Electric Shock Collars to be Banned in England

A nation of pet lovers allows the use of electric shock collars: The headline designed to make dog owners wince has certainly hit a nerve. Is it long overdue or another example of our “nanny state” society?

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary said that “punitive” collars “cause harm and suffering to our pets”. They have been banned in Wales and Scotland for some time. The use of these collars is to modify certain behaviours in animals, for example, aggression towards dogs and people, not coming back when called or straying beyond the boundaries of a property. These collars are activated when a remote control unit activates a receiver worn around then neck of a dog (or other animal). A warning sound usually precedes the electric shock, the level of which can be controlled generally on a scale from mild to strong.

Mr Gove goes on to say: “This ban will improve the welfare of animals and I urge pet owners to instead use positive reward training methods”. Note the use of the word “pet”.

Naturally, when anything is banned there are pros and cons; people in favour and those against. A good example of this is the ban on smoking in public places, even when scientific evidence confirms that smoking kills. The proposed ban on electric shock collars has evoked a similar, if less dramatic, response. Several well known charities have backed the ban, whereas other groups have said that the ban is a mistake and Mr Gove is ignoring counter evidence.

Let’s put this into perspective. Generally speaking, people who own pets would do them no harm, but there are exceptions to any rule. The ban on using electric shock collars will make it difficult to acquire one and is intended to keep them out of the hands of people who wish to train puppies and dogs to obey commands with a shock. There are trainers in America who do this in their classes, which causes the puppy or dog distress and pain. So, the ban is “a good thing” in such circumstances.

Now think of a dog that constantly escapes from its garden and finds whatever is across the road irresistible. Very few vehicles pass by during the day or night, but it only takes one to injure of kill the escapee on a mission. Example: A beautiful black Labrador was fatally injured on one such occasion, despite his owners fortifying their boundaries to keep him in. It could be that if he had been taught that the fence would deliver a warning shock such that it deterred the dog from straying he would still be alive.

Now take another scenario: the services use dogs for many different purposes, particularly security. Their dogs are trained to attack and withdraw on command. They are generally aggressive dogs by nature – you could say they have “attitude”, which is a necessary character trait for them to be able to do the job for which they are trained. In such circumstances, in the hands of professional service and security personnel who train these working dogs, the use of electric shock collars may have a use. They are not training pet dogs. The dogs are used by prison officers, the police, army, RAF, etc., in riot, crowd control or war situations. They have to respond to commands immediately or the prisoner, rioter, terrorist could be fatally injured.

So taking an objective view, the ban on using these shock collars to train pet dogs is to be largely welcomed. It may keep owners who do not have the best interests of their pets at heart from administering pain to achieve a level of obedience or response, but it may also remove a valuable training aid from professional dog trainers whose work includes training dogs to attack people on command and withdrawing immediately on command, too, which is a highly skilled job when dealing with animals in the red zone.

In my view the ban on electric shock collars being legal to use is good. They should not be on sale to the general public in pet stores or on line, although this will be virtually impossible to police since they are available in other countries so could be purchased by UK residents and used clandestinely. Train your dog to respond positively to you and you will not even think about other alternatives.




Are Dogs Wolves in Designer Fur Coats?

Our dogs are, by scientific standards and evolutionary history, domesticated descendants of the wolf. Their DNA is still 99 per cent wolf, despite the different breeding trends that man has imposed over recent centuries. In the scheme of evolution, dogs are a relatively new sub-species given that wolves have been around for 30,000 years or so. This suggests that, given their carnivorous anatomy, the food that they eat needs to be appropriate to their digestive system.

Dog’s internal physiology is the same as wolves, so it would follow that their physiological and nutritional needs would be similar if not the same. Wild animals generally require different levels of nutritional intake, i.e. more food, in comparison to domestic dogs, given that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, hence they gorge on their prey, nor do they know when they will have food to eat. The energy they expend whilst hunting is relevant to the difficulty of the hunt as well as what they are hunting. For example, if a pack of wolves is hunting down a large deer it is likely to be more of a challenge than, say, a rabbit or other small creature. Smaller prey would, of course, not feed a pack of hungry wolves so they would need to hunt again sooner than if they felled a deer or larger mammal.

Contrast this with our domestic pet dogs. They know that they will get two or three meals a day when living in a home where they are cared for and loved. The food they are given will be the best quality their owners can provide – or is it?

Domesticated dogs are quite capable of eating the same diet as wolves, their predator cousins, which consists of fats and proteins almost exclusively. When did you last see a pack of wolves grazing in a wheat or rice field?

Despite the changes in their physical appearance – there are now hundreds of breeds – the changes in the physiology of domestic dogs are relatively insignificant. The size of a chihuahua’s stomach is about the size of a walnut, significantly smaller than that of a mastiff or great Dane. One significant factor that differentiates domestic dogs from wolves is the need to hunt, but pet dogs still have the genes of a predator, whether they are expressed or not depends on their latent prey drive. Some dogs enjoy chasing a ball, rabbit or anything else that moves; some dogs can’t be bothered; some dogs know that they are too slow or weak to be successful so show no interest in using energy to hunt. 

Whatever the characteristics or breed of our pet dogs, they deserve to be fed a diet that suits their physiology and their energy requirements to maintain optimum health. 

Next blog: dietary requirements