Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to Walk a Dog on Shabbat

If you're a pet owner, you have probably already discovered that you're a bit of an oddball in the Jewish community. Especially if you own a dog. (Much less a big dog...or two big dogs like your author.)

Because of the lack of pets in the community, it is key to find a rabbi knowledgeable about these very specific issues. (I'm still looking for that rabbi if you happen to know him!)

There are two main issues with walking a dog on Shabbat (as far as I can tell):

1) The leash outside an eruv.

You can still walk your dog, but the leash need to be "taut." That means that if you have a leash puller, you should be fine. If the leash is drooping, you're suddenly carrying. Another standard involves the leash drooping to within a tefach of the ground or also a tefach away from your hand. My dogs walk with relatively little pulling, so I've considered using a very short (1ft) lead that will automatically be pulled tight. 

If there is an eruv, you should be able to walk your dog normally, so long as you consider the issues below.

2) The poop bags. 

Of course, this assumes that you are a dog owner who fulfills both the legal and moral obligation of dog ownership: Make sure no unsuspecting person steps in your dog's poop. Of course, there is always the diarrhea issue (you can't pick that up sufficiently), but you can't control that. 

The main problem is tearing the poop bags along the perforated line separating the bags. If you carry old plastic shopping bags, this isn't an issue. I'm referring to the bag holders attached to the leash, which are the best invention ever. (See my secret weapon: Bags on Board Bone Dispenser) There is the possibility of tearing the bags apart in an unusual way. However, the easiest (and less weird-looking to passers-by, who may suspect you are breaking Shabbos) is to pre-tear the bags. I then stuff the pre-separated bags into the dispenser. In essence, do whatever you do with your toilet paper on Shabbat.

Note: the bags themselves may also involve issues with making a knot. That should be discussed with your rabbi and should be analogous to your community's practice for tying garbage bags. Worst case scenario, you just don't tie the bags before throwing them away. I don't know, but perhaps the hygienic/health issues for garbage collectors (and the related health codes for disposing of waste) may matter.

The poop bags also raise a carrying issue outside an eruv. (See Reason #35 You Know You're Crazy: Carrying Dog Poop on Shabbat.) If you're within the eruv, you're fine. If a Plan B. I've left the poop bags for retrieval after Shabbat. It's not a great plan, but I don't know the alternative.

Sidenote: Keep in mind that some rabbis hold that pets-especially dogs-are assur (forbidden) in general, not to mention on Shabbos. Even the friendliest animal lover in your life may (rightfully so) refuse to pet your animal on Shabbat because of the possibility of pulling out the animal's hair. There is no sense in being offended by this. But some of the rabbis who hold that pets are allowed say that there is a difference between a pet you own and a pet someone else owns. (I believe this "permission" transfers to temporary owners like petsitters.) The other rabbis who hold that pets are allowed and allow petting them on Shabbat is because the pets are not muktzeh because a pet is set aside for the purpose of petting and affection. Traditionally, pets were muktzeh because their primary use was not allowed on Shabbos (protection, hauling, herding, etc). 


  1. Behold, two shiurim devoted for frum dog lovers like yourself, "Pets and Jewish Law," given by Rabbi Eliyahu Stern in Denver, available for free download:

    Covers lots of issues you mentioned and more.

    1. The 2 part class on pets was moved to here

  2. The details of your chosen lifestyle are always very interesting to me. Thanks for blogging!

    I think you mean "taut" instead of "taunt" in the bit about leashes though. Feel free to delete this comment instead of posting, if you'd prefer. :]

  3. If we take the dogs out on Shabbat, we use a 'heel lead'. Pretty much like you were thinking. It simplifies things, but it isn't really good for more than a short walk. Most of the time, we don't walk them on Shabbat. Since we have a small yard, that's good enough for once a week.

    I would point out that the leash may droop a bit; just not within a tefah of the ground. Similarly, it should not extend more than a tefah (about 8 cm) out the back of the hand. A leash with a hand loop solves that. Practical questions should be referred to an LOR for guidance.

  4. The 39 Melachos (Dovid Ribiat) covers the issues involved with walking a pet. Another important factor is that the pet has to be obedient or else there is a problem with trapping the animal (if I remember correctly).

  5. This topic is a good example of where one can be unnecessarily strict either because they are relying solely on popular books, or because they are otherwise insufficiently informed. I can't count how many times we've had guests over the years who were surprised to see how we deal with our various animals on Shabbat. "But I thought that..." "But I read..." "But I heard that rabbi X says..." This is a good example of a situation where it pays to be well-informed about the responsible/legitimate halachic options. One should never choose simply according to convenience; but there really is a range of acceptable options and behaviors. There is no substitute for finding a sympathetic LOR, and *discussing* (not just accepting a simple answer) the legitimate options and how to employ them. If one wishes to accept the burden of caring for an animal well, they owe it to themselves and the animal.

    Of course, in some way this is an exemplar of how we should be approaching halachic matters in general.

  6. im not sure if this is a perfect solution...but u can tie a loose knot to the leash....its a lenient opinion that tying permanant knots is a melocha but not non-permanent ones.
    it wouldnt be carrying because you are sharing the burden with the animal and half a melocha isnt a melocha.

    These are lenient and not pefect solutions...but something to consider until a better situation arises