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.

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Spring in the Garden

It’s Springtime and dogs love to be in the garden, so here are some tips to keep them safe:

Slugs and snails can carry parasites, especially lungworm. Check with your vet that your dog’s monthly or quarterly medication includes protection for lungworm (not all do). Control slugs and snails by using pet-safe organic slug pellets or traps.

Fences and boundaries: dogs spend more time outdoors in spring and summer, so check that they are safely enclosed in the garden. The height of the fence or wall needs to be adequate to contain dogs that jump and if necessary, install a trellis structure to low walls to raise the height. Fence off areas of the garden that should be kept dog-free. There is nothing worse for a gardener to find her prize flowers have been trampled!

Lawns and grassy areas are prone to become bald and muddy, so reduce wear and tear by choosing grass that is similar to that in public parks – generally a mixture of grass seed varieties, based on rye.

Gardeners are encouraged to compost waste vegetables and fruit, as well as dead plants, etc. Dogs love to explore the compost heap, so fence it off to stop them foraging for scraps and never put cooked food on the heap to keep foxes and vermin at bay. The core of sweetcorn should never be put on the compost heap – when swallowed by dogs, it cannot be passed through the intestines and out of the bowel, causing a potentially fatal blockage.

Plants and trees: some are toxic to dogs, especially bulbs, grapevines, ornamental grasses and lilies. Check that your garden contains dog-safe plants. Many herbs are good for dogs, but not all, so check before sowing/planting.

Wooden decking, paving slabs and sharp gravel surfaces can be hazardous for dogs. Check paws regularly for abrasions and consider using rounded pebbles for drives and paths.

The main point of all this is to keep your dog safe, your flowers blooming in safety and to enjoy your time playing and relaxing with your best friend whilst enjoying the warm weather.