Behavior modifiers are inhumane and should be banned, writes Dr Helen Beattie of the New Zealand Veterinary Association
The New Zealand Veterinary Association supports the use of humane training methods, which is why we are against the use of shock collars except in exceptional circumstances. We strongly believe in it, which is why we formalized this point of view in a 2014 NZVA policy. In August 2015, during workshops and meetings to develop animal welfare regulations, the NZVA proposed that electric collars are prohibited.
As veterinarians, we are fortunate to be able to counsel pet owners on the management of inappropriate or unwanted behavior in dogs. Many veterinarians are specialists in dog behavior and training; If you are having behavioral issues with your pet, we strongly recommend that you seek veterinarians and these specialists to resolve them.
Behavior modifying collars (which include electric or shock collars) provide an aversive stimulus, either by delivering an electric shock or vibration of a battery unit through the electrode pads inside the collar, or by emitting a lemongrass spray from a cartridge on the collar. These are obviously very unpleasant at best, or scary (at worst) for a puppy or dog.
Used improperly, electrical collars can cause extreme distress. Their use has been linked to short and long term consequences such as fear and anxiety. The behavior of nervous or aggressive dogs may actually intensify after the shock, and some dogs would be depressed and lose motivation. For these reasons, and because we recognize that reward and positive reinforcement is a better option, the NZVA is against the use of electronic shock collars as a method of training dogs, except in exceptional circumstances. This is in line with current knowledge which concludes that methods based on punishments can adversely affect the well-being of the dog and lead to an increase in behavior problems.
A common reason given for using shock collars is to stop barking. However, these collars do not address the underlying cause of barking including anxiety, loneliness, hunger, or to sound an alarm (as guard dogs do). In these cases, simple changes in management or the environment and an understanding of the dog’s normal behavior usually resolve the “problem”.
The NZVA recognizes that the use of negative reinforcements, including behavior-modifying collars, may – on very rare occasions, and only when used by properly trained individuals – be necessary. But since the use of behavior modification collars is susceptible to abuse, they should only be considered when other behavior modification methods have failed and euthanasia is considered the only other alternative. They should only be used under the supervision of a trained veterinarian or a person with the appropriate qualifications, training and experience in animal behavior.
Dr Helen Beattie is Chief Veterinarian of the New Zealand Veterinary Association
This article was updated on May 2 to remove reference to The Big Walk With Lots of Dogs after organizers contacted the Spinoff with clarification.
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