E-collar ban: use will go ‘underground’ after ban

The e-collar ban marks a landmark change in animal welfare in England but use of the device will be pushed away from the public eye to avoid fines, it has been claimed.

Studies have shown the use of electric shock collars on dogs causes physical and psychological harm and is to be banned in a landmark ban for animal welfare.

The Kennel Club has fought a ten-year campaign with the new law set to come into force on 1 February 2024 and said in a press release they were “delighted” by the news of the ban.

However there are exemptions to the ban, for example, shops will be able to sell e-collars both in-store and online, but it will be illegal for cats and dogs to wear them.

Electric collars are designed to deliver a shock to a dog’s neck via a small remote control for up to 11 seconds within a radius of two miles from the owner.

Current users of e-collars are planning to continue using the tool with threads on social media popping up with discussions on how users can continue to use the devices.

Jess Denton, who uses an e-collar on her Bull Lurcher Mabel to manage her dog’s prey drive and reactivity, said: “I will continue to use it. I have methods that help to cover up the e-collar – bandanas, snoods.

“When the ban comes into place, I will just have to utilise them more when walking in public areas and not allowing people to say ‘hi’ to my dog, so they won’t feel the collar.

“I will just walk in areas where we won’t be seeing anyone to avoid the risk of us being reported.”

Mabel a Bull Lurcher with her own Instagram account Image Credit: Jess Denton

Denton runs an Instagram account for Mabel called BullGreyMabel.

She added: “We are very open about the type of tools we use so I feel when the ban comes in, we may be targeted by people against e-collars.

“Like all tools, they are great if used correctly and responsibly and they do have the ability to be used in the wrong way – like anything.

“Ultimately, anything can be used inappropriately – I could get a lead and whip a dog with it, I could hang it by the collar and strangle it – but you don’t do that.

“It’s the same with the e-collar – if it’s used incorrectly or someone is using a cheap shock collar it can cause harm, but if used properly they are amazing tools.

“People only have to look at my dog wearing it to see she is not in any pain or discomfort.

“I do really feel this ban will affect Mabel’s socialisation, because I will continue to use the collar on her, but to prevent having reports made against her I will have to avoid highly populated areas.

“This means most of our walks will be spent in empty fields away from people and other dogs.”

Denton fears that having a reactive dog and avoiding situations with people and dogs will make her more reactive due to lack of exposure.

Remote-controlled e-collars are capable of delivering a shock for up to 11 seconds within a radius of two miles from the owner. Image Credit: Jess Denton

Head of public affairs for The Kennel Club Ed Hayes said: “As well as the risks to dog welfare from the use of electronic shock collar devices, another reason they are being banned is because they have been proven to be no more effective in training dogs than other more positive and rewards-based techniques.”

A study by University of Lincoln in 2019 found shock collars cause unnecessary suffering and have a detrimental effect on a dog’s welfare – even when used by experienced e-collar trainers.

Researchers compared three groups of dogs – one trained by trainers selected by the Electronic Manufacturers Association (ECMA); a control group and a group trained with rewards-based training to see how quickly they responded to “Sit” and “Come”.

Professor Jonathan Cooper from the Animal Behaviour, Cognition, and Welfare Research Group at the University of Lincoln, who conducted the study, said: “We saw signs of aversion and anxiety when we compared the e-collar group with the group using reward-based training.”

The study found positive reinforcement training to be more effective in creating consistent behaviours.

Cooper explained that there were welfare problems associated with the e-collar’s use, even in the hands of the most experienced trainers.

The study found e-collars were less effective and dogs were slower to respond to the command meaning the trainer had to increase the stimuli which could, in some instances, result in pain to the dog.

Comparatively Cooper explained the reward-based group needed less reinforcement and fewer commands, learning quicker.

Hayes said: “This study refutes the suggestion that training with an electronic shock collar is either more efficient or results in less disobedience, even in the hands of experienced trainers, and are therefore completely unnecessary.

“As with any law, there will be a small minority who believe it doesn’t apply to them. It is incredibly disappointing that some people are already stating their intent to ignore a law which is being implemented to protect dog welfare.

“We would hope that in instances whereby people are flagrantly flouting the law of the land, that the courts would consider use of all available powers to them, potentially including a disqualification order.

“There is a plethora of training options available to owners and dog trainers, which don’t compromise dog welfare, and we would urge those who currently use shock collars to use the time between now and the ban coming into force, to transition to these methods.

“To get an e-collar to be useful based on the science that we have seen is that they do cause harm and create all sorts of issues.

“We don’t think they are good tools. When they are used badly, they can introduce new problems.”

Reportedly five percent of dog owners use shock collars to control their dogs in the UK with 500,000 dogs trained using the devices.

Hayes added: “There are other ways that you can train dogs without having to zap them with electricity to train them effectively.

“We domesticated dogs a long time ago before electronic collars were around. We had well-trained dogs before then and we will have well-trained dogs after they are banned. They’re just unnecessary.

“We feel confident the government will deliver on its pledge and we will continue to push for important legislation to go through on shock collars, pet theft and puppy imports.”

The Kennel Club succeeded in getting the devices banned in Wales in 2010 and have been pushing to get them banned in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland for over ten years.

Featured Image Credit: Laura Roberts on Unsplash

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