There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that training animals using positive, reward-based training is not only better for animal welfare, but also produces more effective and longer lasting results.
It is therefore all the more surprising that electric shock collars (ESC) are still being marketed as training aids and wrongly sold to dog owners, in particular, as a quick and humane training method.
They can be easily purchased on the Internet from well-known brands, and the latest models even connect to smartphones.
They are legally available in England and the Isle of Man, but they are banned in Wales and will soon be in Scotland.
When installed, the ESC delivers an electric shock via a remote control or an automatic trigger such as a dog’s bark.
The theory is that after receiving a shock, the dog is more likely to do what is asked of it.
Research commissioned by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has shown that, perhaps unsurprisingly, many dogs show signs of stress when fitted with an ESC .
They also show signs of pain, many yelping when they feel an electric shock.
And recent research from the University of Lincoln has shown that using ESC to train dogs does not work and that “positive reinforcement” is a better tool.
Over 60 dogs with ‘off-leash behavior problems’ were involved in the study which focused on the dogs’ ability to respond to ‘come’ and ‘sit’ commands.
The dogs were divided into three training groups and received up to 150 minutes of training over five days to improve recall and obedience.
The first group saw manufacturer-appointed dog trainers use ESCs, and the other two groups acted as a “control” without using ESCs.
The researchers measured how many times a command had to be given before a dog would do what it was told, and how long it took the dog to obey the command given to it.
The team found that trainers using positive reinforcement saw a significantly better response to these commands than those using ESCs.
DEFRA says it is committed to banning ESCs for dogs and cats and that this will be enacted into law in the UK “in due course”.
But what about the Isle of Man? Our Animal Welfare Act should, finally, make its way into the Tynwald this year, and once the law is in place, it will allow ‘ordinances’ to be written.
Such an order could prohibit the use of ESCs.
In the meantime, what can we do?
If you come across a dog wearing an ESC (they are usually quite large with a control box attached), encourage their owner to talk to their veterinarian, or us, about the effectiveness of ESC as a training device without cruelty.
We must make the use of ESCs morally unacceptable in the Isle of Man, and not just wait for the legislation to come into force.
Training relatively accessible dogs is one thing, but training a cat is notoriously difficult and it is highly likely that an ESC will cause confusion and stress, and possibly even exacerbate unwanted behaviors such as wandering, spraying or scraping furniture.
Our cattery team are here to give advice and support to pet owners, and this week they were ably assisted in the cattery office by a new receptionist, Avon.
He is very talkative and eager to please – a real “people person” – and he is very fond of sitting in a chair watching visitors come and go.
However, his keyboarding skills leave a lot to be desired and so he badly needs a new job, one that involves being someone’s faithful companion and friend.
Avon has had some health issues so he won’t be ready to head to his new home for a few weeks after he’s finished his medication.
He will need a calm, stress-free environment where he can enjoy being the best cat and the center of attention.