Shocking Decision from Scotland

Maurice Golden MSP, a long-time supporter of the campaign to have electric shock collars banned, said: “Electric shock collars are harmful and have no place in modern dog training. The advice from academia, dog behaviourists and trainers is clear – electrocuting dogs does not help train them.

Scotland could have joined Wales where there is a ban in leading the way in welfare but instead has effectively promoted abuse that is lietrally and figuratively shocking.

Sign the petition to ban shock collars in the UK: https://www.change.org/p/the-scottish-government-ban-electric-shock-collars-in-scotland

In November 2016, the Scottish Government published a consultation on potential controls or prohibition of electronic shock devices in Scotland covering collars and fences and sound, vibration and spray collars. Four proposals were adviocated: retain the unregulated status quo; develop guidance or a statutory welfare code; develop regulations on the use of electronic collars and ban the use of electronic collars. 1,032 responses were received:

60% were from Scotland and 26% from the remainder of the UK. 64% were from companion animal owners, 13% from trainers, 7% from the general public, 4% from animal welfare professionals, 4% from behaviourists, 3% from veterinary staff, 2% from owners of working dogs and 1% from animal care professinals. Unsurprisingly, animal care and animal welfare respondents were opposed to the use of electronic devices: pet suppliers and owners of working dogs were supportive. Owners were fairly evenly divided.

Again unsusprisingly, professionals involved in welfare cited learning theory and scientific evidence in support of the ineffectiveness of the devices, not to mention the cruelty, whilst supporters relied largely on their own perceptions of how the devices worked. 3 in 10 reposndents complained that their business would be
affected by a ban or stricter regulations on static pulse collars. However “The most frequently identified possible effect was dealing with fewer animals
suffering from the negative effects of having been trained with an electronic training aid”. An interesting result given the relatively small number of behaviourists responding.

Scotland however has decided not to ban the use of aversive collars but to introduce regulations that would include a new qualification for up to 100 dog trainers across the country to enable them to promote and use shock collars on dogs. The UKKC state that “…the Scottish Government has been meeting with the Electric Shock Collars Manufacturers Association and dog trainers in Scotland who currently use shock collars, yet has not had any meetings with any of the professional dog training associations who oppose the use of electric training devices”.

There is no legislation in Scotland regarding the manufacture of electronic devices. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also undertook research into the use of electric shock collars in dog training (Cooper et al 2010a and Cooper et al 2010b). The authors conducted an internet search in 2007 and discovered more than 170 different models of e-collars available for purchase in the UK. New collars were bought online and one was found to be counterfeit. It was included in the survey because “…as it is obtainable in the UK and was possibly attractive due to its low price”. The collars had up to four functions controlled from a radio control handset: a tone signal, a vibration signal, a short electrical stimulus lasting between 4 and 500mS, and a continuous stimulus lasting for as long as the appropriate button on the controller is pressed, but usually time-limited. The energy dissipated by the e-collars when set to their most powerful level was found to be 81 times greater than that dissipated with the e-collars set to their least powerful level. The electrical output of the e-collars depended on the impedance presented by the dogs’ neck and differed according to whether the dog was wet or dry. “There were considerable differences between tested e-collar models in the voltages, the number of pulses in, and length of each stimulus, but little variation within individual models of e-collars. The peak voltage delivered by e-collars varied significantly with the resistance of the dog, from as much as 6000V at 500kΩ to 100V at 5kΩ”.

The collars are sold with manuals but, the study found that although collar operation was explained clearly, information on using the e-collar in training varied widely. Some suggested using the e-collar before introducing a command, some advised never to use a command and others advised it in specific circumstances. Most advice suggested application of continuous stimuli until the dog showed the desired response. There was little advice on when the momentary stimulus could be used and manuals advocated training at the perception threshold or above. One manual advised the owner to start “at least in the middle of the intensity range” for “serious” unwanted behaviour such as chasing livestock. “Behavioural signs indicative of the appropriate level ranged from the expression of specific behaviours such as attention redirection, to ‘outward signs of discomfort or confusion’. The latter is ambiguous and may be interpreted by inexperienced users as also including behaviours which occur at a high level of stimulation”. Only three manuals mentioned that if the dog vocalises when the collar is used, the level is too high. A follow-up questionnaire completed by owners showed that “Advice in manuals was not always taken up by end-users…”

The authors concluded that the “…project has highlighted the very variable outcomes between individual dogs when trained using e-collars…The combination of
differences in individual dogs’ perception of stimuli, different stimulus strength and characteristics from collars of different brands, differences between momentary and continuous stimuli, differences between training advice in manuals, differences in owner understanding of training approaches and how owners use the devices in a range of different circumstances are likely to lead to a wide range of training experiences for pet dogs…Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that the previous use of e-collars in training is associated with behavioural and physiological responses that are consistent with negative emotional states.

The use of e-collars in training dogs has been proven to lead to a negative impact on welfare. Stress as measured by cortisol levels, was higher at a baseline level in dogs trained using an e-collar suggesting, as with Schilder’s and van der Borg’s study (2004), that stress remained high even when the electric collar was not in use.

A follow up study (Cooper et al 2010b) compared two groups of dogs trained by trainers from the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association, one with use of e-collars and one without, and a group trained by Association of Pet Dog Trainers members without aversive training of any kind. “In this context dogs showed responses to e-collar stimuli which were clearly discernible…and showed changes in behaviour and physiology that other studies have interpreted as indications of aversive arousal or anxiety…no trainers assessed the dog’s sensitivity to collars prior to training, either choosing a setting they expected to be effective, or checking that the collar was operational using a low but detectable setting, then choosing a pre-determined higher setting for association with sheep chasing”. Dogs in the APDT group “…engaged in more environmental interaction such as sniffing…were less often observed yawning…spent less time tense during training sessions…had their tail in a low position less often and …moved away from the trainer less often”. Dogs in the group trained using e-collars “…yelped more …and panted more…” than dogs in the other groups.

There has been no evaluation into the effects of use of shock collars by inexperienced people nor to the long-term effects in the animals subjected to shocking, for instance to evaluate the extent to which it damages the human-animal bond and/or results in learned helplessness. In a study (Schilder et al 2004) that compared groups of guard dogs trained using electric shock collars, the authors concluded “… that being trained is stressful, that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and that the S-dogs [shocked dogs] evidently have learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context. This suggests that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner”.

This study was the first to look at long-term effects of shock collars in training and demonstrated clearly that the association made with the shock was linked with the handler. This makes for ineffective training because even if the dog makes an association with the undesirable behaviour occurring at the time that the shock is administered (which is totally dependent on the precision of the timing), it has also been demonstrated to be made also some time afterwards with the handler. There is every possibility that this could result in learned helplessness on the part of the dog, robbing it of all mechanisms of self-preservation when it is expected to work in life-threatening situations or at least ones where the prospect of injury is much higher than with a companion dog.

So the very person that the dog should be able to trust and who should guide him through training is clearly associated with fear, pain and punishment, none of which are conducive to learning.

Using punishment of any sort – throwing metal rings at dogs, puffing air or water in their faces, jerking leads and shouting – not only stop the dog from learnign and damage the relationship between handler and dog, they are useless for teaching alternative behaviour. In fact, evidence shows that they create even more unwanted behaviours, including serious redirected aggression.

Cooper J et al (2010a) Effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs, DEFRA Research AW1402 [accessed online 16/8/2017 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=11167_AW1402SID5FinalReport.pdf]

Cooper J et al (2010b) Studies to assess the effect of pet training aids, specifically remote static pulse systems on the welfare of domestic dogs; field study of dogs in training, DEFRA Research AW1402A [accessed online 16/8/2017 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=11168_AW1402aSID5FinalReport.pdf]

Schilder MBH et al (2004) Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, V85(3–4), pp 319-334

Sentience and Sensibility

It is probably fair to say that those who voted to leave Europe had absolutely no idea of the implications of their actions and, let’s face it, those who voted to remain probably didn’t in any detail either. Well, the pigeons are coming home to roost thick and fast now.

As far as the EU Withdrawal Bill is concerned, those pigeons are designated as not being sentient. An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to transfer the EU protocol on animal sentience into UK law was defeated by 313 votes to 295 in a Parliamentary vote and MPs have argued that both farm and domestic animals are covered by existing legislation, some of which goes beyond EU protocols. There has been widespread outcry from various quarters to this decision, but it easy to have a knee-jerk reaction as we well know, otherwise we would not be in this position in the first place.

The existence and degree of sentience across the animal kingdom is a long way from being fully understood, let alone agreed upon, but few would dispute its existence in the major species that could be affected by the UK’s decision to drop the designation from its legislation. Michael Gove has hinted that specific UK legislation may be tigtened, including a promise to crack down on puppy farming.

At the end of the day, all the legislation in the world cannot protect animals from harm unless it is policed and prosecuted where breaches occur. Many of the more than 50 statutes that supposedly protect dogs alone are routinely breached and that includes statutes that could prevent puppy farming. Let’s face it, the Kennel Club did nothing when one of its members, a prominent breeder and show competitor was exposed as a puppy farmer and it continues to register puppy farmned dogs. If the organisation that purports to care about the welfare of all dogs does nothing, there is little hope in a climate of austerity and maximising profits for the few that much will be done. Whatever government is in office in the near future will have its hands full coping wityh the effects of leaving the EU; puppy farming will only become a priority if it is seen as being politically expedient or as a smokescreen for “burying bad news”.

Out of Office – Not Out of Order

The Guardian reported today that a university admininstrator in La Sapienza University, Rome has set a legal precedent in Italy by successfuly obtaining paid leave to look after a dog that was due to undergo surgery. She was initially refused permission by her HR department in spite of explaining that she lived on her own and could not delegate the care of her dog. The Italian Anti-vivisection League took up her case and discovered that there is legal precedent that could have made the owner criminally liable for lack of care of her dog had she been unable to facilitate the surgery and post-operative recovery. Her employer finally accepted proof from the owner’s veterinary surgeon and granted the paid leave.

The Italian Anti-vivisection League has hailed it as a victory for recognition that companion animals “are in all respects family components” and hope that it might result in an amendement to the Civil Code.

In the UK, enlightened employers and medical staff are recognising the value of companion animals and, given that 25% of the population own at least one dog and 26% at least one cat, similar recognition could affect a sizeable proportion of the population. Parents have an enormous amount of legislation supporting paid leave, numerous other benefits and financial incentives, yet just 18.9% of the population is under 15 years old. It could also be argued that the same principles apply here and that the AWA 2006 would be breached were an employee unable to care for a companion animal sufficiently.

Italy has a long way to go in respect of other aspects of canine welfare, not least their no-kill shelter policy that condemns many dogs to a life of misery and facilitates the dumping of unwanted animals. However, in terms of human rights, today’s news should be hailed as a victory.

Fighting Dogs – Cruelty or Art?

The Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan is about to run an exhibition called Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World. It is a multi-media exhibition that was to include a seven minute video of a “performance” entitled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by Huang Yong Ping that had been staged in a museum in Beijing in 2003. A (distressing) five and a half minute version is available here.

Following multiple protests, the museum has removed this and two other works featuring live animals, not because they acknowledge the abuse inflicted on the dogs, but because they felt threatened. They stated: “Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary.” They add “Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance and the presentation at the Guggenheim is in video format only; it is not a live event”.

That’s OK then, according to the Guggenheim.

Morally, if this is acceptable then so are snuff movies, images of paedophilia and any other kind of abuse that people inflict on others.

The Guggenheim statement continues “Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control…We recognise that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalisation and the complex nature of the world we share”.

Fortunately, many people recognise the sentiments for the offensive drivel that they are: the video was withdrawn from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after local protesters requested modifications.

There is nothing artistic about encouraging voyeurism, sadism and cruelty. Power and control is being exercised by the people who force the dogs into this position. They are clearly distressed and are being pushed to the limits of their endurance. It is unlikely that an ethics committee would permit this in the pursuit of research. There do not appear to be any vets in attendance.

It is not that abuse like this and far worse does not occur elsewhere, but that right-minded people sanction its public display in the name of art. What is sickening is that the people who acceded to this cannot recognise the abuse that they are perpetrating. I am not a congenital idiot, so I can work out that there are problems with the social conditions created by globalisation and the complex world that “we share” without abusing animals.

I suggest that those who have the choice protest directly to the Guggenheim and boycott the exhibition.

Of course the abused dogs had no choice.

Devil Dog or Poetic Justice?

Most sensible people would dismiss the notion that bull breeds, Rotties and whatever the fashionable bad dog of the moment is are “devil dogs”, but would many realise that it is more than bad handling and breeding that might cause a dog to be a killer?

Last March a Staffie killed its owner by crushing his larynx in front of a BBC documentary crew. The incident wasn’t filmed. An inquest has just been held into the owner’s death where it emerged that the dog had probably ingested crack cocaine.

Drug addicts will stop at nothing to get their fix – just look at the number of smokers desperate to light up as soon as they get off the tube or sucking down as much of their carcinogens as possible before they get to work (whilst forcing anyone passing to partake). A quick internet search will reveal that dogs have been deliberately maimed so that people addicted to Tramadol can get a veterinary prescription. Some feed drugs to their dogs so that they are not discovered if they think that they will be raided. Some think it funny to watch the suffering of their dog as the drugs take hold – this includes people who give their dogs alcohol. Some people discard drugs in public places so that dogs die when they inhale or ingest them. I have personally known of two dogs die horrible deaths in this way.

Behaviourist Patricia McConnell describes in her excellent book The Other End of the Leash how one of the most frightening dogs that she has ever come across behaves when given toys. Yes, that’s not a typo: when given toys. The dog’s terrifying, out of control aggression provoked by objects that should evoke joy was caused by his previous owner force feeding him drugs. His new owner had done everything that she could to rehabilitate him but he was beyond help and had to be euthanised.

Major, the poor dog that killed his owner, will suffer the same fate as his neurological damage is probably far too great to make him safe.

Some may say that his owner received poetic justice, but I can find no poetry in this horrific tale and the hundreds like it. Humans take drugs of their own free will. Dogs never do.

Herosim Or Horror?

I received the latest blogpost from the excellent Jemima Harrison at Pedigree Dogs Exposed today. It links to a video showing a person identified as Jodie Marsh attempting to revive an unconscious bulldog. Apparently, this woman is a “UK media personality, glamour [sic] model and bodybuilder”. Ms Marsh states that this poor dog collapses approximately six times a year – not surprisingly because humans have bred her to have a skull that is too small and squashed to contain her facial tissue which blocks her airway when she is asleep. Humans that buy dogs in this condition perpetuate the misery and legitimise the practice of breeding extreme brachycephalic dogs.

As Jemima notes, Ms Marsh is not even performing CPR correctly. She has also publicly deterred people from seeking corrective surgery for their animals.

Whilst I may have never heard of her, this woman clearly has a public profile and thus may influence more ignorant people to mimic her in buying dogs such as this and in literally mis-treating them when they inevitably fall victim to their misshapen bodies. Apparently some of her fans have hailed her as heroic. What a sad indictment of our society that people find heroism in pummelling a lifeless dog for minutes half a dozen times a year. Yet again, evidence gives lie to the sentiment that we are “a nation of animal lovers”. That would only be true if this had never been possible in the first place. We could even make up for lost time by wielding the power of the Veterinary Surgeons Act and the AWA.

A Valediction for John Noakes

It is with mixed feelings that I heard of the death of television presenter John Noakes. His final years had been blighted by Alzheimer’s disease and he narrowly escaped death when he wandered from home in the summer of 2015. The pain of realising that this complex, intelligent man, so full of life on screen, had been transformed by the ravages of the illness was visceral for those of us who only knew his work persona as well as those who were his friends and family.

In so many ways this marks the passing of an era; not just because those of us who grew up watching him on Blue Peter are now well into middle age, but because the creative environment that enabled him to shine on television is long gone. His colleagues on Blue Peter providing inspiration and leadership for a generation as well as enabling those of us who did not have pets at home to experience what it was like to own tortoises, cats and, of course dogs, even if it was vicariously.

Although his first official companion canine was Patch, son of the unforgettable Petra, it is Shep with which he will forever be associated. Although officially “property” of the BBC, one suspects that Shep may have been the dog of a lifetime for John Noakes; Shep was gifted to him when he left the programme in 1978. Contractual restrictions to which John Noakes did not agree meant that they did not live together for Shep’s remaining nine years, although Shep appeared in
Go With Noakes which overlaped his time at Blue Peter and ended in 1980.

What is striking looking at still images and videos of John Noakes with Shep is the bond between the two. Even when a still puppy, they had clearly established a strong rapport.

Television is a very different place today. Blue Peter is screened on a specialist channel as the medium has fragmented and, tragically, Television Centre and the Blue Peter garden were sold to property developers in 2013. Although the outer fabric of the building is Grade II listed, it will never be more than an empty shell, a sad monument to the greed that has trampled over the creativity and idealism that allowed the likes of John Noakes to flourish.

Man Bites Dog

Last year, an American bulldog dog killed a three year old. Although fatalities from dog attacks are still extremely rare, incidents such as this still crop up a few times a year and of course attract far more attention than the 1,700 people killed in traffic accidents or the 78,000 deaths directly attributable to smoking that occurred over the same period.

The owner of the American bulldog has just been given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. She was also disqualified from owning a dog for 10 years and ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.

The dog of course was euthanised.

So how will this punishment help? It certainly won’t bring the dog back. It won’t prevent other people and other dogs from ending up in the same position, not to mention the 7,000 or so people who will still be bitten by dogs and require hospital treatment in any given year.

In theory, this woman and others like her could just go out and get another dog in 2027 and nothing will have been done to educate her in responsible dog ownership. Her community service is likely to entail removing graffiti, clearing litter or decorating public buildings. How much more beneficial if she spent those 100 hours – equal only to two weeks work – learning about dogs.

The causes of such attacks are usually depressingly similar. Bad breeding, lack of socialisation, bad handling, lack of stimulation and exercise, lack of training, poor diet.

The owners often live in similar depravation. It is hardly surprising that most of the people who get bitten and even killed by dogs are relatively poor; the impoverishment being as much social as financial. Just as the status dogs of the relatively wealthy often comprise gun dogs that suggest the landed estate, the dogs of the poor are usually musclebound hulks providing the illusion of power that is lacking for people with minimal education, poor job prospects and limited opportunities. There’s also the chance that they will protect you from the loan shark or the drug dealer or the gang member.

Wealthy people just give their dogs away when they can no longer cope with their lack of training and socialisation or dump them on the dog minder for most of their lives. The poor compound their errors until, every so often, the dog, through no fault of its own, kills someone.

Bad Hair Day

I was sent a link to a news article yesterday regarding a couple whose “beloved” Samoyed had been shaved by a dog groomer.

As with everything else in the canine world, grooming is unregulated. It should come as no surprise that these groomers had no idea of the importance of the double coat in protecting against heat and cold or the consequences of clipping it off. I was pursued by a judge at a companion show who was also a groomer. She kept insisting that my Sibe needed a trim. I withdrew him from the ring and complained to the organiser after she also handled him really roughly – another common factor in dog grooming. I met a couple at another show who had not only shaved the guard hairs off their Sibe but were parading her round in full sun. Her coat had hardened and become like sharp straw.

The blame ultimately lies with the owners for buying a double-coated dog that they are then too lazy to acclimatise to being groomed. How “beloved” is a dog if you cannot even be bothered to keep its coat groomed? The groomer should of course have assessed the dog on arrival and recommended that the dog be sedated by a vet who could then remove the tangles. The owners should then have been reported under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and placed under RSPCA supervision to ensure that they maintained their grooming regime under threat of losing their dog.

That’ll be the day.

Grooming a dog is an important part of care and of bonding between owner and dog. It should be done at least daily as well as checks for lumps, ticks, grass seeds and any other abnormality. Buying a dog with a complex coat that humans have bred to need a lot of attention, not bothering to care for it then dumping the dog on a groomer who is not likely to acclimatise it gradually to being handled and groomed is not acceptable. The time to obtain advice about how to handle and groom a dog is before buying.

As with puppy farming, we need to stop treating owners as victims and put the blame – and the resources for education- squarely where it lies.

Cows Can Kill

A farmer based near Bradford on Avon has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive after two elderly brothers were attacked and injured while walking their dogs on lead on a public foot path. The man who survived suffered multiple rib fractures, a punctured lung and contusions. The incident was the fourth in five years involving injuries to members of the public caused by this farmer’s cattle; he was given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, and ordered to pay costs of £30,000.

18 members of the public were killed by cattle between April 2000 and March 2015. Most of the incidents involved cows with calves and people with dogs. Cattle can attack the walkers because they perceive a risk to their calves from the dogs. Farmers and landowners have a legal duty to assess the risks from livestock to people using any rights of way on their land and they must take all reasonable precautions to prevent injury.

Wherever possible, farmers are advised to avoid keeping cows with calves in fields with public footpaths or to erect temporary fencing to keep cattle, walkers and dogs apart.

Dog owners also have a responsibility to act safely around livestock. Even if there is a right of way, it is much safer to avoid walking past cattle and calves. Backtracking and suggesting to the farmer that the situation is unsafe is a much better option than adding to the statistics of fatalities, human or dog. Dogs should always be on lead near livestock, however reliable they may seem. If you are charged by cattle DROP THE LEAD and seek safety. Your dog will look after himself and you are unlikely to be able to protect him or avoid injury to yourself when faced by an angry cow. It does not matter if you are in area that is designated as being on-lead only by a PSPO; your safety and even your life may be at stake.

Please also remember to worm your dog with a comprehensive, prescription-only (VPOM) wormer. Speak to your vet about the best option. Unwormed dogs can risk spreading diseases such as neosporosis which can cause cattle to abort calves and sarcocystosis which has a similar effect in sheep. Dogs can pick up both infections by eating raw meat (including from carcasses) and placental or foetal material from infected stock. Not all infected animals show signs of illness so it is another reason not to feed a raw diet as it is not possible to be certain that uncooked meat fed to dogs will not be contaminated.

All dog waste should be removed from grazing land and disposed of responsibly so that cross-infection cannot occur between dogs, sheep and cattle.

Walking through farm land is a privilege, and both landowners, farmers and dog walkers have a responsibility to ensure that it is a safe activity for all concerned.