In a bid to understand both sides of the emtive debate on use of electric shock collars on dogs we spoke to a dog trainer that advocates their use and to the British Veterinary Association which does not.

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Jamie Penrith

Jamie Penrith FdSc is a professional dog trainer who specialises in applied behaviour modification for predatory dogs and an expert on applied canine behaviour modification incorporating electronic training aids. He writes:

It is clear to anyone with an ounce of experience in the proportionate, humane use of electronic training aids, coupled with objective impartiality, that the push by the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, the BVA et al, to blanket-ban all electronic training aids used in both the training and modification of existing, often dangerous behaviours in some dogs is clearly not in the true interests of animal welfare.

Animal welfare is a difficult concept to accurately apply. We know that there is nothing inherently good nor bad in any particular thing or set of things. Some things we might consider bad, can in fact be good for us and vice versa, depending on context.

Along with the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, whose net assets in 2016 were 157m and paid 9 employees £900,000; claim that electronic training aids have been proven to have negative long term welfare implications for dogs. The BVA, who in 2016 reported in The Telegraph that they will carry out “Gentle, painless euthanasia” for perfectly healthy dogs for “barking and howling”, claiming death as a “least worst option”, agree.

Is this true?

A DEFRA funded study into electronic collars and their welfare implications published in 2014, resulted in DEFRA stating: “A ban on e-collars could not be justified because the research provided no evidence that e-collars pose a significant risk to dog welfare”.

Indeed, I received a letter from my own MP in February ’18 stating: “a number of studies into the effects of shock collars did not reveal evidence that electric collars cause long-term harm to dogs when used appropriately and could not justify calls for a ban”.

Along with the BVA and the KC, the Dogs Trust have since put forward claims that electronic training aids result in long term negative welfare implications for dogs.

In 2016, a further study, this time concerning cats wearing electronic containment fence collars, concluded that there were ‘no long term negative effects on welfare’; rather the cats developed greater confidence. This very recent study is conveniently avoided by these campaigners to ban e-collars, along with a study conducted in 1983 in which ‘avoidance motivated aggression’, was completely and permanently eliminated in 36 out of 36 dogs trained with remote collars; a 100% success rate.

We at the Association of Responsible Dog Owners (joinardo.com) are everyday dog lovers, who know through experience that sometimes, electronic training aids can and do serve to protect, enhance and save thousands of lives of dogs and other animals, particularly livestock.

This is a point which seems to get conveniently lost – this isn’t just about the welfare of dogs. As sentient beings, sheep, cattle, chickens, cats and more are just as deserving of a right to live a life free from unnecessary suffering, with electronic training aids for highly predatory dogs, under professional guidance providing tremendous, unique potential in further honouring that right.

To deny an animal of that opportunity for political or financial advantage is neither ethical, nor line with principles of true welfare. Indeed, it is morally unjustifiable.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 already covers ‘unnecessary suffering’. There has never been a single prosecution under it in relation to electronic training aids.

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Gudrun Ravetz

Positive reward-based training is better - and more humane – than shock collars writes Gudrun Ravetz, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) holds the view that the use of electric pulse training collars, or shock collars, as a means to control, train or punish companion animals has the potential to cause serious welfare and training problems and is open to abuse.

As an animal welfare focused profession, we have been calling for a complete ban on the sale and use of electric pulse training collars across the UK in order to help protect animal welfare, and instead support and recommend the use of positive reward-based training methods. At the same time, until there is demonstrable evidence regarding the welfare implications of other aversive training methods such as pet containment fences, we are calling for their use to be covered by a code of practice instead of a ban.

We were pleased to see an effective ban on the use of shock collars come into place in Wales in 2010 and more recently in an announcement by the Scottish government. We also welcome Defra’s consultation on banning the devices in England. We shall continue to lobby for a ban on their use in Northern Ireland, and for a complete ban on the import and sale of these devices across the UK.

Evidence-based position

Our position is supported by a body of scientific evidence and research that shows that applying an electric pulse, even at a low level, can cause physiological and behavioural responses associated with stress, pain and fear. Moreover, it may also produce long-term adverse effects on the animal’s behaviour and emotional responses.

A study by Defra also found that many owners and even professional trainers used shock collars in a way that was not consistent with the manufacturer’s manuals, using high settings during training and demonstrating poor understanding of functions, such as the warning cue.

Despite the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association’s efforts to raise the standards of instruction manuals and products, there is still the risk of the untrained user failing to read, or misinterpreting, the instructions. It can also be difficult for a pet owner to understand exactly what effect the collar is having on the behaviour of a dog if they are not experienced in interpreting canine behaviour.

Equally importantly, it has been shown that electric shock collars do not produce better results than positive reinforcement training, even when used for recall and chasing, though this is the scenario that advocates of electronic collars particularly recommend the collars for.

So, while there is no specific evidence that demonstrates the use of shock collar training works where other techniques fail, there is a significant body of literature which shows that rewards-based training or positive reinforcement methods are more successful than punishment-based training.

Other aversive training devices

There is a current lack of research and evidence regarding the welfare implications of the use of other aversive methods of training and control, including pet containment fences and collars using a noise, vibration, ultrasonic sound or spray of water or citronella, which may be equally stressful for an animal. We would like to see further evidence collected on their use and effectiveness; in the meanwhile, we would like to see them covered by a code of practice, as well as the regulation of the sale of these devices and manufacturer’s instructions, to ensure that the potential adverse effects of use are highlighted to animal owners and consumers.

Seek veterinary advice

Behaviour and training are vitally important but they must be done in a humane way. The veterinary profession recognises the importance of addressing animal behaviour problems, both in terms of animal welfare and public safety.

That is why we recommend that anyone in need of advice on dealing with pet behaviour issues, such as potentially dangerous roaming in cats or livestock worrying in dogs, should speak to their vet to get advice on how to do it positively, humanely and effectively.