Question: Why do many G-d-fearing people not wish to raise a dog in their homes?
Answer: It is well-known that most religious people do not raise a dog in their homes. There are several reasons for this, many of the halachic, as we shall explain below:
Raising an Impure Animal
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Chapter 22) states that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai did not allow a non-kosher bird to lay its nest in his field. We see from here the virtuous behavior of not raising an impure animal at home. According to the letter of the law though, the prevalent custom is to rule leniently in this regard, as many Poskim write, and only Rabbi Shimon acted stringently in this regard as a result of his great sanctity and his lofty level. Indeed, the verse in Melachim states that King Solomon had elephants and parrots that were brought to him from Tarshish. There are many more sources for this throughout the Talmud (see Chullin 112a and more).
An Untrained Dog
The Gemara (Baba Kama 83a) states that if a dog is untrained and there is concern that it may frighten or hurt other people, it is forbidden to raise such a dog. Just as our Sages said, “Cursed is the man who raises pigs,” the same curse applies to one who raises an untrained dog. When there is a great need to do so, our Sages said, “One may not raise a bad dog unless it is tied with iron chains.”
Based on the above, if a dog is well-trained and well-behaved, it is permissible to raise it, especially when there is a need to do so, such as regarding a seeing-eye dog and the like.
Raising a Dog
Hagaon Ya’abetz writes in one of his responses (She’elat Ya’abetz, Volume 1, Chapter 17) that raising a dog for pleasure is strictly forbidden. However, it seems that his opinion was not accepted as Halacha for several reasons (and some of the reasons he quotes are no longer applicable today).
A Dog that May Scare People and a Guard Dog
Our Sages taught (Shabbat 63b): “Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: One who raises a bad dog in one’s house prevents goodness from one’s house.” The Gemara proceeds to expound this idea from verses. This refers to certain wealthy people who have a dog in their yard which scares away any perspective Tzedakah collectors or needy individuals from knocking on the door and this constitutes a grave prohibition. Rav Nachman adds in the above Gemara that one who raises such a dog will eventually shirk the yoke of Heaven from upon himself.
Our Sages recounted that there was a woman who would always bake her bread in a designated house where all the other women baked as well. Once, upon entering, a dog began barking at her and she was very frightened. The dog’s owner exclaimed, “Do not worry, I have trained it not to bite or scratch.” The woman replied, “Take your favors and throw them to the thorns, for my fetus has already dropped.” Indeed, as a result of becoming so frightened, she had miscarried her child.
This matter does not only relate to the kind of dog one raises; rather, it depends on one’s location as well. If one lives in a place where the residents are not accustomed to dogs, this can cause real fear and panic. On the other hand, there are other places where dogs are commonplace and when the dog is leashed and walking with its owner, people will not be afraid of it (when it is trained).
Causing Animals Pain
Besides for the discussion above, of one raises a dog, one must make sure to take good care of it and not cause it pain or suffering. Indeed, the Gemara (Gittin 62a) states that one may not eat anything in the morning until one feeds one’s animals first, as the verse states, “And I shall give grass in your field for your animals” and only then does it say “and you shall eat and be satisfied.” The Ya’abetz (ibid.) writes that the same applies to a dog in that one must first feed the dog although the dog could fend for itself and find food elsewhere.
Castrating a Dog, Netilat Yadayim, and Pesach
It is forbidden to castrate or spay a dog. Castration constitutes a Torah prohibition even when this is being done for the dog’s own good. Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’Ezer, Chapter 5, Section 11) states that it is likewise forbidden to instruct a non-Jew to castrate a dog. (If one already owns a dog and this is extremely necessary, one should consult a competent Posek, for there are some who allow selling the dog to a non-Jew who will then pass the dog to another non-Jewish veterinarian to neuter the dog. See Otzar Ha’Poskim, page 254.)
The Poskim disagree whether or not one who touches a dog must wash one’s hands afterwards. According to Hagaon Rabbeinu Zalman, author of the Tanya (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Chapter 97, Section 3), one need not wash one’s hands after touching a dog. On the other hand, the Yafeh La’Lev (Chapter 4, Subsection 24) rules stringently on this matter. It is worthy to act stringently in accordance with his view. However, a basic hand-washing is sufficient and a real Netilat Yadayim is unnecessary.
On Pesach, one may not feed a dog food which is non-kosher for Passover.
For these reasons and others, many abstain from owning or raising a dog. However, one who wishes to do so in spite of this must be aware of the laws surrounding owning a dog.
In the next Halacha, we shall, G-d-willing, discuss how to deal with a dog on Shabbat.