Dog training aids guidance: review

In October 2018 we issued guidance on dog training aids, outlining expectations regarding dog training methods and highlighting the risks of using aversive training methods. This report reviews the effectiveness of that guidance.

4. Conclusions

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 clearly influenced what many respondents thought about the Scottish Government's guidance. At one end, concerns were raised that the guidance effectively endorses the use of e-collars when they should be banned, and at the other end, that the guidance mis-represents the use of aversive techniques and e-collars and confuses rather than educates about their use. Those holding either of the polar viewpoints therefore 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, though 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. However, there do not appear to have been many welfare complaints involving aversive training aids in Scotland. There are an estimated 12.5 million dogs in the UK in 2021 with 33% of households having dogs[1]. Scotland has 8.2% of the human population[2], which suggests that there could potentially be 1 million dogs in Scotland based on proportion of the UK population. Yet only 3 of the 33 enforcement agencies surveyed (of which 9 responded) reported any complaints involving dog training aids, and there were only 80 complaints reported over 4 years, none of which warranted even a written warning on investigation, much less prosecution. 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 available.



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