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Back in March of this year (2018) the government launched a consultation on the use of electric shock collars on dogs (and cats) in order to investigate whether or not they should be banned for use on pets in England.
Electric shock collars for dogs and cats are already banned in Wales, and Scotland is also undergoing a consultation process on their usage – and the government have just announced earlier on this month (August 2018) that a ban in England will actually be going ahead too.
In this article we’ll examine why the decision was made to ban electric shock collars in England, and what this means in practice. Read on to learn more.
Electric shock collars are marketed as a training and behaviour modification device for dogs, and to a lesser extent, cats.
They are fabric collars that are worn by the dog or cat in the usual way, but they also contain a small electrical device that can deliver an electric shock to the animal in question. Shock collars can be designed for manual activation, so that the dog’s handler has to activate a shock remotely using a controller, but an alternative version is automated and designed to trigger a shock to a dog if they bark.
Electric shock collars are commonly marketed as a device to curb excessive barking in dogs, and as a training device to curb bad or unwanted behaviours as part of training protocols.
Shock collars come in a wide range of different types and forms, and the level of electric shock that they deliver can vary from very mild to quite acute. The Dogs Trust, which has been one of the strongest supporters of the ban’s introduction, state that collars of this type can deliver a shock of up to 6,000 volts, and for a duration of up to eleven seconds.
For dog (and cat) owners who don’t use electric shock collars, the idea that some people do can be quite alien. However, the use of electric shock collars for dogs in the UK is more common than many people think, with an RSPCA survey finding that 5% of survey respondents reported using or having previously used an electric shock collar on their dogs.
Electric shocks are undeniably unpleasant and painful, which is the cornerstone of the objections that led to the initial consultation and now, the announcement of the ban itself.
However, there is more to electric shock collars than just the supposedly mild, transient pain that their supporters claim they deliver – and using electric shock collars can have a huge and long-term impact on the pet in question and their relationship with their owner.
Physically punishing a dog with pain is a form of negative reinforcement, no different to hitting a dog – although the level of removal offered by activating a shock collar makes many users of such collars feel differently. Negative reinforcement training is at best slower and less effective than positive reinforcement, and in some cases, completely ineffective. Dogs don’t think well when they are in pain and/or scared, and will have problems connecting the action that triggered the shock and the punishment itself, particularly if the shock doesn’t come immediately.
This can cause a dog or cat to be afraid and unsettled continually, never knowing when or why they might be shocked. Pets also commonly learn to fear their collar, and other collars too – for obvious reasons – and may come to distrust or fear their owners who use them too.
Additionally, because shock collars aren’t regulated and can be bought in a range of different variants that deliver different levels of shock, they can actually potentially hurt pets, particularly cats and small dogs or those whose collars are very powerful or used frequently, or should the collar prove to be faulty.
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, stated that electric shock collars cause animals “unacceptable harm and suffering,” and the general view taken of their use by animal welfare organisations is that electric shock collars are inhumane.
Lobbying by a large number of animal welfare groups including the RSPCA and Dogs Trust as well as The Kennel Club (The UK’s formal dog breed registry and umbrella organisation for dogs) led to the government consultation that began the process resulting in the eventual ban, a decision that has been over a decade in the making.
The government’s consultation invited input from members of the public, formal pet clubs, organisations and charities, as well as commissioning reports and advice from a number of experienced and qualified pet experts and behaviourists.
Whilst the overwhelming majority of people involved in the consultation as well as the dog-loving public widely support the ban, it is not without it opponents. Users and proponents of electric shock collars object that there is insufficient evidence available to demonstrate that such devices cause harm or suffering, but the government’s final say on the matter indicates otherwise.
In terms of when the ban itself will come into effect, a firm date has yet to be set. However, now that the decision itself has been reached, we can expect to see the ban brought into force over the course of the next few months, and we’ll keep you updated when we know more.
Additionally, it seems likely that shops and online retailers in the UK will no longer be permitted to sell or market the sale of shock collars for cats and dogs, although it would be hard if not impossible to prevent people ordering such devices from websites outside of the UK that are willing to ship them here.
Some supporters of the ban think that it hasn’t gone far enough, and that electrical containment fences for pets should also be banned – although so far, no formal government announcement on any plans to consider this has been made.
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