Use of behaviour modifying collars on dogs
Policy type: Policy
Date ratified: November 2018
The NZVA does not support the use of electronic behaviour modifying collars (e-collars) that deliver aversive stimuli for the training or containment of dogs.
E-collars have the potential to harm both the physical and mental health of dogs. They are an aversive training method that have in some studies been associated with significant negative animal welfare outcomes (1).
Positive reinforcement training methods are an effective and humane alternative to e-collars for dog training (2).
E-collars provide an aversive stimulus either by delivering an electric shock or vibration from a battery unit through electrode studs inside the collar.
There are three ways in which an e-collar can be activated:
- hand-held operator remote control,
- noise (anti-bark collar),
- underground wire (sonic boundary)
The use of e-collars is controversial and their use is banned in ten countries including England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany, Finland, Wales. E-collars are also illegal in some states of Australia and some provinces of Canada.
Shock collar use in dogs with predatory aggression
While some may view shock collars as a simple method that can be effective for training specific dogs with predatory aggression, they inflict pain and risk negative welfare outcomes (see Appendix). The use of pain to train dogs is no more acceptable or humane when it is administered by remote control, than if it was delivered as a physical blow such as a punch or kick.
Training methods to manage recall in the presence of livestock and other dogs, based on positive reinforcement have been shown to be as effective (3), or even superior(4) to shock collar methods. In addition positive reinforcement training methods do not pose any risk to the wellbeing of the dog.
As there exists an effective humane alternative training method for predatory aggression, the use of shock collars to manage this problem, even when euthanasia is a possible alternative, is not supported.
Electronic anti-bark collars that deliver aversive stimuli such as a shock or citronella spray have been shown to have limited efficacy in controlling excessive barking. Veterinarians, dog owners and trainers should seek to identify when anxiety, loneliness, hunger or illness are contributing to excessive barking and address these issues in order to manage problem barking. Protocols to help owners understand causes of barking and educate them about ways to shape and reinforce quiet behaviour may provide better long-term solutions for this widespread behaviour problem(5).
Electronic boundary fences
Using a pain response to contain a dog is not supported by the NZVA when other humane and more reliable options are available. Electronic boundary fences are not considered to be reliable means of containment, as dogs in a high state of arousal are easily able to cross it. Dogs receiving shocks from boundary fences can also exhibit dangerous aggressive responses, putting owners and others at risk(6). The invisible sonic boundary makes it difficult for dogs to associate the electrical stimuli with the invisible boundary causing further distress from their inability to avoid receiving a shock. This is in contrast to electric fences used to contain livestock that have a visible barrier to aid learning. For these reasons the animal welfare cost is likely to exceed the benefits from use of electronic fencing systems in dogs and is not recommended.
In order to protect dog welfare the NZVA recommends:
- owners should not use e-collars on their dogs, but instead use positive reinforcement training methods, or seek assistance from a trainer skilled in these methods.
- local and regional councils should not promote the use of shock or citronella collars to manage nuisance barking in dogs. Instead owners should be encouraged to address underlying reasons for problem barking. Councils may need to allow additional time for owners to use other methods to prevent nuisance barking.
- kiwi aversion training schemes should consider moving to higher welfare positive reinforcement methods for training dogs.
- electronic boundary fences with no visible barrier should not be used to contain dogs.
- Lysons, R. A review of recent evidence in relation to the welfare implications for cats and dogs arising from the use of electronic collars. [Online] 2016. https://www.bsava.com/Portals/0/resources/documents/Animal-welfare-electronic-shock-collar-review.pdf?ver=2016-09-07-140457-713.
- The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs - A review. Ziv, G. 2017, Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, Vol. 19, pp. 50-60.
- The welfare consequences and efficacy of training pet dogs with remote electronic training collars in comparison to reward based training. Cooper, J.J, et al. 9, 2014, PLoS ONE, Vol. 9
- The use of electronic collars for training domestic dogs : estimated prevalence, reasons and risk factors for use, and owner perceived success as compared to other training methods. Blackwell, E.J, et al. 93, 2012, BMC Veterinary Research, Vol. 8.
- Excessive barking, when and why it occurs. Yin, S and Richardson, S.L. 2006. Proceedings of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour Conference.
- Can aggression in dogs be elicited through the use of electronic pet containment systems? Polsky, R. 4, 2010, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Vol. 3, pp. 345-357.
The following potential negative welfare consequences have been identified with shock collar use:
Infliction of Stress and Pain
Electronic stimulation devices deliver a frightening and painful stimulus to a dog. The unpredictable nature of the shock can cause fear and anxiety.
Global Suppression or “Shut-Down”
A dog repeatedly subjected to shock-collar training may go into a state of “shut down,” or a global suppression of behaviour. In extreme cases, dogs may refuse to perform any behaviour at all, known as “learned helplessness.”
If a change in behaviour is not seen immediately, shock-collar users may increase the frequency, duration or intensity of the application. This can result in the dog attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus with even greater intensity, compounding or exaggerating the problem behaviour for which the collar was applied to resolve. The dog could also experience redirected aggression, posing a danger to those in the immediate vicinity.
Shock collar use to control aggression have been suggested to encourage dogs to hide signs of aggression. If a dog habitually hides external signs of aggression, people and other pets may receive no warning before the dog decides to resort to biting.
Risk of abuse
Due to ease with which pain can be administered using a shock collar, these have been suggested to increase the risk of abuse by users.