Electronic shock collars for dogs

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The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2017-18 stated:

“We will tightly control the use of electronic dog training collars to allow responsible use under supervision while minimising the potential misuse of low quality devices.”

As it stands in Scotland anyone can buy, own and use an electric shock collar on their pet dogs without regulation.

What exactly are electric shock collars?

An electric shock collar is a collar with a box attached to it with two electrodes that sit beneath the animal’s fur, directly on their skin. These administer an electric shock. The shock can last up to 11 seconds. Some collars come with a remote so that the owner has complete control over when the shock is given and other collars can be automatically triggered when a dog barks.

 Research commissioned by DEFRA concluded that some control electric shock collars can negatively impact the dog’s welfare even when the training is conducted by a professional.

A report reviewing evidence on the welfare implications of electronic shock collars stated:

“I conclude that the animal welfare cost is likely to exceed the benefits from use of electronic collars as training devices, since they may cause pain, effective alternatives exist and the scope for misuse or abuse is too great.”

How does the law currently protect dogs?

 Section 19 of The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 states that:

“A person who is responsible for an animal commits an offence if— the person causes the animal unnecessary suffering by an act or omission.”

The Act allows the Scottish Government to further regulate electric shock collars.

  • Sections 26 and 27 allow Scottish Ministers to make regulations to ban or regulate control electric shock collars.
  • Sections 37 and 38 allow Scottish Ministers to issue animal welfare codes or guidance related to control electric shock collars. However, non-compliance would not be an offence. The Act states “A person’s failure to comply with a provision of an animal welfare code does not of itself render the person liable to proceedings of any sort”.

Scottish Government consultation on electric shock collars

 The Scottish Government consultation on Potential controls or prohibition of electronic training aids in Scotland closed on 29 January 2016. It asked about four options to control electric shock collars:

  1. Maintain the status quo.
  2. Develop guidance or a statutory welfare code under Sections 37 and 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
  3. Develop regulations or legislative controls under Sections 26 and 27 of the 2006 Act.
  4. Introduce regulations to ban the use of electronic collars under Section 26 of the 2006 Act.

What did the consultation in Scotland show?

 The analysis of responses to the consultation showed that:

  • 44% of all those who took part favoured a complete ban on electric shock collars.
  • 28% stated that current legislation was sufficient
  • 10% favoured combination of a ban and stricter regulations, depending on devices
  • 9% favoured Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code
  • 5% favoured stricter regulations
  • 3% did not know.

What action has the Scottish Government taken?

 The Scottish Government had intended to only allow the use of electronic training collars under the supervision of properly qualified dog trainers. But later decided a “ban” would be in the form of guidance under section 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

In February the Scottish Government was asked why “the proposed ban … will be introduced as guidance and not through secondary legislation.” It replied that continuing concerns were expressed about the previous approach which led to it being reviewed. No details were given on who expressed the concerns or what they were.

On the 2 July 2018 the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham MSP wrote to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee setting out the text of the guidance, part of which notes that –

“Particular training devices that the Scottish Government does not condone are: electronic shock (static pulse) collars, electronic anti-bark collars, electronic containment systems, prong collars, or any other method to inflict physical punishment or negative reinforcement”

and that

“This guidance is advisory and may provide an aid to both dog owners and those involved in the enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.  Those responsible for enforcement of the 2006 Act may refer to the guidance when issuing advice, warning letters or care notices under the 2006 Act.  A Court may, at its discretion, consider the guidance in a prosecution under Section 19 or Section 24 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.”

The Scottish Government is to review how this guidance has worked as a practical aid to animal welfare enforcement bodies in 12 months’ time.

What about England and Wales?

 Electric shock collars were banned in Wales in 2010. The Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars) (Wales) Regulations 2010 state:

“2— (1) It is prohibited for a person to—

(a) attach an electronic collar to a cat or a dog;

(b) cause an electronic collar to be attached to a cat or a dog; or

(c) be responsible for a cat or a dog to which an electronic collar is attached.”

Failure to comply with the law in Wales can see someone imprisoned for up to 51 weeks or receive a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.

According to a Scottish Parliamentary Question lodged in February 2018, a legal challenge to regulations in Wales was rejected.

A consultation on a ban on electronic training collars for cats and dogs in England closed on 27 April 2018. England want to largely follow Wales after animal right campaigners publicised the evidence of the collars hurting dogs.

Ellie Ainslie, SPICe intern