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

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