearing about the really slow intros and all the steps that go into it. When we foster we just wait a long time to make sure that we get an unflappable good fit for both of our dogs; these are really good tips to show how to slowly go through the process.

  11. Great post, thank you! I made a big mistake when I got my pittie and let her sleep in my bed… time has past and there are now two humans who want to get a good night sleep, and two large dogs who would prefer to sleep in the bed. They start off okay on the floor in their beds, but come the middle of the night they sneak their way to comfort. I’m thinking this might be a great way to allow them in the bedroom but not on the bed. I’ve tried keeping them out of the bedroom all together, but they cry and cry and pace the floor… I don’t mind them in the room, but I do want to enjoy a good night sleep without them. Any other suggestions?

    • This is a great application for a tiedown. Just make sure your dogs can’t get tangled in anpotential ything, and get some earplugs so you can sleep through any initial protest cries!

      typed by my trained monkey. please excuse tybos.

    • I just read your comment and then saw this poem on FB. Thought that it might apply to you! 🙂


      Now I lay me down to sleep
      The king-size bed is soft and deep

      I sleep right in the center groove
      My human being can hardly move!

      I’ ve trapped their legs, they’re tucked in tight
      And here is where I pass the night

      No one disturbs me or dares intrude
      Till morning comes and “I want food!”

      I sneak up slowly to begin
      My nibbles on my mommy’s chin.

      For the morning’s here and it’s time to play
      I always seem to get my way.

  12. I love this suggestion. We do things quite differently here – we normally have hyperactive small terriers and I don’t think a tie out would work for that type of temperament. However, most of the bull breeds seem a bit more mellow, so I think this would work really well for them. And I’ll keep it in my notes if I ever have a large breed foster through.

    • I would be so interested to hear how it does work with little hyper dogs. One of the most valuable results of a tiedown to me is that it teaches a dog that it only gets fun and attention when it’s behaving properly (quiet, fairly still or self-entertained). Even our rowdiest fosters pick it up fast. Maybe it does vary by type of dog, though, and ours just happen to be better suited for it!

      • Oops, I just wrote you a really long email, not realising I could’ve replied here.

        Anyway, the gist of it is ‘it depends’. I have all sorts of fosters coming through here, each with different needs. The basics are: I have crates, I have dog yards, and I’m cool with not having all my dogs out together with the foster.

        I have 4 dogs and it’s rare that a foster gets along with all 4, and if they did, I wouldn’t let them all run together, anyway. I have 2 yards, and I pick and choose who gets to run with who each day. I work from home, so I can shuffle dogs around during the day – sometimes they’re inside by themselves, sometimes with one of my dogs, sometimes outside by themselves, sometimes outside with one of my dogs. My fosters learn to be as flexible as my own dogs.

    • Thank you! That lovely blue pit bull is my foster dog, so if you know anybody in Central Texas looking for a beautiful and sweet best friend, tell them about Dora! And, stay tuned tomorrow for some photos that really show off her beauty 🙂

      typed by my trained monkey. please excuse tybos.

  13. Pingback: Progress - Our Waldo Bungie

  14. I have a Husky, and used your idea for a tie down but came up with an idea to hide the eye bolt in a new electric box against a stud. A cover plate that lifts up for access was added to the new box to cover the eyebolt when not in use. Tom H.

  15. Pingback: How to foster a dog: Resources | Doggerel

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