In November 2016 the Scottish Government published a consultation on potential controls or prohibition of electronic training aids in Scotland. The consultation covered the use of electronic training devices for cats and dogs. It included remote control training collars, anti-bark collars and pet containment fences (also known as electric boundary or freedom fences) using either a static electric pulse, sound, vibration or spray. There were four options proposed: keep the status quo; developing guidance or a statutory welfare code; developing regulations on the use of electronic collars; or banning the use of electronic collars.
A total of 1,032 consultation responses was received. Pet owners formed the largest respondent category at 64% of all respondents. Other categories of respondent were animal trainers (13%), members of the general public (7%), animal welfare respondents (4%), animal behaviourists (4%), veterinary professionals (3%), owners of working dogs (2%), animal care respondents (1%), local government respondents (1%) and pet supplies respondents (1%). The majority of all respondents (60%) currently reside in Scotland and a further 26% in others parts of the United Kingdom.
Overall balance of opinion
Taking all answers together, it was clear that respondents tended to approach the consultation from one of two very different starting points - that electronic training aids are effective and can allow some animals to lead happier lives, or that they are harmful, if not cruel, and far better training approaches are available. As would be expected, respondents overall position on the issue tended to be reflected in their answers across the consultation.
Although no single question acts as a clear proxy, answers at questions covering whether there should be a ban and if so of which devices, suggest that respondents were relatively evenly divided between those supportive of electronic training aids and those opposed to their use. Certain categories of respondent very clearly tended to one side of the argument or the other. In particular, animal care and animal welfare respondents clearly tended to be opposed to the use of electronic training aids. Pet supplies respondents and owners of working dogs clearly tended to be supportive of their use. The largest single category of respondents - pet owners - were relatively evenly divided on the issue.
Support for the use of electronic training aids
Respondents who broadly supported the use of electronic training aids very often drew on personal experience of using electronic training aids, either with their own pets or when working with other people's animals. The majority of these respondents appeared to be referring to using remote training collars, although there were also references to anti-bark collars and boundary fence systems. The comments on boundary fence systems included references to both cats and dogs.
Overall, respondents who supported the use of electronic training aids were likely to make one or more of the following points:
- The use of electronic training aids, including both collars and boundary fence systems, can bring very real benefits to animals that might otherwise have led very restricted lives, or for which euthanasia would have been a likely option. This may include animals for which other training methods had not worked.
- They may be particularly effective for specific types of dogs, including some working dog breeds, which have a very strong instinct to chase other animals and which may not respond to other training cues. Deaf or blind dogs may benefit from the use of vibration collars. Those making this latter point included some respondents who were otherwise very strongly opposed to the use of electronic training aids.
- Particularly based on personal experience, there is no evidence that animals suffer when electronic training aids are used correctly. Most of those who use electronic training aids use them properly. Anything can be open to misuse, but there is no particular association with electronic training aids - if someone is determined to abuse an animal they will find a way to be cruel or neglectful.
- The existing legislation is sufficient to protect animals. It is clear that causing unnecessary suffering to an animal - whether with an electronic training aid or by any other means - is against the law. Enforcing the existing law would be more effective in protecting animals than adding further legislation or regulations. Any statutory controls should be focused on the quality and specification of the devices available.
- The most effective way to address any issues would be through further education. Training or licensing could be either encouraged or required. One option could be devices only being available under supervision and/or after training from a licensed or regulated practitioner. There may also be a case for some form of code or guidance.
Opposition to the use of electronic training aids
Respondents who opposed the use of some or all electronic training aids tended to voice very particular concerns about the use of static pulse devices. As with those who supported the use of the aids, many of the respondents drew on their own experiences as pet owners or of working with animals. Respondents who opposed the use of electronic training aids were likely to make one or more of the following points:
- Using electronic training aids is harmful and/or cruel. In addition to immediate pain or distress, they may cause anxiety-related behaviours, lead to dogs shutting down psychologically, lead to dogs re-directing any aggression at other dogs or people and can cause physical injuries.
- There is no need to use training methods which are punishment-based and dependent on inflicting pain or creating fear. This approach suppresses behaviour without addressing its underlying cause or the motivation behind it. The electronic training aids themselves are very difficult to use correctly. There are much more effective and humane positive reinforcement training methods available.
- The existing animal welfare legislation is not sufficient to protect animals, not least because it does not prevent the use of static pulse collars. The 'unnecessary' suffering referenced in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 is a subjective concept which is potentially difficult to prove.
- Electronic training aids should be banned, and in particular any devices with a static pulse function should be banned. Any regulations would be very difficult, if not impossible, to enforce and only a ban would offer sufficient protection to animals. Although a ban was clearly preferred, if the Scottish Government does not introduce a ban then strict regulations might at least offer some protection to animals.
- With specific reference to vibration collars, there may be occasions when they could be permitted for use. Suggestions included all vibration collars being acceptable if regulated, through to vibration collars only being acceptable under certain circumstances, such as if all other approaches have failed and euthanasia is the only alternative, or for deaf dogs.
Overall, respondents to this consultation were divided on whether the Scottish Government should take action in this area. Broadly speaking, one group thought that little, if any, change is required. Others called for a ban of the use of electronic training aids in Scotland and of static pulse devices in particular.
A majority of those answering the relevant questions felt that a ban or stricter regulations would not affect their business. However, some respondents did expect to be affected - for example, around 3 in 10 thought their business would be affected by a ban or stricter regulations on remote training static pulse collars.
The most frequently identified possible effect was dealing with fewer animals suffering from the negative effects of having been trained with an electronic training aid. The next most frequently identified effect was that some dogs would be more difficult or even impossible to train - animal trainers and owners of working dog respondents raised this issue. Other effects identified included loss of sales.
Issues raised about the possible effect of regulations included that this would depend on the detail of any authorisation process for using training aids and in particular on whether those wishing to use or train others in the use of electronic training aids are able to become authorised.
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