A commitment was made to the Scottish Parliament in January 2018 to issue guidance on electronic training aids under Section 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. This commitment was fulfilled in October 2018 when Scottish Government Guidance was issued that outlines the expectations of the Scottish Government as regards dog training methods, and highlights the risks, to dog welfare and of potentially committing an offence, of using aversive training methods (see Annex A).
The guidance makes it clear that causing unnecessary suffering through the use of any type of aversive training aid, including electronic training aids, may be an offence under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, depending on the circumstances of the case.
It provides advice on all dog training aids for both dog owners and enforcement agencies and may be considered relevant by the courts in any prosecution of an offence under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 relating to inappropriate training methods. This will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case and the guidance may not necessarily have any bearing, for example if harm was not inflicted using the training aid in question.
The Scottish Government also committed to reviewing the effectiveness of the guidance in helping to prevent the mis-use of aversive training methods after 12 months in light of the practical experience of Scottish enforcement bodies. Work was delayed because of other priorities during the Covid pandemic; however, this report now fulfils that commitment.
This review began in November 2019 when a survey (Annex B) was sent to a variety of organisations including animal welfare organisations, Dog trainers/Animal behaviourists, those involved in the manufacture/supply of electronic collars, Local Authorities and the veterinary profession. A total of 41 invitations were issued
An initial deadline for responses was set of 10th January 2020. This was later extended to 21st February 2020 in order to maximise responses from Local Authorities in particular, as the lead enforcement authority for animal welfare laws in Scotland.
Data from all the responses was collated and is presented in this document. Some information provided was not considered for the purposes of this report for reasons of data protection, appropriateness, or relevance. A few of the comments provided were considered more relevant to a different question to where they were provided in the survey, and where comments were not obviously directed to a specific question a judgement was made as to where they seem to best fit.
25 responses were received in total, some from organisations or individuals that stakeholders had passed the survey on to for consideration. Completed surveys and in many cases additional information was received from 4 animal welfare organisations, 3 dog owners, 8 dog trainer/animal behaviourists, 8 Local Authorities, 1 e-collar manufacturer, and 1 veterinary organisation. A list of those who responded is provided in Annex D, with some anonymising for data protection purposes. Analysis of these responses is presented in this report.
Conclusions and next steps
The purpose of this review was not to address the use of training aids itself, but the usefulness of the Scottish Government's Guidance on Dog Training Aids. However, it appears that views on both of these matters are inextricably linked.
It is clear from both the numerical data and the comments provided by respondents that there remain two polarised points of view regarding dog training aids. At one end, some respondents consider that only reward-based training should ever be used, any aversive techniques are likely to create more behavioural problems than they solve, and e-collars should be banned. At the other end some respondents consider that dogs, like humans and other animals, naturally learn from a combination of reward and consequence and that e-collars should be strictly regulated and used, where appropriate and with supervision, as one part of a mainly reward-based training programme. Both view-points are based on wanting to ensure the safety and welfare of the dogs concerned, and of any people or animals around them.
Both of these view-points also clearly influenced what many respondents thought about the Scottish Government's guidance. Those holding either of the polar viewpoints generally thought the guidance was of little use. There were some respondents that thought the guidance was fine as it is, and enforcement agencies in particular seem to have found it useful where they have had occasion to speak to dog owners about dog training aids. However, this in itself appears to be a rare occurrence for most Local Authorities that responded.
Public awareness of the guidance appears to have been very limited, and it is difficult to assess whether or not the guidance has had any impact on the casual use of aversive training aids. Data provided on sales of dog training aids was very limited and probably not representative of actual sales in Scotland. There do not appear to have been many welfare complaints involving aversive training aids in Scotland among those enforcement agencies that responded. Neither the number of complaints nor the estimated sales of dog training aids appeared to have been affected by the publication of the guidance from the limited data provided.
The issue is currently being considered by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission as part of their wider review of dog training. It is expected that the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission will then make recommendations to Scottish Ministers on possible future legislation or guidance on dog training and dog training aids.