I understand there will shortly be a Consultation about a total ban on electric training collars for dogs and cats – also emotively known as “shock” collars. I am concerned that the result of this discussion are a foregone conclusion due to pressure from such organisations as The Kennel Club and the Dogs’ Trust who whip up public support by highlighting the potential abuse such devices can be used for and conveniently ignoring studies which have concluded that when used humanely and correctly there are no adverse effects and can in fact be beneficial.
The campaign to ban E-collars claims that they are completely and always unnecessary and that dog training can be achieved to a high standard using Reward Only methods. This is usually demonstrated by showing video clips of dancing dogs, agility dogs and super obedient dogs who can perform tricks to an excellent standard. This is not in question and does not need to be debated, however what it fails to acknowledge are the number of dangerous behaviours such as livestock worrying, car or bicycle chasing, and lurching across the road towards other dogs which need to be inhibited efficaciously before tragedy occurs. I have searched and searched for and failed to find a single piece of actual evidence that reward only behaviour has successfully changed the behaviour of a dog with an established chasing habit. Indeed if there were multiple evidence based examples of this they would feature heavily in the campaign against E-collars. They would also be all over dog training websites, and the trainers themselves, being heavily in demand, would be easy to find. This is simply not the case as my own experience bears witness.
Thirteen months ago I adopted a damaged and nervous large breed adult dog who had been passed from one shelter to another. I deliberately chose a dog who had been continually overlooked because as a home worker I have the time and inclination to put in the necessary effort. He responded extremely favourably to the received wisdom of Positive Only training methods except in regard to his enormous prey drive. I followed the advice given so glibly that if I only persisted in getting ever closer to livestock and rewarding him for not responding, in due course the behaviour would diminish. It did not change one iota.
To my eternal shame and regret, my failure has resulted in the death of two ewes, his own injury from being kicked by a horse, injury to me from being pulled over and financial loss in respect of compensation paid to a farmer. I was still committed to training this out of him using kind only methods but the search for professional help proved fruitless. One self-proclaimed expert in the field turned me down on learning he had already killed sheep, another failed to respond to my enquiry, and another said he would help if I
compensated him for any damage to his flock during the process. I politely declined. We struggled on for another four months of only ever walking on leash – not ideal for a large energetic dog, and also not really safe as he still went crazy if he got sight or sniff of sheep.
Eventually I found a trainer who was honest and open about the special circumstances in which he uses aversive conditioning to inhibit dangerous behaviours. He has a string of glowing client testimonials and video evidence of his methods and their results. He is committed to using only the highest quality products rather than the cheap nasty devices freely available on the internet, and he campaigns for their use solely under licence and with the appropriate professional input. In two short training sessions which involved receiving four static electronic pulses each lasting only a fraction of a second, my dog decided for himself that sheep were just not interesting any more.
We have never looked back, and I can say with my hand on heart that walks are now an absolute joy for us both. I still use a leash near livestock out of courtesy to the farming community, but I do not have to worry about what is around every corner or over every hedge, or concern ourselves with livestock making an unexpected appearance.
I urge you to hear the voices of people whose lives have been transformed by such input, and NOT to make criminals of those who have their dog’s best interest at heart and want more for them than a sterile overly controlled existence. I urge you not to criminalise those of us brave enough to take on other people’s thrown away animals and undo the damage that their neglect and/or well-meaning ignorance has created. I urge you to acknowledge the fact that it is misuse of the tool rather than the tool itself that is dangerous, and to make appropriate controls compulsory rather than enforce an outright ban. I urge you in the event of such a ban to advise your constituents on the realistic alternative methods they can take to alter such behaviour rather than expecting them to successfully manage an unpredictable environment for the duration of a dog’s lifetime.
I look forward to your reply and hope you can consider my request with an open mind