Shock Collar Ban Announced
Back in March we celebrated the announcement that the English government would bring into force a ban on electric shock collars following the lead of the Welsh ban already in force and the Scottish ban coming into force. Something dog behaviour professionals and animal welfare organisations have been campaigning for.
This is great news for dogs and, it would seem cats, who have also been victims of these devices. Electric shock collars work by using pain and aversion, so the animal learns to avoid the shock by behaving a certain way. Of course, the reason that the pet may be partaking in undesired behaviour in the first place is not addressed, nor is the possibility of fall-out from using such a device often considered.
The potential fall-out of these collars is much the same as any other strong aversive used in training – when you shock a dog in the presence of another dog or person, does he know why he was shocked? Or will he start to think that the other dog or person being present is the reason for the shock? If he starts to think that way, then of course, it’s not too difficult to understand that he may then start to deter other dogs or people from coming close to him by lunging and barking because he believes that when they come close, he feels pain.
This is particularly likely when:
- Dealing with a dog that is already aggressive towards other dogs or people (because you believe you are punishing the reaction, but he is always in the presence of the stimulus when the shock occurs)
- Addressing over-friendly jumping up, potentially turning your friendly dog into a frightened and defensive one
- Using containment fences because he runs up to the fence to greet (or bark) at a passer-by, only to be shocked when he gets there.
Other fall-out can include:
- Increased anxiety, if you wore a device that could send a shock (regardless of the strength of the shock) to your skin at any time and you didn’t know when it was coming, you’d be pretty anxious too
- Depression, or a dog that just shuts down because you haven’t dealt with why he exhibits a certain behaviour, so he still has the same internal stress or anxiety but can’t express it and goes into a state of shut down.
So, this new ban really is great news for the animals. Unfortunately, a group of vets have now come together to push for an exemption to the ban: that containment fences be allowed. Let me stress, this is not the opinion of the RCVS nor all vets, and I’d be surprised if your own vet was one of them. This is a small number of vets who have pushed for it, and unfortunately, Michael Gove is behind them.
If you’ve never heard of an electronic containment fence, let me explain. The dog or cat wears a collar that is ready to give a shock correction automatically when the collar comes into proximity with a transmitter wire – usually placed under/along the ground.
The transmitter wire is placed around the boundary of the area you want the animal to remain inside of, and flags are posted close by to warn the animal where it is. When the animal approaches the wire, the shock collar first vibrates to warn him that he is close, and, if he continues, it delivers a shock.
My immediate concerns regarding this were based on my own experiences. Firstly, where dogs are concerned, at some point, you’re going to want to take your dog out of your property. Having seen multiple dogs, one of them my own, who have been hit on one single occasion by the garden gate on the way out and then become wary of going near the gate in future, how would you ever get one of those dogs to want to go past those flags to go for a walk? The gate accident had happened once, this is a consistent consequence for going too close.
Secondly, as the owner of a cat who would rather toilet in my bedroom than go out to the toilet if another cat is in her garden, I can’t imagine how she would enjoy her garden once she became aware that she was going to get a static shock for entering certain areas of the outside world. Few people realise how sensitive cats really are, because they have a reputation for being aloof and ignorant and engaging in disrespectful behaviour, but in fact a lot of that behaviour can be attributed to stress in their environment.
In addition, when the motivation outside of the garden is great enough to compel the animal to exit past the fence, they’re hardly likely to want to come back in again, to experience another shock as they come in. I’ve heard anecdotes supporting this of cats having gone missing when they’ve got out past the fence and gone missing completely.
As mentioned above, you have the potential for aggression towards passers-by thrown in there, too.
I do understand where these vets are coming from, they are the ones who deal with cats involved in RTAs every single day, repairing pelvises and legs, wiring jaws etc, if the cat is lucky. If the cat is not so lucky, they have to euthanise it while the owner cries and pleads with them to save it. It is not a job I would want to do.
However, from a behavioural standpoint, I can’t agree that in this instance, the end justifies the means – there are alternatives.
Putting in a good, physical barrier is entirely possible. Some dogs are harder to keep in than others and cats can be even harder, but it is possible, and usually cheaper, to use a physical barrier than using one of these containment devices.
The Welsh shock collar ban includes these containment fences and whilst no formal studies have been done, there has been no reported increase in RTAs since the ban came into force.
So what can you do?
First, you can email Michael Gove to tell him that you disagree with this decision. The consultation has unfortunately ended, even before this became public knowledge, but you can always email him. If you would like to send us a copy of your email to him, we will also post it publicly. [email protected]
The obvious thing to do is to never use one of these containment devices, and if you hear of a friend interested in them, explain to them the problems associated with them.
You can also refuse to purchase from companies that make/sell shock collars and containment devices – if you wish to, drop them an email and explain that you won’t be purchasing your dog food or toys, or other products from them in future because of their decision to stock these devices.
Spread the word, share this blog, or any other that you find explaining the damage these things can do, so that at least if they don’t get included in the shock collar ban, people don’t take that to mean they are safer than the shock collars that are banned.