Evidence on electronic training aids
The first two questions invited respondents to provide the Scottish Government with any information on outcomes from the use of electronic training collars.
Question 1: Do you have any evidence of any intentional or unintentional misuse or abuse of any type of electronic training aids in Scotland? If yes, please provide details, including which type of collar or device.
Question 1 asked respondents whether they have any evidence of any intentional or unintentional misuse or abuse of any type of electronic training aids in Scotland. Responses by respondent category are set out in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Question 1 - responses by respondent category
|Category of respondent||Yes||No||ALL|
|Member of the public||4||6%||68||94%||72||100%|
|Owner of working dogs||1||4%||22||96%||23||100%|
Of the 1,008 respondents answering this question, 116 or 12% reported having evidence of intentional or unintentional misuse or abuse of any type of electronic training aids in Scotland. The majority of these respondents (70 out of 116) were pet owners. However, the clear majority of pet owners (89% of those answering the question) said they did not have evidence.
As a proportion of a category of respondent, local government respondents and animal welfare organisations were most likely to report that they had evidence of abuse or misuse of electronic training aids in Scotland (29% and 26% of those answering this question respectively).
Of the 149 respondents who made a further comment, 113 had answered 'Yes', 34 had answered 'No' and 2 had not answered the question. Those who had answered 'No' but went on to make a further comment tended to raise similar issues to those who had answered 'Yes'. However, they sometimes noted that their evidence did not apply to Scotland and/or that their comments might not equate to evidence since they were first or second-hand accounts of having witnessed the use or misuse of electronic training aids. Although respondents tended to not specify the specific type of device they were referring to, the majority of comments appeared to be focused on static pulse remote training or anti-bark collars rather than other types of collars or boundary fence systems.
Overall, the most frequently reported evidence of abuse or misuse came from having witnessed others using electronic training aids. Around 2 in 5 of those commenting reported having seen the misuse or abuse of electronic training aids. The majority of these respondents were pet owners themselves. Reports were on a spectrum from having seen a dog wearing an electronic collar, through having seen a static pulse collar being used on a dog, to more detailed reports of seeing harm being done to dogs.
The next most frequently reported evidence (by around 1 in 5 of those commenting) was of seeing, working with or caring for dogs on which electronic training aids had been used. Animal trainers, animal behaviourist and animal welfare organisations were amongst those making these reports. In terms of the impact on the dogs concerned, there were reports of:
- Anxiety-related behaviour or panic responses to seeing a collar or hearing the noise associated with their use. It was suggested that many users will increase the level of stimulation if they do not achieve immediate results and that this often results in the animal attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus. It was also suggested that animals may fail to show a pain response despite increased levels of electronic stimulation or may become habituated to the pain and endure it. It was noted that the pain and stress caused in such situations has a significant effect on an animal's physiology, increasing cortisol levels and heart rate.
- Dogs shutting down psychologically, including global suppression of behaviour or learned helplessness. It was suggested that this is frequently mistaken for an animal being trained, as the animal is subdued and tends not to act or react. In extreme cases, it was suggested that animals may refuse to perform any behaviour - learned helplessness - and will isolate themselves to avoid incurring electronic stimulation.
- Re-directed aggression towards other dogs, their owner or members of the public. It was that animals may suppress aggression which may resurface at any time, without warning and generally in a more severe form. More specifically, it was reported that using electronic stimulation to reduce behaviours such as barking, lunging and growling may simply suppress the behaviour which could warn of more serious imminent behaviour such as biting. It was further suggested that people and other animals will have no warning before the animal subjected to punishment feels forced to bite.
- Physical injuries to the animal and to the neck in particular.
Although most comments appeared to refer to remote training or anti-bark collars, there was a specific concern raised about the use of boundary fence systems for cats. An animal welfare respondent reported that domestic cats will chose to roam and are highly motivated to do so. There was a concern that preventing this behaviour is likely to negatively affect their welfare.
Other reported evidence of abuse or misuse of electronic training aids included having seen media reports or campaign materials on the subject, and reading or viewing material produced by manufacturers of electronic training aids or by animal trainers who advocate their use. A small number of respondents noted that a number of organisations (including the BSAVA, the Scottish SPCA and the Scottish Kennel Club) which are calling for the use of electronic training aids to be banned or regulated.
A number of references to published literature were cited as evidence and these are set out in Annex 3 to this report. In addition to evidence referenced at Question 1, a number of respondents cited research evidence elsewhere within their response. These references, generally associated with electronic training aids being harmful or ineffective, are also included in Annex 3. Where possible, full reference details have been provided.
Question 2: Do you have evidence of positive outcomes following the use of electronic training aids in Scotland? If yes, please provide details, including which type of collar or device.
Question 2 asked respondents whether they have any evidence of positive outcomes following the use of electronic training aids in Scotland. Responses by respondent category are set out in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Question 2 - responses by respondent category
|Category of respondent||Yes||No||ALL|
|Member of the public||17||24%||54||76%||71||100%|
|Owner of working dogs||22||96%||1||4%||23||100%|
Of the 1,007 respondents answering this question, 349 or 35% reported having evidence of positive outcomes following the use of electronic training aids in Scotland. As at the previous question, the majority of these respondents (233 out of 349) were pet owners. However, the majority of pet owners (64%) said they did not have any evidence. The two respondent categories in which a majority reported having evidence of positive outcomes were owner of working dogs respondents (96%) and pet supplies respondents (78%).
A total of 384 respondents went on to make a further comment. Of these, 339 respondents had answered 'Yes' at Question 2, 41 had answered 'No' and 4 respondents had not answered the question. Those answering 'No' and making further comment tended to state their opposition to the use of electronic training aids. However, a small number of respondents did give evidence of positive outcomes but noted that the information did not relate to the use of training aids in Scotland.
Respondents did not always refer directly to the type of device they were commenting on - for example, many respondents referred to e-collars but did not give further detail. Some respondents did not reference any specific type of device. However, the analysis of further comments suggests that around 3 out of 5 respondents were referring to e-collars being used for training purposes. Only a small number of respondents made direct reference to anti-bark collars. Of those who were clearly referring to e-collars, around 1 in 3 made a reference which suggested they were commenting on a static pulse collar or a multi-function collar with a static pulse setting. Around 1 out of 9 respondents referenced boundary fence systems. Respondents tended to raise similar issues irrespective of the type of device to which they were referring.
Around 7 in 10 of those saying 'Yes' and then commenting at Question 2 focused on their personal experience of training their own dog(s). The majority of these respondents were pet owners, but they also included respondents from other groups including animal trainers, veterinary profession respondents and owner of working dogs respondents. Around 1 in 8 referred to experience of training other people's dogs. This group of respondents included animal trainers, pet owners, animal behaviourists and pet supplies respondents. There was some overlap between those referring to training their own dogs and those referring to working with other people's dogs and/or their owners.
Comments made about training their own dogs were very similar to those made about working with other people and their dogs. The many themes in common included that the use of electronic training aids, including both collars and freedom fences, had brought very real benefits to dogs which might otherwise have led very restricted lives or for which euthanasia would have been a likely option. A number of those making these reports noted that other training methods had not worked with the dogs concerned but that the use of electronic training aids had helped keep the dog, other animals and people safe. A pet supplies respondent suggested that the use of the current generation of electronic collars has helped address anti-social behaviour in dogs which, if left unchecked could have risked the animals' well-being, left the owners with a potential liability and caused nuisance and potential danger to other animals and people. They also noted that whilst reward based training systems are effective for some dogs they are not effective for all dogs.
Those directly referencing their own use of electronic collars sometimes referred to being able to take their dogs to public places without the previous concerns that they could be injured on roads or could chase other animals, including other dogs, cats, sheep or deer. Comments made by animal trainers or behaviourists included examples of working successfully with dogs for which other approaches had failed and for which an electronic training aid probably represented their last hope. A small number of these respondents did suggest that electronic training aids should only be used when other approaches had been tried but failed and/or that a qualified trainer or behaviourist should be involved.
With specific reference to freedom fences, a number of respondents reported that their animals are now able to spend time in a garden without the risk that they might be injured on nearby roads or might be involved in endangering people, other pets, livestock, game or wildlife. Respondents sometimes referenced their pets having an improved quality of life as a result. A pet supplies respondent reported receiving positive feedback from both dog- and cat-owning boundary fence customers who use a fence to keep their pets safely at home.
There was a small number of references to specific types of dogs for which electronic training aids have proved particularly effective. These were:
- Dogs, including some working dog breeds, which have a very strong instinct to chase other animals and which may not respond to other training cues. It was noted that this instinct may be so strong in some dogs that they will be unlikely to choose other options - such as food based rewards - over an opportunity to chase other animals.
- Working dogs in general, and especially dogs working at long distance and/or in situations where they may not be able to hear commands from their owner or handler.
- Deaf or blind dogs, including dogs which develop impairments as they get older.
In terms of the use of electronic training aids, a number of respondents noted that they did not believe that the animals had suffered as a result of their use. With specific reference to boundary fences, it was suggested that both dogs and cats learn very quickly to avoid the area around the fence and that after an initial training period (during which they may have received a shock) they will retreat at the point that their collar vibrates or beeps. There was a small number of reports of animals no longer wearing a collar but still respecting the boundary created by the fence. A number of those referencing training or anti-bark collars also tended to suggest that the use of any static pulse feature had tended to be restricted to an initial and brief early training phase and that their animal very rapidly learned to respond to either a vibration or sonic function.
A pet supplies respondent reported that there is an abundance of research covering issues of relevance including looking at the possible impact on welfare of using electronic collars. However, they did suggest that where animal welfare issues are concerned the scientific research process inevitably incorporates a considerable degree of subjective assessment. This point supported their view that the research evidence should inform the development of policy in this area but should not be the primary determinant of any changes to policy or legislation.
As at Question 1 there were references to published evidence but principally to Defra-commissioned research from the Universities of Lincoln and Bristol and cited in the consultation paper. The consultation paper noted that these studies looked at the physical characteristics of static pulse collars and the physiological, behavioural and psychological consequences of their use in dog training.
More generally, concerns were raised that much of the published evidence is either out of date and/or reviews collars directly under the control of an operator (as opposed, for example, to looking at boundary containment systems).
Email: Graeme Beale, firstname.lastname@example.org