Dog training - use of handheld remote-controlled training devices (e-collars): report

Report on the use of handheld remote-controlled training devices (e-collars) in dog training by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission

7. Conclusions

In this paper SAWC consider the welfare impact of handheld remote-controlled (e-collar) training devices that deliver electric shocks to dogs and make recommendations regarding possible future legislation or guidance on dog training and dog training aids within the context of dog training services in Scotland.

To this end, the Commission consulted extensively with stakeholders on both sides of the debate regarding e-collar use. To inform its recommendations, written and verbal evidence was gathered from both proponents and opponents of e-collar use, and an extensive review of the published literature was undertaken.

E-collar usage

Three primary uses of e-collars as remote-controlled training devices are described:

Scenario 1. Routine use by trainers and owners for 'layering' on top of an already learnt command.

Scenario 2. Targeted use for prevention or correction of behaviours that the owner does not want, for example jumping up, barking, destruction, etc.

Scenario 3. Targeted use for prevention of predation.


Whether training methods are effective requires that they are capable of achieving the training objective, that dogs learn through application of training methods and that the methods do not cause disproportionate harm. Dependent on the ethical stance taken, 'disproportionate' may be interpreted for example as that no harm is justifiable, or that a more utilitarian view is taken.

Ethologists and e-collar critics, including the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, state that correction or punishment using aversive tools such as e-collars alone does not reinforce desirable behaviour and that positive reinforcement methods are effective and non-harmful, whereas aversive methods are unnecessary, no more effective than positive reinforcement methods and carry a significant risk of adverse welfare.

The published literature does not demonstrate that e-collars are more effective than other methods to control unwanted behaviour such as sheep worrying in Scotland.

When considering the efficacy of aversive versus reward-based training methods, in isolation to other considerations, such as welfare and ethics, the published literature shows that in multiple scenarios, reward-based training methods are at least as effective as aversive techniques. Many studies demonstrate that reward-based training is more effective, but some studies are ambiguous, and some commentators defend e-collar use.

Programmes of avoidance training of kiwis and snakes are well established in some areas of New Zealand and Australia. Similar models might be researched for use in Scotland. However, given that training alone does not guarantee that dogs will not predate livestock, irrespective of whether training has been undertaken to prevent predation, there are strong legal and practical arguments for keeping dogs on a lead when in the vicinity of livestock, and for ensuring that dog enclosures are secure.

Regulation of trainers/behaviourists

E-collars may currently be supplied, bought, and used by anyone. Given the acknowledged potential for welfare harm through misuse or abuse, it is concerning that even users, who are professional trainers and behaviourists, are unregulated and are not legally required to have understanding of or training in animal welfare, learning theory or the harm/benefit analysis of e-collar use.

It is not clear to members of the public how to access training and behaviourist advice, and DEFRA has been urged to identify and endorse a suitable industry standard and independent regulatory body for dog behaviourists and trainers. There is no legal requirement for those who train dogs to have received formal training, or to undergo continuing professional development in the subject, and many experienced dog trainers and dog behaviourists have no formal training. Further, the scale of the dog behaviourist and training industry is not known. Although some practitioners (and organisations) are members of umbrella bodies that have Codes of Conduct, and detailed practitioner standards, many are independent.

The role of veterinary surgeons in referral of a dog to a behaviourist requires clarification. In the absence of a regulatory framework for standards in the dog behaviourist profession, it is unclear on what due diligence basis veterinarians can make referrals on behalf of clients.


Given the known and acknowledged risk of misuse and abuse of e-collars, the absence of published, peer-reviewed evidence that e-collars are necessary, and the availability of alternatives, the Commission has concluded that there is insufficient ethical justification to permit their use. As such, in the view of the Commission, they should be assumed to be a potential cause of unjustified harm and unnecessary suffering.


During our discussions, it became evident that some proponents of e-collar usage oppose regulation, some support regulation, but that all critics of e-collars support a ban on their use.

There is no legal control of e-collar use, supply, or possession in Scotland. The Scottish Government published 'Guidance on Dog Training Aids' in 2018, to fulfil a commitment 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. The guidance states that dog training should be conducted with the assistance of a qualified dog trainer, and that the most effective methods of dog training are reward-based (positive) training techniques.

The Commission endorses the Scottish Government's Guidance. Therefore, it is particularly regrettable that public awareness of the guidance appears to be limited, and it is not known whether the Guidance has had any impact on the casual use of aversive training aids.

In England, banning e-collars was included in the 2021 DEFRA action plan for animal welfare. In the absence of any announcement to the contrary, it is assumed it remains its policy to introduce regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to ban the use of hand-held remote-controlled e-collar devices.

In Wales, under the Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars) (Wales) Regulations 2010, it is prohibited to attach any type of e-collar, administering an electric shock, to a cat or dog, or be responsible for a cat or dog to which an e-collar is attached. The sale of e-collars is not banned under this regulation. The ban in Wales has been challenged and was subject to judicial review at the instigation of the ECMA, which was unsuccessful (Sinclair, 2011). Despite this, a number of media reports continues to call on Welsh ministers to review the ban, largely due to the unsubstantiated assertion that the e-collar ban has caused an increase in sheep worrying/attacks in Wales. The Welsh Government is reported to have no plans to review the regulations.


SAWC has identified four potential options for the future regulation of e-collars, each of which is discussed below.

Option 1 – maintain current status quo

The current situation is that e-collar devices are widely available for purchase and use.

There is evidence that handheld remote-controlled training devices (e-collars) have the potential to cause pain and distress. During the Working Group discussion sessions, welfare harm through intentional abuse or misuse and through ignorance of training methods was recognised as a risk by both proponents and opponents of e-collar use. In addition to acute pain, there is evidence that there may be long-term adverse behavioural and welfare effects of using e-collars. In discussion with stakeholders, and as evidenced in the literature, an experienced dog trainer is best placed to deliver optimal results.

In our evidence we note that subject-matter experts recommend that users of e-collars should be familiar with e-collar devices, principles of learning and dog training, in order to produce the desired results. We believe that e-collar users should have demonstrable skill and knowledge, and that unregulated use of e-collars is not defendable.

On the basis of the evidence considered during the course of our inquiry, the Commission has concluded that maintaining the current status quo presents a significant and unacceptable risk to the welfare of dogs.

Option 2 - restrict use of e-collars to trainers but no restriction on the behaviours/type of training they are used for

The published literature provides evidence that e-collars are no more effective for general obedience than other dog training methods and that the welfare harms are significantly greater. Whilst proponents argue that e-collar use may be effective with limited risk of harm, we believe that independent of the inherent potential for these devices to be misused and abused, there are alternative control and training methods, which are at least as effective as e-collars.

On the basis of the evidence considered during the course of our inquiry, the Commission has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to justify the general use of e-collars to augment learned commands and the correction of unwanted behaviours (Scenarios 1 and 2 above). In the view of the Commission, there are more humane and more widely applied training methods. Reward-based training methods offer an alternative approach that does not risk welfare harm.

Option 3 – restrict access to e-collars to trainers only and only for the purpose of preventing livestock worrying

This option addresses the use of e-collars in Scenario 3, above. We recognise that livestock worrying is a significant financial and animal welfare issue, and that all stakeholders affected by livestock worrying wish for an effective solution to the problem. We have found evidence that education of those using areas where livestock graze can bring significant reduction in worrying, and note that in Wales, where wearing of e-collars by dogs is banned, the government has found insufficient evidence to overturn this ban when challenged. Environmental controls, such as securing dog enclosures, avoiding livestock for dogs known to attack, and following applicable guidance to keep dogs on a lead, offer solutions that carry less welfare cost.

In discussion with stakeholders, it is recognised by both sides of the e-collars debate that e-collars are capable of causing welfare harm. The evidence shows that dogs trained with e-collars may experience adverse welfare. such as stress-related behaviours, pain, and physical harm. SAWC considers incorrect use by inexperienced users an especial concern, but as evidenced in the published literature, even in the hands of experienced users, e-collar use is sometimes associated with adverse welfare. The literature further demonstrates that e-collars and other aversive devices may cause significant physical and behavioural animal welfare problems, and that the human-animal bond between owner and dog has also been adversely affected.

SAWC acknowledges there is some anecdotal and scientific evidence that e-collar training can have an impact in reducing the risk of an individual dog attacking livestock and, on that basis, has considered whether their continued use, albeit strictly limited and closely regulated, should be permitted. In the view of the Commission, to be effective such a scheme would need to include the following minimum requirements:

a. E-collars may only be used for the specific purpose of training a dog to avoid livestock.

b. Trainers must demonstrate that all other avenues for behaviour modification had been explored prior to e-collar use.

c. The devices may not be used or possessed by owners other than under the direct supervision of the trainer.

d. Dog trainers should be licensed by Scottish Government, be appropriately trained, and their competence regularly evaluated.

e. E-collar devices should be of prescribed quality only.

In view of the costs and bureaucracy of establishing such a regulatory scheme, and doubts about its potential effectiveness, the Commission has concluded that it is unable to recommend it as an appropriate way forward.

Option 4 - ban the use of e-collars for any training purpose

As stated above, it is acknowledged both by those that use and by those who oppose the use of e-collars that e-collars are capable of causing welfare harm.

There is a widespread consensus amongst animal welfare specialists, behavioural specialists, and legislative bodies which strongly oppose any use of e-collars.

Our findings align with these views. The Commission has concluded that, whatever the skill of the user, e-collars have the potential to cause harm and that that risk is disproportionate to the perceived training benefit. Reward-based training methods appear to be at least as effective, and environmental controls have the potential significantly to reduce livestock predation. Further, in our view there is no exemplar for e-collar use in training with sufficient evidence to illustrate how such a scheme in Scotland would overcome the risk that the training may be ineffective, and harmful to dogs.

The Commission is also mindful that responsible dog ownership includes ensuring that an animal is securely enclosed in its home environment and kept under close control when out walking. In areas where livestock are known, or it may reasonably be assumed, to be present, dogs should be on a lead. In the view of the Commission, this is both the most appropriate and most effective approach to preventing a dog chasing or attacking livestock.

Therefore, the Commission has concluded on the basis of the evidence considered during the course of our inquiry and in accordance with our remit to provide advice to Scottish Ministers on matters concerning the welfare of protected animals, that the use of e-collars for the training of animals in Scotland should be prohibited in Scotland.



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