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Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars)

Volume 574: debated on Wednesday 22 January 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use on dogs of any electronic collar designed to administer an electric shock; and for connected purposes.

It is claimed that the United Kingdom is a nation of animal lovers, so it is hard to imagine that we would show our affection for our pets by submitting them to electric shocks. However, it remains permissible under the law to sell and use electric shock collars on dogs, and it is believed that there are over 300,000 such devices in use.

Electric shock collars are worn around a dog’s neck and work either by a remote control with various settings that, when pressed, deliver an electric shock to a dog’s neck or by automatically delivering an electric shock to a dog when it barks. These collars are intended to train dogs to respond for fear of further punishment, with the dog receiving a shock when it does not perform what is asked of it, rather than out of a willingness to obey. This is not the type of training method that the Kennel Club endorses and certainly not a practice to which I would subject my Jack Russell, Maximus.

The Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust take the view that unwanted behaviour in dogs is best resolved by positive training methods. As such, my Bill is designed to ban the use of electric shock collars as they are not appropriate devices. Scientific learning theory dictates that if a dog has a strong desire to indulge in what it believes is pleasurable behaviour, any negative training method employed to prevent this has to be far more unpleasant for them than their natural behaviour is pleasant—it has to be extremely aversive. If an action brings about a positive outcome for a dog, that action will be repeated, as it is perceived to be beneficial.

Secondly, electronic training devices fail to address underlying behavioural problems in dogs, and seek to alter their behaviour by introducing a fear of further punishment rather than a willingness to obey. Any change in behaviour would result only from the dog perceiving the shock as painful. An electric shock collar hurts the animal because it has to; if it did not hurt, it would not work.

Electronic training devices also cause further behavioural problems. Dogs have a natural in-built flight or fight response when put in a situation that causes pain and fear, meaning that they either do anything they can to get away from the source of pain or become aggressive in response. Shock collars can thus cause further behavioural problems in addition to the ones owners are attempting to control. As a dog will have no idea what caused the pain, it is far more likely to associate it with something in its immediate environment rather than with its behaviour at the time. This is why there are cases of dogs attacking other dogs, their owners or other animals close by at the time of the shock, as the dog develops “superstitious” fears to things in the environment that were heard or seen at the time of the shock.

The most common defence for using electric shock collars is that they train dogs to stop chasing sheep. However, it is important to note that it is virtually impossible to use an electric shock collar to train a dog not to chase sheep. The theory behind the training method is that the dog will believe that the sheep gave it an electric shock and will thus not chase sheep again. Professional dog trainers claim, however, that success would be based on luck rather than judgment, as it is impossible to know at which level the collar should be set when the dog is near the sheep. In order for the dog to think the sheep shocked it, the trainer would have to wait until the dog was very near the sheep; otherwise, the dog would think the shock came from something else in its immediate environment. If the trainer waited until the dog was very close to the sheep and the setting of the collar was too low, there would be a high chance that the shock would not prevent the dog from worrying the sheep. Similarly, the collar could be set at the highest setting, but have no effect on the dog’s behaviour because the dog is already so aroused by chasing the sheep that it will continue to chase, no matter what shock it received.

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, a person in control of a dog worrying livestock on agricultural land is guilty of an offence. Under this Act, dogs must be kept on leads or under close control. In reality, dogs exercised near livestock should always be kept on leads—it is as simple as that; there should be no need for an electric shock collar. Other positive training tools and methods can produce dogs that are trained just as quickly and reliably—with absolutely no fear, pain or potential damage to the relationship between dog and handler.

Police dogs, armed forces dogs and assistance dogs are never trained using electric shock training devices. On 2 December, the Minister responded to my parliamentary written question about what progress, following the publication of research funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had been made on banning electric shock collars on dogs. Having acknowledged that

“electronic training aids can have a negative impact on the welfare of some dogs”,

the Minister added:

“the evidence from these studies is not strong enough to support a ban under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Government therefore has no plans to ban such devices in England. However, we have asked the industry to draw up guidance for dog owners and trainers advising how to use e-collars properly and to develop a manufacturers’ charter to ensure any e-collars on sale are made to high standards.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 511W.]

The findings of the recent publication of studies AW1402 and AW1402a greatly favour elimination of the use of electric shock collars. The first DEFRA project concluded that there was great variability in the way in which electric shock collars were used on dogs, and showed that owners tended not to read or follow the advice given in the instructions. The main conclusion was that there were significant negative welfare consequences for some of the dogs that had been trained with electric shock collars in the study.

The second study was on electric shock collars on dogs by trained professionals according to industry standards. The Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association was asked to design the training protocol and to recommend industry-trained professionals to take part in the study. The research project concluded that there was enough evidence, in the form of both behavioural and psychological changes, to support the argument that the use of electric shock collars, even by industry-trained professionals, still had a negative impact on dog welfare.

It therefore remains the view of the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, the British Veterinary Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that electric shock collars are negative training devices that have a detrimental impact on dog welfare. My Bill would ban their use, which has already been banned in Wales, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Dr Matthew Offord, John Stevenson, Jim Fitzpatrick, Simon Wright, Zac Goldsmith, Mr David Amess, Martin Caton, Joan Walley, Andrew Rosindell and Mr John Baron present the Bill.

Dr Matthew Offord accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February and to be printed (Bill 159).

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 3 September 2013 (Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill: Programme) and 8 October 2013 (Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill: Programme (No. 2)).

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Any Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

2. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

3. The proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

4. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Table

Lords Amendments

Time for conclusion of proceedings

Amendments to clause 2, amendments to schedule 1, amendments to schedule 2, remaining amendments to part 1

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments

Amendments to clause 26, amendments to schedule 3, amendments to clauses 27 to 32, amendments to schedule 4, remaining amendments to part 2, amendments to part 4, remaining amendments to the Bill

Four hours after the commencement of those proceedings

Subsequent stages

5. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

6. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Tom Brake.)