Imagine that your dog has been shot by a farmer. How would you feel I don’t need to imagine. A few years ago my Great Dane Kiri was shot after he escaped and started attacking sheep.
What the farmer did was right. The jaws of powerful dogs inflict horrible pain. Such attacks on livestock are a huge problem. The government estimates that 15,000 sheep die each year. Countless others are mutilated. Also think about the trauma inflicted on entire herds when dogs chase them. Tragically, this animal welfare scandal is getting even worse – this year attacks have increased by around 50%.
What can we do about this crisis? The starting point is the use of leads. But it is irresponsible to rely solely on the tracks. Sometimes powerful dogs snatch them from their owner’s hand. And dogs are extremely good at escaping – in two-thirds of attacks, the owner was not present. It is also impossible to judge the risk of our off-leash dogs encountering animals. Do you think the owner of the burrow that killed Freddie the Seal should have expected his dog to find him on a Thames footpath?
So what can responsible dog owners do to provide extra protection? Train your dog well. It sounds simple, but it’s hard to get a workout to work, especially when it comes to breaking down predatory instincts in dogs. Many activists advocate “positive only” training that uses treats to encourage good behavior. It helps with the basic “sit” and “heel” controls. But there is no evidence that it works when the red haze comes down. It is wrong to claim that the prospect of a cookie will prevent an off-leash dog from attacking.
There is, however, a training method that is recommended by vets because it has a lot of scientific backing. Hundreds of thousands of animal lovers use it, including Steve Redgrave, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Russell Brand. I’m talking about electronic necklaces. Some electronic collars protect pets in gardens. Others make dogs fearful of attacking sheep. Simply put, when the dog associates a jump in his collar with a sheep, he avoids them.
This reaction has been observed in multiple scientific experiments: it is “the only treatment that has potential for success”, it “avoided the 13 attempted attacks on lambs” and created a “strong learning effect. Which lasted “at least a year”. In short, they work. Even when the dog escaped.
In Australia, they make dogs fearful of attacking snakes. In New Zealand, authorities insist on training electronic collars to prevent them from preying on kiwi birds. What may surprise you is that scientists find that electric collar training does no harm: it caused “no negative effects on dogs” and produced “significant increases in emotional stability in dogs. dogs”. Thus, the demonization of electronic collars by the dog whisperers of Twitter is without evidence.
The Kennel Club says it has “no direct evidence of abuse.” The RSPCA – which investigates 149,000 animal welfare cases per year – has never found evidence to prosecute for electronic collar abuse.
All of this makes one curious as to why Defra wants to ban these devices. Could this be due to the animal rights virtue reported by ministers? Of course not, Defra says. He insists the proposed ban is justified by research conducted for the department. Still, look beneath the surface and a real little scandal arises.
First, Defra officials previously told ministers that this research was “not strong enough” to warrant a ban. Second, as MP Sir John Hayes asked, why did the department commission its research from academics who had previously campaigned for Defra to ban electronic necklaces?
Given these prejudices, it is not surprising that top academics have described this research, conducted by the University of Lincoln, as “very seriously flawed.” Lincoln academics should have revealed their interest. Defra ministers should not use your money to pay researchers with a publicly stated bias for or against the topic. And ministers should not shy away from Sir John’s questions.
Is there anything more outrageous? Well yes. Because, after Defra announced plans to ban electronic collars, one of his ministers trained his own dog with one. Step forward Therese Coffey, now in the Cabinet. Obviously, she thinks Defra’s case against electronic necklaces is unfounded.
Being an animal lover requires a calm understanding of how electronic collars save the lives of countless animals. As the vets wrote, “We believe the welfare consequences of a ban on these collars would be appalling.”
The real scandal is how much misguided owners think it is better to have their dogs slaughtered rather than using the proven solution of electronic collars to prevent their dogs from attacking innocent animals.
Those of us who love dogs should demand a record of the number of healthy dogs that are dropped off because they have not been properly trained.