Existing animal welfare protection
The next two questions covered existing animal welfare protection. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause a protected animal 'unnecessary' suffering and to fail to meet the needs of an animal.
Question 3: Do you believe that this is sufficient to protect animals who wear electronic aids?
Question 3 asked respondents whether the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 are sufficient to protect animals who wear electronic training aids. Responses by respondent category are set out in Table 5 below.
Table 5: Question 3 - responses by respondent category
|Category of respondent||Yes||No||Don't know||ALL|
|Member of the public||27||38%||44||62%||-||0%||71||100%|
|Owner of working dogs||16||67%||4||17%||4||17%||24||100%|
NB: Percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding
A small majority of respondents (53% of those responding) did not believe that the provisions are sufficient to protect animals who wear electronic training aids. The majority of animal behaviourists (64%), animal care respondents (83%), animal trainers (52%), animal welfare respondents (83%), members of the public (62%) and veterinary profession respondents (68%) were of this view.
Pet owners were evenly divided on this issue while the majority of local government respondents (57%), pet supplies respondents (67%) and owner of working dogs respondents (67%) believed the current provisions to be sufficient.
A total of 757 respondents went on to make a further comment. Of these, 269 respondents had answered yes at Question 3, 442 had answered no, 43 had not known and 3 respondents had not answered the question.
In their further comments, those who considered the existing legislation is sufficient most frequently went on to suggest that, if used correctly, electronic training aids can be valuable and effective tools which do not cause harm or suffering. Around 1 in 2 comments made one or both of these points. As an example, a pet supplies respondent suggested that there is considerable evidence that a good quality, latest-generation collar used properly is an effective and welfare-compliant training tool.
As at other questions, respondents sometimes referenced their own experience of using electronic training aids to support their view, with general themes similar to those at Question 2. Some respondents were of the view that most of those who use electronic training aids use them properly and/or that pet owners would not invest in potentially expensive training aids if they did not genuinely believe them to be in the best interest of their pet(s).
With specific reference to boundary fence systems for cats, it was suggested that these fences allow an owner to fulfil their requirements under the Act to protect their pet from suffering, injury and disease. The pet owner respondent highlighting this issue reported that in the period from January 2011 to December 2014 the Scottish SPCA received only 23 complaints about electronic training aids, none of which were about boundary fence systems. They also reported that, after investigation, no further action was considered necessary in any of these 23 cases.
Around 1 in 6 suggested that the existing provisions make it clear that causing unnecessary suffering to an animal -whether with an electronic training aid or any other means - is against the law. Associated comments included that the provisions could and should be used more extensively to address issues of animal cruelty and neglect. Other frequently-made comments included that:
- Any training tools are open to misuse in the wrong hands and that if someone is determined to abuse an animal and inflict suffering they will always find a way.
- Compulsory education, training or some form of licensing could be considered.
The most frequently made point by those who did not believe existing provisions are sufficient was that they do not prevent the use of electronic training aids and, by extension, do not prevent the suffering to animals which these respondents consider electronic training aids to inflict. Around 2 in 5 respondents made this point, sometimes raising similar concerns about the effect of electronic training aids as emerged at Question 1. Two animal welfare respondents noted that the current guidance for the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 makes no mention of electronic training aids. Also as at Question 1, respondents frequently suggested that electronic training aids are ineffective and/or that there are much better and more effective approaches for training animals. Around 1 in 3 raised this issue.
With specific reference to the framing of the offence itself, the principal issue raised was that 'unnecessary' suffering is a concept which is subjective and potentially difficult to prove. As an example, a pet owner respondent who is also a Procurator Fiscal Depute reported that they had previously prosecuted people under the 2006 Act but that it can be difficult to establish "suffering" unless the results of the criminality are at a catastrophic level. A veterinary profession respondent referenced animal welfare legislation in Norway as providing greater clarity by stating that when being trained an animal should not be put under fear, hurt or unnecessary strain on purpose.
Further points made about the 2006 Act included:
- The instructions which come with electronic training aids would not be sufficient to ensure an accurate assessment of any level of suffering being caused to an individual animal. The animal welfare respondent highlighting this issue went on to suggest that most users are unlikely to intend to cause suffering to their pet but would have been misled by how the aids are marketed. They also suggested that suffering may not be obvious to any enforcement officer involved since even within a single breed, dogs have been shown to have a variable capacity for coping with aversive stimuli.
- Even if it is possible to assess the physical suffering that may have been caused, it is not possible to assess the psychological trauma which an animal may have suffered and which may be equally profound.
- Prosecuting under section 19 of the Act would present some very particular challenges, including proving beyond reasonable doubt that the user had intended to cause unnecessary suffering.  The animal welfare respondent raising this issue also highlighted other exceptions which might be used by a defendant whose defence was based on attempting to improve a dog's behaviour - for example that any pain inflicted might be presented as being "for a legitimate purpose", as "proportionate" or as part of conduct that was, "in the circumstances that of a reasonably competent and humane person". They also suggested that the Crown would be unlikely to offer evidence about alternative, positive training methods.
- It would be difficult to use section 24 of the Act to prosecute someone for carrying out an activity that is common practice, and this section might even be used to support electronic collar use, for example, it could be argued that the use of the collar was made necessary by the need to protect the animal from injury. This might deter a prosecutor from pursuing a case.
Other points raised included that many people may not be familiar with the 2006 Act, with a veterinary profession respondent referring to a People's Dispensary for Sick Animals Animal Wellbeing ( PAW) report from 2015 which found that 69% of pet owners were unfamiliar with their responsibilities under animal welfare legislation across the UK.
Question 4: Do you think that Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code is required?
Question 4 asked respondents whether Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code is required. Responses by respondent category are set out in Table 6 below.
Table 6: Question 4 - responses by respondent category
|Category of respondent||Yes||No||Don't know||ALL|
|Member of the public||38||54%||21||30%||12||17%||71||100%|
|Owner of working dogs||6||27%||13||59%||3||14%||22||100%|
NB: Percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding
Overall, a very small majority (51% of those answering this question) thought that Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code is required. However, the analysis of further comments at Question 4, along with comparison with answers given at the next question, suggest that a proportion of those who selected that a statutory welfare code or guidance is required actually favour legislation to ban the use of electronic training aids. Around 1 in 2 of those who had selected 'Yes' at Question 4 made a further comment calling for a ban on the use of electronic training aids. Of the 506 who had answered 'Yes' at Question 4, 323 then went on to select the option of a complete ban on certain devices at Question 5. A degree of uncertainty or lack of clarity around the question may also explain the relatively high proportion of respondents (18% of those answering the question) who selected 'Don't know' at Question 4.
Amongst those answering 'Yes' at Question 4 but not then calling for a ban, around 1 in 4 referenced guidance or a code within their further comment. However, it was not always clear that this was in preference to a statutory welfare code. Around 1 in 7 referenced a statutory welfare code. These respondents were more likely to be clear that they favoured a statutory welfare code over guidance. Those who explained why they favoured a statutory approach tended to suggest it would carry more weight, offer greater clarity and/or, by extension, be more likely to protect animals.
The other relatively frequently made comments by those favouring a code or guidance were:
- This approach could help protect animals by sending a clear message as to what is and is not acceptable when using electronic training aids.
- Any code or guidance could not restrict the use of electronic training aids unless certain conditions are met. The most frequently made suggestion was that they could only be used under supervision and/or after training from a licensed or regulated practitioner.
- More generally, some form of education, training or licensing should be either encouraged or required.
- Any legislation, statutory code or even guidance is only really effective if consistently enforced. It will be important to ensure that those breaking any regulations or code are held to account.
Of those who had answered 'No' or 'Don't know' at Question 4 and then made a further comment, around 3 in 10 went on to call for a ban of some or all electronic training aids. Amongst the remaining respondents, the most frequently made comment was that no change is necessary, including because there is no evidence that there is a problem to be addressed or that the current animal welfare provisions are sufficient - around 1 in 2 of those answering 'No' or 'Don't know' and not calling for a ban were of this view. Other comments included that any code or guidance would be difficult or impossible to enforce and would not remove all risks of accidental or deliberate misuse of an electronic training device. As with those who favoured a code or guidance, there were also calls for users to undergo training in the correct use of any electronic training aid.
Email: Graeme Beale, firstname.lastname@example.org