Report on Companion Animal Welfare: The use of E-Collars Essay
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The use of electronic dog collars of any type is becoming more popular worldwide according to BritishDog.net, a seller. According to Britishdog in 1998; 300,000 remote training collars, 600,000+ containment systems and 600,000 bark collars were sold worldwide. General consensus through sources such as the Daily Mail newspaper, Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors (APBC) and Britishdog.net believe that this is due to their affordability along with owners finding them safe, effective and a ‘quick fix’ to unwanted behaviours. However, the practice of using these shock collars (containment systems must use a collar or other device attached to the animal in order to ‘shock’) is a controversial one.
As they become more popular, the less welfare organisations and individuals agree with them. The evidence of this is seen in Wales with a complete ban; enforced as of March 2010.
The Welsh Assembly states: ‘[We] take animal welfare very seriously and I’m pleased that, as a government, we are taking a proactive approach to promoting the welfare of animals by banning the use of such electronic training devices in Wales’ [Anon 3].
It’s also resulting from lobbying by organisations such as the Kennel Club. The Kennel Club has a whole campaign against the use of e-collars, including a video sourced on YouTube showing a man unwittingly shocking himself as a joke with an e-collar, realising how strong they are. The Kennel Club, among many other animal organisations continue to lobby for an outright ban on e-collars across the UK. Not everyone agrees with the ban. An article from Pet Products Marketing [Anon 2] states: “The Welsh Assembly Government has a duty under the Animal Welfare Act to promote the welfare of animals. By taking the proposed action they are condemning many more pets to death and injury”.
The article goes on to state ‘a survey completed by the Electric Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) with the results stating that 70% of owners that use e-collars believe the use has saved their pets lives at some point’. Also, an article in the Daily Mail predicts animal shelters becoming inundated with unruly dogs without the use of e-collars. My Dog Magazine [Anon 1] article has suggested passing a UK government regulation similar to Victoria (Australia) and their Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Regulations 2008 which mostly set out guidelines for how and when the shock collars can be used. As a compromise, the shock collar is classified under the regulations as those that are electric, not citronella shock collars for example. The regulations also set out a number of conditions for authorised collars and their use.
As a result of this controversy, there has been much research into the pros and cons of e-collars, whether they actually do the required job compared to other methods and also the actual effect of the e-collars on the animals, cats and dogs, mainly from a welfare prospective investigating if they cause pain or just annoyance. Research by Schilder, M and Borg, J (2003) has found that shocks received by dogs (German Shepherds) during training were not only unpleasant but painful and even frightening for the animals. As such, using one for training over a long period of time potentially affects welfare more. The paper gives examples of the animal associating the shocks with the trainer or with a certain command given and as a result remains stressed even while not on the training grounds. The purpose of this paper was to observe the initial behavioural responses elicited by the reception of the shock and so determine whether it is possible to distinguish what dogs are trained by shock collars and those that are not by observing behaviour.
The difference in behaviours discovered shows that potentially there is a welfare issue in that many of the behavioural responses to being shocked shows correlation to behaviour linked with fear, pain and/or submission illustrated. The research states: ‘one of our study dogs still behaved as though it received shocks during protection work, although the last shock was delivered 1.5 years ago’. Like-minded organisations also believe that e-collars present a potential welfare risk to animals.
The Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors (APBC) are against them in principle stating ‘their use has the potential to compromise welfare and the owners relationship with the animal’. APBC also believes that even trained behaviourist will be unable to use the devices properly with issues such as timing. Other organisations such as the British Veterinary Association oppose e-collars due to their welfare risk. However, BritishDog.net states that using an e-collar is surrounded with myths such as pain and injury.
As such, a major manufacturer commissioned research to be completed comparing the e-collar shock to other common shocks. Along with britishdog.net, e-collar manufacturer and seller PAC says there is not a risk as long as the products are used properly, and offers an e-collar training video. Schalke et al (2006) papers aim was to see if stress signs (i.e. salivary cortisol levels and heart rate) intensify when using e-collars to prevent hunting. The 14 dogs tested here were laboratory beagles, and they were split into 3 groups; A: received shock as they touched the prey, H: received a shock when they disobeyed a ‘leave’ command previously learned and R: were randomly shocked. The results from this show the group A had the lowest relative cortisol value and group R had the highest value, however, no significant differences in the heart rate were found.
The paper’s results suggests that ‘poor timing in the application of high level electric pulses means there is a risk that dogs will show severe and persistent stress symptoms’. The authors themselves after conducting this research believe that e-collars ‘should be restricted with proof of theoretical and practical qualifications and then use of the devices should only be allowed in strictly specified situations’. In a different view, two types of shock collar were compared: the e-collar and the spray collar (lemon fragranced) by Steiss, J et al (2006). This was designed to determine the effectiveness to compare the two types of collar results. The results were that both collars significantly reduced barking in the kennel situation with no significant difference between the two collars. Mills, D (2010) states that ‘although they [e-collars] can be some-what justified as an option to avoid euthanasia, there is a widespread ethical debate about their welfare impact on animals and as a result, their use has become illegal practice in some countries…
The fundamental problem with such devices is that they attempt to control signs (e.g. barking, escaping) without addressing the underlying causes for behaviour. They may exacerbate the problem and may also have significant welfare implications for some animals’. Many animal organisations believe that the e-collar presents a high welfare risk for animals. This could be either due to device abuse or misdiagnosing the initial behaviour to be corrected. Also, the entire purpose of the electric devices is to apply dis-comfort and as such goes against recent positive reinforcement training ideas and in the authors view, the Animal Welfare Act 2007 and the associated five freedoms. The research done for welfare does support this, however it will be difficult to completely ban training with some form of shock collar as many owners use them and believe them effective. The research here has shown that the e-collar has negative effect on dogs and the authors of the papers have even suggested themselves using another training technique. It also supports the opinions of the welfare organisations such as the RSPCA.
However, as much research is based on the welfare of animals, there are relatively few investigations comparing e-collars to other training techniques, particularly positive training techniques recognised by the welfare organisations and behaviourists. Also, although Steiss, J (2006) work shows that both types of training collars are effective at stopping barking, it does not investigate the long term effect, i.e. when the collars are removed does the dog have to reminded or re-trained. The manufacturers believe however that their products work and do not pose long term welfare risks to animals. Research has proven that the collars do work as a training device. However, many organisations disagree with this and state that they only accomplish covering a symptom shown by the dog (Kennel Club 2), but do not train or resolve a problem such as barking. As a result of the ethical debate and research on e-collars proving both sides to be correct in England, DEFRA has commissioned research into suggested welfare issues.
The results of this investigation are not yet published. It is the authors’ opinion that e-collars propose too high a risk for use. In using an e-collar, training is inconsistent, e.g. handlers’ mood, person to person, not 24hours a day, and therefore the results can be variable and confusing potentially leading to side-effects like aggression or other stereotypical behaviours. This makes it too risky to use without at least control and restriction. In using bark collars, wariness is advised, as misdiagnosing why the dog is barking could lead to further problems, the barking may have stopped due to the collar but if the underlying reason is nervousness, then the dog could become destructive.
The largest problem with all literature surrounding such controversies is that they are likely to be bias to their cause, either for or against e-collars. However, research is evidence of the truth which shows that there is a potential welfare issue in using the collars but also that they work. Personal opinion however is what holds the power in this subject as it is a debate that is run on experience and opinions. Evidently, welfare organisations are against this use of e-collars, however, many owners and trainers swear by their use. The only answer to the debate is to keep on researching.
Anon  (nd) Regulation of Electronic Dog Training Collars. My Dog Magazine. [online] Available from: http://mydogmagazine.com/hot/regulation-of-electronic-dog-training-collars/ [Date Accessed: 5th November 2011] Anon  (2010) Pets Lives Put at Risk. Pet Product Marketing [online] Available at: http://www.petproductmarketing.co.uk/content.php?sid=96 [Date Accessed; 5th November 2011] Anon  (2010) Wales bans Electric Shock Collar for dogs and cats. Veterinary Record. Volume 166. Issue 14. Available from: http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/166/14/413.1 [Date accessed: 5th November] BritishDog.net (2011) Dispelling the Myths about e-collars [online] Available from: http://www.britishdog.net/index.php?app=gbu0&ns=display&ref=shock+dog+collars&sid=7c892p4j39y63y13500t39335aczt7gr [Date Accessed: 5th November 2011] BVA (nd) Electronic Training Aids. [Press Release] no date. Available from: http://www.bva.co.uk/atoz/1322.aspx [Date Accessed: 5th November 2011] DEFRA (2007) Effect of Training Aids, specifically remote static pulse systems, on the welfare of domestic dogs. [Commissioned Research] DEFRA. Available from: http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=15332 [Date Accessed: 5th November 2011] The Kennel Club (2007) The Kennel Clubs Electric Collar Campaign. [Press Release] 21st November 2007. Available from: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/1557 [Date Accessed 5th November 2011] The Kennel Club  (2007) Electronic Shock Collar Evidence Paper. [Pdf] Available from: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/download/9460/ESC-Evidence-Paper.pdf [Date accessed: 5th November 2011] Macrae, F. (2010) Pet owners face £20,000 fine for using electric collars. Daily Mail. 25th March. MacKellar, I. and Ward, M. (2010) Shock Collars- The Shocking Truth. [Behaviour Article] APBC. Available at: http://www.apbc.org.uk/articles/shockcollars [Date Accessed 5th November 2011] Mills, D. (2010) The Encyclopedia of Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare. [e-book] Page: 210. Cambridge University Press, UK. Available from: