Consultation on potential controls or prohibition of electronic training aids

Consultation analysis on electronic training aids for pets, dogs and cats.

Ban or regulations

The second section of the consultation gathered views on a potential ban or stricter regulations.

Question 5: Thinking about the current legislation, which one of the following do you think is necessary?

At Question 5 respondents were asked to select from one of six options. Responses by respondent category are set out in Table 7 below.

The greatest proportion of respondents (44% of those answering the question) favoured a complete ban on certain devices. A majority of animal behaviourists (58%), animal care respondents (83%), animal welfare respondents (67%) and members of the general public (56%) favoured this approach. The 'Nothing, current legislation is sufficient' option was favoured by 28% of those answering the question. A majority of pet supplies respondents (56%) and owner of working dogs respondents (65%) favoured this approach.

'A combination of a ban and stricter regulations depending on devices' or 'Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code' was supported by 10% and 9% of those answering the question respectively. Those supporting guidance or a welfare code included the majority of local government respondents (57% of those answering the question). Of the remaining respondents, 5% favoured stricter regulations and 3% did not know.

A total of 645 respondents went on to make a further comment, although a number of these referred back to comments made at previous questions. This applied particularly to respondents who either selected a complete ban on certain devices or that the current legislation is sufficient. The comments which were made had a very similar focus to that set out in the analysis of comments at Questions 1, 2 and 3.

A complete ban on certain devices

Those who sought a complete ban on certain devices (around 1 in 2 of the 645 respondents commenting) tended to raise very similar issues as at Question 1. Although these respondents were calling for a more wide-ranging ban, they sometimes raised very particular concerns around static pulse based devices. However, some respondents questioned why the option available was for 'a complete ban on certain devices' and made it clear that they were calling for a complete ban of all electronic training aids.

Most frequently respondents stated their opposition to the use of training devices and methods which they consider to be punishment-based and dependent on inflicting pain or creating fear. This was sometimes associated with a view that the use of such devices is unethical and has no place in a civilised society.

Table 7: Question 5 - responses by respondent category

Category of respondent A complete ban of certain devices Stricter regulations Combination of ban and stricter regulations Guidance or statutory welfare code Nothing, current legislation is sufficient Don't know ALL
N % N % N % N % N % N % N %
Animal behaviourist 25 58% 5 12% 2 5% 4 9% 6 14% 1 2% 43 100%
Animal care 5 83% - 0% 1 17% - 0% - 0% - 0% 6 100%
Animal trainer 54 40% 8 6% 11 8% 13 10% 48 35% 2 1% 136 100%
Animal welfare 28 67% 1 2% 8 19% 1 2% 4 10% - 0% 42 100%
Local government 1 14% - 0% 1 14% 4 57% 1 14% - 0% 7 100%
Member of the public 41 56% - 0% 8 11% 2 3% 21 29% 1 1% 73 100%
Pet owner 281 43% 36 6% 62 10% 66 10% 182 28% 21 3% 648 100%
Pet supplies 1 11% 2 22% - 0% 1 11% 5 56% - 0% 9 100%
Veterinary professional 11 44% 1 4% 6 24% 3 12% 4 16% - 0% 25 100%
Owner of working dogs 1 4% 1 4% 3 13% 2 9% 15 65% 1 4% 23 100%
TOTAL 448 44% 54 5% 102 10% 96 9% 286 28% 26 3% 1012 100%

It was also frequently suggested that training using electronic training aids is ineffective or not as effective as alternative positive-reinforcement or reward-based approaches. Other concerns raised about the use of electronic training aids included that they:

  • Present a risk to the welfare of animals. Harm may be physiological but may also be psychological. In particular, it was suggested it may result in long-term welfare issues such as fear of the punisher.
  • Suppress behaviour without addressing its underlying cause or the motivation behind it. This can in turn lead to other behaviour problems.
  • Are very difficult to use correctly and create a risk that the animal associates coincidental events with the punishment, especially if that punishment is poorly timed, or for boundary fence systems, if the animal is not able to see the boundary markings.

A number of respondents explained why they favoured a ban as opposed to stricter regulations, guidance or a statutory welfare code. The need for clarity and a simple, straightforward message was highlighted. There were concerns that any regulations would be very difficult if not impossible to enforce and that any guidance could simply be ignored. These respondents tended to the view that only a complete ban would offer sufficient protection to animals.

Stricter regulations

Respondents who commented on their preference for stricter regulations (41 respondents) tended to focus on the possible focus of those regulations. This issue is explored further at Questions 8 and 9, but in summary respondents most frequently suggested that users of electronic training aids should be required to undergo some form of training in their correct use and/or that devices should only be available through or for the use of qualified animal trainers or behaviourists.

Other comments included that electronic training aids should only be available for use as a last resort or that there should be regulations on the equipment itself. One suggestion was that regulation should focus on the levels of discomfort it is possible to administer and that the Scottish Government should work with manufacturers to ensure that devices are effective but do not cause pain to an animal.

A pet supplies respondent suggested that secondary legislation would offer a practical and cost-effective approach to establishing standards covering the quality of products and their use without causing the negative consequences which would result from a ban. As a manufacturers association they also noted their commitment to working with government and other key stakeholders to ensure that high-quality, easy to use and safe products are available.

A combination of bans and stricter regulations depending on devices

The 69 respondents favouring a combination of bans and stricter regulations and who commented sometimes raised similar concerns as those favouring a complete ban, including that the use of electronic training aids can inflict pain and suffering and that there are better approaches available. Around 1 in 4 called for a ban on either static pulse devices or static pulse training or anti bark collars. There was also a small number of respondents who stated that boundary fence systems should not be banned and who noted the very real advantages which a boundary fence system had brought to their pet(s).

Around 1 in 3 suggested that there were some types of devices or some reasons for use which could or would be acceptable if regulated. Where specific further information was supplied, most respondents tended to reference either boundary fence systems or alternatives to static pulse collars and vibration collars in particular.

With specific reference to vibration collars, there was a range of opinion as to when they should 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. An animal welfare respondent (who had called for a complete ban) noted that, when used correctly, remote training vibrating collars can have a very specific use in the training of deaf dogs. They suggested that consideration should be given to a very tightly regulated exemption for the use of remote training vibrating collars to train deaf dogs only.

There were concerns about the use of alternatives to static pulse collars. For example, a veterinary profession respondent commented that there is a lack of research and evidence concerning the welfare implications of collars using noise, vibration, ultrasonic sound or the spray of water or citronella. They had concerns that such approaches may be stressful for a dog and called for their use to be covered by a code of practice until there is scientific research to demonstrate that their use does not pose a welfare risk. They also suggested that further evidence be collected on the use and effectiveness of boundary fence systems and suggested that their use should be covered by a code of practice in the meantime. An animal welfare respondent with concerns about boundary fence systems suggested it is unethical to confine an animal without any visual definition which it can see or understand and to inflict punishment when it moves beyond this area.

Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code

A total of 62 respondents who favoured Scottish Government guidance or a statutory welfare code went on to make a further comment. Some of these referred back to comments made at Question 4 and overall, the views expressed were very much in line with those who had answered 'Yes' at Question 4.

Most frequently, respondents suggested that electronic training aids can be effective tools if used properly and responsibly. Other issues raised or suggestions made included that some form of education, training or licensing should be either encouraged or required and that this could include devices only being available under supervision and/or after training from a licensed or regulated practitioner.

Nothing, current legislation is sufficient

The 130 respondents who thought that no change is required and went on to comment frequently referred back to their previous comments.

Most frequently, respondents pointed to being effective training tools when used correctly. Around 1 in 3 made this point, sometimes supporting their case by referencing their own experience or training their own or others dogs. Some respondents also noted that they are not aware of any occasions on which others have used an electronic training aid in a way that has harmed an animal.

The other frequently made comment was that the current legislative framework, and in particular the protections offered by the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, are sufficient to safeguard the welfare of animals. There was an associated point that enforcing the existing law would be more effective in protecting animals than adding further legislation or regulations.

Other points raised included that:

  • Some of the shortcomings that may have existed in some early training models (such as the lack of warning functions and the inability to easily adjust and limit both application time and intensity of impulses) appear to have been addressed by some manufacturers. The owner of working dogs respondent raising this issue noted that the latest ECMA specification is more stringent in these areas and suggested that any Scottish Government Guidance could usefully reflect these higher standards.
  • Any statutory controls should be focused on the quality and specification of the devices available and on challenging manufacturers or sellers of sub-standard devices. Suggested controls included limiting the duration of any static pulse with a prescribed delay before the collar can be activated again. Another suggestion was that the strength of any static pulse the collar discharges should be calibrated to the size of the dog.

Question 6: In your opinion, which, if any of the devices listed should be banned?

Questions 6 and 7 asked which if any of a range of specific devices should be banned or regulated. Full results at these questions are set out within Annex 4 to this report, summary results are set out below. Respondents could select as many or as few options as they wished or could select 'Don't know'. However, there was no option to indicate no ban or no regulations. The percentages in Tables 8 and 9 are calculated against the base number of total respondents (n=1032).

Table 8: Question 6 - responses by device type

Type of device Remote training collar Anti-bark collar Boundary Fence Systems
N % N % N % N %
Static pulse 529 51% 530 51% 415 40%

Spray 427 41% 421 41%

Sonic 425 41% 425 41%

Vibration 307 30% 337 33%

Don't know

65 6%

A small majority (51% of all respondents in both cases) favoured remote training and anti-bark static pulse collars being banned. Those taking this view included the majority of animal behaviourists, animal care respondents, animal welfare respondents, members of the public and veterinary profession respondents. As at other questions, pet owners were evenly divided on this issue - 49% favoured a ban on static pulse remote training collars and 50% favoured a ban of static pulse anti-bark collars.

Those favouring a ban of other types of devices also tended to favour a ban of static pulse collars - this means that the group of respondents favouring bans of other types of devices is generally a sub-set of those wishing to see static pulse collars banned. Equally, those favouring a ban of remote training devices also tended to favour a ban of anti-bark devices. A consistent 41% of respondents favoured a ban of spray and sonic remote training and anti-bark collars. The majority of animal care and animal welfare respondents favoured a ban. The majority of animal behaviourists favoured a ban of spray and sonic remote training collars and spray anti-bark collars.

The proportion of respondents wishing to see vibration collars banned was lower than for other types of device at 30% for remote training collars and 33% for anti-bark collars. Animal care respondents were the only category of respondent in which a majority wished to ban vibration collars. There were also around 100 respondents who wished to see static pulse, sonic and spray remote training collars banned but did not wish to see vibration remote training collars banned. The equivalent group for anti-bark collars around 75 respondents.

Overall, 40% of respondents called for a ban of boundary fence systems. The majority of animal behaviourist, animal care respondents and animal welfare respondents favoured a ban. There were around 65 respondents who wished to see all remote training and anti-bark devices banned but did not wish to see boundary fence systems banned.

Although 703 respondents made a further comment, many of these comments either referred back to or reiterated points made at earlier questions. This applied particularly to those who did not wish to see any devices banned and those who wished to see all, and particularly static pulse, devices banned. The analysis below focuses on other issues raised and in particular issues raised about other types of devices. The numbers of respondents commenting specifically on other types of devices tended to be relatively low (ranging from around 30 respondents commenting on vibration collars up to around 75 commenting on spray collars). A small number of these respondents reported that they are unfamiliar with certain of the devices listed and did not feel able to comment. This tended to apply to either boundary fence systems or spray collars.

The most frequently made additional comment was to stress that any device which relies on punishment-based training should be banned and that this applies not just to static pulse collars but to vibration, sonic and spray collars and to boundary fence systems. The concern was that all these devices inhibit behaviour by creating a fear response, but do nothing to address the reason why the dog is behaving in that way. An animal welfare respondent suggested that using aversive training is essentially like putting ear plugs in when someone is screaming for help.

Anti-bark collars

Specific issues raised about anti-bark (as opposed to remote training) collars included:

  • They do not address the reason why the dog is barking. For example, a dog which barks when left alone may be suffering from separation anxiety, which needs to be addressed by helping the dog overcome that anxiety. An anti-bark collar is more likely to make things worse by increasing the anxiety being experienced.
  • Further, if the need to bark is suppressed rather than addressed the dog may adopt other harmful behaviours - such as chewing and over-grooming - in order to alleviate stress.
  • Anti-bark collars can be activated other than by the dog barking. Suggestions included that they can be triggered by vibration in the animal's throat, including when a dog is eating or 'communicating' and by external noises, including another dog barking. The psychological harm this could cause to the dog wearing the collar was highlighted.
  • They cannot be justified - as remote training collars might be - as a mechanism to protect a dog and potentially even save its life, for example through stopping it chasing sheep or running onto a road. Given this, alternative training methods should be applied.
  • Alternatively, if a dog barks persistently, and to a level which may result in complaints from neighbours, an anti-bark collar could be the only solution which allows the dog to remain in the home.

Spray collars

Specific issues raised about spray collars included:

  • Spraying anything on or near a dog's face can still cause distress and a fear response.
  • Collars which spray citronella may result in citronella getting into the eyes, nose and mouth of the animal wearing the collar and possibly of animals nearby. This could be harmful to any dog involved, particularly given the sensitivity of its senses.
  • The animal will be left to experience the smell and hence be exposed to any harm being done long after the behaviour the spray collar was supposed to prevent has passed. This will not only mean any harm is prolonged but also that the dog will not associate the spray with the unwanted behaviour.
  • Spray collars have the potential for being triggered by adjacent animals, again meaning the dog can make no connection between unwanted behaviour and being sprayed.
  • Compressed air is more effective and is not harmful if used properly.

Sonic collars

Specific issues raised about sonic collars included:

  • Sonic devices can harm an animal's hearing.
  • Not only the animal wearing the collar could be harmed, other nearby animals could also be affected.
  • Collars that emit sound act more as a distraction technique and could be permitted with guidance.

Vibration collars

Specific issues raised about vibration collars included:

  • Vibration collars may have a role to play in training deaf or blind dogs.
  • Collars that vibrate can act more as a distraction technique and could be permitted with guidance.

Boundary fence systems

Further comments about boundary fence systems suggest that some respondents were referring to electric containment fences of the type routinely used to contain livestock and which would give a shock to any person or animal touching the fence. However, the focus of the consultation is on boundary fence systems which involve an animal wearing a collar which activates when the animal approaches the boundary. Specific issues raised about these types of boundary fence systems included:

  • An animal could be endangered if it is unable to leave an area in an emergency, such as in the event of a fire or if another dog, and particularly an aggressive dog, enters the property and the contained dog is unable to escape it.
  • Boundary fences can cause particular problems if the animal does pass through but is then unable to return to a safe area.
  • They may be acceptable as long as the animal has a clear option to move away.

Question 7: In your opinion, which, if any of the devices listed should be regulated?

Question 7 asked which if any of a range of specific devices should be regulated. As noted above, full results at these questions are set out within Annex 4 to this report and summary results for Question 7 are set out in Table 9 below. Percentages in are calculated against the base number of total respondents (n=1032).

Table 9: Question 7 - responses by device type

Type of device Remote training collar Anti-bark collar Boundary Fence Systems
N % N % N % N %
Static pulse 428 41% 415 40% 361 35%

Spray 361 35% 352 34%

Sonic 357 35% 350 34%

Vibration 322 31% 310 30%

Don't know

81 8%

The proportion of respondents indicating that devices should be regulated ranged from 30% for anti-bark vibration collars up to 41% for remote training static pulse collars. However, it should be noted that a very significant proportion of those calling for regulation had previously called for a ban at the Question 6. Analysis of further comments suggest that this may be for one of two reasons:

  • Some respondents equated regulation with a ban - in other words they were expressing support for regulations which would ban the use of a device.
  • Others also wished to see a ban but would support regulation as preferable to no change should the Scottish Government decide not to introduce a ban.

Table 10 below sets out the number of respondents who called for each type of device to be regulated but not also banned.

Table 10: Question 7 - responses by device type, with respondents calling for a ban on the same device at Question 6 removed

Type of device Remote training collar Anti-bark collar Boundary Fence Systems
N % N % N %
Static pulse 79 8% 70 7% 100 10%
Spray 84 8% 83 8%

Sonic 81 8% 83 8%

Vibration 115 11% 93 9%

Once those also calling for a ban have been removed, the proportion of respondents indicating that devices should be regulated ranged from 7% of all respondents for anti-bark static pulse collars up to 11% for remote training vibration collars.

Of those who had called for one or more device to be regulated having not already called for that device to be banned, 60 respondents went on to make a further comment. These further comments very much reflected the types of issues raised by those commenting at Question 8 below

Question 8: If the use of electronic training aids was regulated, what conditions should be required for the authorisation of their use?

Question 9: Which bodies would be best placed to authorise the use of electronic training aids?

A total of 736 respondents made a comment at Question 8 and 662 respondents made a comment at Question 9. There was some cross-referencing between comments at these two questions and hence they have been analysed as a single set of data; 759 respondents commented at one or both questions. However, around 1 in 2 respondents focused on their opposition to regulations - either because they favoured a ban or because they thought that no changes are required. A number of those who called for a ban or did not think regulations were required also suggested that effective regulation would in any case be difficult if not impossible.

Amongst the respondents who went on to comment on conditions or bodies (around 450 respondents) around 1 in 9 noted that they wanted to see some devices banned (generally static pulse devices) and others regulated. A small number of respondents suggested that some devices should be regulated and others not; again it was generally that the regulations/conditions applied to static pulse devices should be stricter than those for other devices. It should also be noted that those suggesting conditions and/or bodies did not always favour the regulatory approach and included those calling for a ban or for no change. However, these respondents did make suggestions against the possibility that the Scottish Government proceeds with this option.

In terms of specific conditions, respondents most frequently focused on conditions which should be met before electronic training aids can be accessed or used. The commonly made suggestion (by around 1 in 4) was that there should be some form of training or education around correct and responsible use of electronic training aids. Some but not all of these respondents provided further information on the type of education or training that might be appropriate. Most of these comments pointed to in-person training but there were also references to online tuition. For example, a veterinary profession respondent suggested that devices could require an activation code which is only provided when the tuition has been completed and an online assessment passed. An animal trainer respondent suggested that online tuition might be appropriate for users of boundary fences.

However, many of those calling for education or training suggested that pet owners should only be able to use a device (with most references appearing to apply to collars) having been trained by and/or under the supervision of a qualified, certified or licensed animal trainer or behaviourist. Around 1 in 7 suggested this condition. Some of these respondents also suggested that pet owners should only be able to access a device through this route and that being allowed to use a device should be dependent on having successfully completed a training course with the trainer or behaviourist who had supplied the device. Animal behaviourist or trainers were particularly likely to have made this suggestion, but respondents taking this view also included pet owners, animal welfare respondents and veterinary profession respondents. An animal trainer respondent proposed a standardised training process should be developed and that trainers and behaviourist should be required to use this process.

Another suggested route through which devices could be accessed was from veterinary practitioners and/or only with the express permission of a veterinary professional. Around 1 in 8 suggested vets could be involved in the distribution of training aids - these respondents included pet owners, animal behaviourist and animal trainers. There was some overlap between those suggesting devices could be accessed through animal behaviourist or trainers and through vets.

Other respondents focused on who should be able to use electronic devices, under what circumstances and/or the types of animals on which devices could be used. The most frequently made suggestions were:

  • That certain devices should only be available for use by qualified, certified or licensed animal trainers or behaviourists - around 1 in 8 made this suggestion, including animal welfare respondents, animal behaviourists, animal trainers and pet owners. The suggestion was occasionally linked specifically to the use of static pulse devices.
  • That devices should only be available for use on animals of a specific type or performing a specific function - such as deaf dogs, breeds of dog prone to excessive barking, gun dogs, farmer's dogs or dogs that work at a distance and/or should only be allowed under specific circumstances - such as if all other training methods have failed and/or if euthanasia was the only other option. Around 1 in 8 suggested one or more of these conditions and, as before, the suggestion was occasionally linked specifically to the use of static pulse devices. Animal welfare respondents, animal trainers, pet owners, veterinary profession and owner of working dogs respondents were amongst those suggesting these types of conditions could be considered.

Other suggestions included that there should be a lower and upper age limit for animals on which devices can be used but that further restrictions could be set at a vet's discretion. This was connected to a suggestion that there should be compulsory health checks for any animal for which the use of an electronic training aid is being considered.

There were also suggestions around the devices themselves or other conditions which could be placed on their access or use. These included:

  • That there should be restrictions on the types, models and quality of devices that can be sold. Specific suggestions included that: there should be limits on the level of static pulse that a device can discharge or, more specifically, on the current and voltage output over a range of resistances; that any chemicals involved should be approved for use on animals; that the Scottish Government should draw up a list of approved devices; and that approved devices should carry a registered mark to that effect. There was an associated suggestion that the use of unregistered devices should be the subject to criminal proceedings and should be reported by the Scottish SPCA to the Procurator Fiscal. A pet supplies respondent specialising in boundary fences highlighted that recent cheaper imports which are available on market or auction type sites do not meet the guidelines which ECMA manufacturers have drawn up as an industry standard.
  • That there should be restrictions on the outlets through which devices can be purchased and in particular that it should not be possible to buy them online. This was sometimes associated with both the potential for poor quality, sub-standard devices to be easier to access online and/or with being able to obtain devices without any advice, information or training.
  • That devices should only be available to over 18s or that people should have to undergo a background check.
  • That anyone using a device should need to register that device and/or that there should be a record of serial numbers or traceable identification codes. This was sometimes connected to a licensing system for devices and/or those using them.

In terms of which bodies would be best placed to authorise the use of electronic training aids, a number of respondents identified more than one type of body. The most frequently identified bodies were:

  • Professional bodies for animal trainers or behaviourists and/or behaviourists or trainers who had been licensed or accredited by them. Around 3 in 10 of those commenting on conditions and/or bodies suggested these types of bodies or individuals. A range of professional bodies were suggested including the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, the Institute for Modern Dog Training, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Pet Dog Trainers of Europe, the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology and the Pet Professional Guild British Isles.
  • Animal welfare organisations, such as the Scottish SPCA, Blue Cross or the Dogs Trust. Around 1 in 5 suggested groups of this type. With specific reference to the Scottish SPCA it was noted that they already have a network of inspectors covering the country. It was also suggested that animal welfare organisations would have a clear focus on the best interests of the animal involved.
  • Veterinary practices or veterinary associations or professional bodies such as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Around 1 in 5 suggested organisations or bodies of this type. Those who gave a reason for suggesting vets sometimes noted that they have a presence across the country, would already possess the necessary knowledge and skills that may be required and may know the animals and owners involved.

Other bodies suggested (by smaller numbers of respondents) included Police Scotland, local authorities, the Scottish Government or Defra [6] , canine organisations such as the Kennel Club or breeders' associations and countryside-focused groups, such as the Landowner's Association or the National Union of Famers.

There was also the suggestion that it may be better to create a new organisation to carry out this function. A pet owner respondent amongst those suggesting this approach commented that self-regulation can lead to the problem of self-interest, and it would therefore be better to have a body which brought together a combination of interested parties such as manufacturers, welfare groups and animal trainers. Another suggestion, in this case from an animal behaviourist, was for an independent advisory body with funding provided by the industry.


Email: Graeme Beale,

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