You might know of a dog in your community who lives attached to a chain or stuck in a yard 24/7. Many of these dogs will never know what it’s like to go for a walk around their neighborhood and discover new smells or sleep indoors with their humans. It’s a sad and lonely life, but unfortunately, it’s not always against the law to treat dogs this way.

It’s not hopeless, though—there are ways that you can help “backyard dogs” in your community and bring some joy into their lives. Your actions can make a world of difference for them! Here’s what to do:

First, find out if chaining is illegal in your area.

Many counties and cities have laws regarding chained or penned dogs. See this list of such places, or look up your local laws on Municode.com to see what’s allowed in your area. If the dog is chained in an area in which this is illegal, call the police or animal control.

outdoor dog

If Chaining Is Permitted

If your community doesn’t have such a rule, owners are still required by law to provide “backyard dogs” with the following things:

  • Accessible shelter (such as a doghouse that adequately protects them from the sun and cold)
  • Adequate food
  • Clean water
  • Veterinary care if they’re sick or injured

If you notice that the dog is in imminent danger—for example, if the animal is very thin, is obviously ill or injured, is severely matted, has no shelter, or cannot access it—notify animal control or the police immediately. If neither responds quickly, call PETA—anytime, day or night—at 757-622-7382.

If the chained dog isn’t in an emergency situation, your best chance of improving his or her life is to befriend the owner.

If you’ve checked the laws and found out that the dog’s owner isn’t doing anything illegal and the animal seems physically healthy, there are still ways that you can help ease his or her loneliness.

chained dog

It might sound intimidating, but your best chance at helping the dog is by politely talking to the owner and getting permission to care for the animal. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be super-kind and friendly.
  • With the owner’s approval, offer the dog some toys and treats.
  • If the dog isn’t aggressive, ask permission to take him or her for walks.
  • Visit regularly, but be careful not to become a nuisance. Follow your instincts based on the owner’s response to your involvement.
  • If needed, offer help with grooming, such as nail-trimming, or volunteer to take the dog to the vet.
  • With the owner’s approval, fill the dog’s house with straw during cold or wet weather (available at feed stores). The straw will keep the dog warm and dry, unlike blankets and towels, which can get wet and freeze.
  • Without being confrontational, talk to the owner about dogs’ needs.
  • Watch out for your own safety. Have your conversations with the owner outside and in daylight.

It’s possible that, eventually, the owner might offer to give the dog to you. If you’re offered or given a “backyard dog”—even if you cannot give him or her a permanent home—graciously accept the offer. See our tips on finding an animal a good home.

Dogs don’t speak our language, so it’s up to us to look out for them! Small gestures from you can make a world of difference to a chained dog.