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Government must deliver on its commitment to ban cruel electric shock collars, say leading veterinary and animal welfare organisations

05 Feb 2024

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Vets and animal welfare organisations jointly call on Government to find Parliamentary time to ban these aversive training devices for dogs and cats.

Government must deliver on its commitment to ban cruel electric shock collars, say leading veterinary and animal welfare organisations Image

A group of leading veterinary and animal welfare organisations is calling on the Government not to U-turn on its promise to ban hand-held electronic shock collars in England.

Last year, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that these collars would be prohibited for use on dogs and cats in England from 1 February 2024, something that would have been a huge step forward in terms of animal welfare. However, Parliament was not given time to debate it, meaning the implementation date for this new legislation has passed and no further progress has been made.

Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club, RSPCA, Battersea, British Veterinary Association and Blue Cross have campaigned against the use of Electric Shock Collars for many years. 51,000 members of the public showed their support for the ban by writing to their MPs.

Further to this, two separate polling exercises, independently commissioned by The Kennel Club and RSPCA, both showed the overwhelming public support for a ban on shock collars. The polling results highlighted that over 9 in 10 UK adults support an urgent ban on the use of shock collars in England. 

Speaking on behalf of Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club, RSPCA, Battersea, British Veterinary Association and Blue Cross, Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director of Dogs Trust, said:

“We are incredibly disappointed that the UK Government has seemingly reneged on its commitment to end the use of hand-held electric shock collars in England. These devices are both unnecessary and cruel, and this is a view held not just by our organisations but by more than 51,000 people who have shown their support for a ban.

“Between us, we care for thousands of dogs and cats every year, many of whom need some level of support with unwanted behaviours, and our experience has shown that positive reward-based methods are as effective without causing harm.

“But we haven’t run out of time to save this law yet. We are collectively calling on Defra not to U-turn on its promise to ban the sale and use of electric shock collars and to find the time to bring this ban into effect. There is simply no place or need for these cruel devices in modern pet training.”

What are shock collars?

Electric shock collars can be used on any animal, on any setting, as often as the handset bearer requires, irrespective of the consequences for the animal.  However, research has shown that instead of improving behaviour, the use of such devices can actually risk causing further problems. Electric shock collars are used by some to train pets by punishing unwanted behaviours through the application of a shock to the animal’s neck. To change unwanted behaviour, the shock administered by electric shock collars needs to be strong enough for the animal to feel and to be of sufficient magnitude for them to be fearful of feeling that shock again.

Livestock worrying is the most common reason giving to justify the use of electric shock collars by those who still use them. However, data from five police forces suggests that most livestock worrying incidents (nearly 7 in 10) occur from unaccompanied dogs i.e. stray or latch-key dogs, so the use of electric shock collars would not prevent these offences. For the minority of livestock worrying cases which involve dogs being walked with an owner or walker, keeping a dog on a lead in the vicinity of livestock is the most effective way to prevent livestock worrying.

Animal health and welfare impact

Studies have shown that the use of devices such as electric shock collars have serious impact on the welfare of animals. This includes behavioural and physiological signs of distress and the exacerbation of, or development of new, unwanted behaviours. Robust research evidence shows that such techniques are not needed; positive reinforcement is effective at changing behaviour.  

  • The use of shock collars also requires the animal to associate the shock with their unwanted behaviour. Creating fear in this way risks numerous negative consequences for the pet and owner.
  • Animals may associate the shock with other things in their environment, such as other dogs or people, and learn to avoid or be aggressive towards these. They may not associate the shock with anything specific and become anxious about the wider situation where the collar is used. For example, dogs may avoid going for walks at all, be very inactive on walks, or stick close to their owner through anxiety. 
  • Animals can become aggressive towards, or avoidant of, their owners either in immediate response to the shock, or to avoid further shocks (for example when the collar is put on). 
  • Where the shock is used in situations where animals are already anxious (e.g. for barking or lunging), this is likely to increase anxiety potentially leading to more extreme or different unwanted behaviours.
  • It is uncertain how long such shocks would be required to reach a desired effect, or whether the person administering them would know when to stop, causing the animal potentially significant harm.
  • Collar use can cause physical injury to animals

 

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