In August 2018, the UK Government proposed a ban on electric shock collars in England. Some people use these devices to train their dogs.
Electric shock collars have been banned in Wales since 2010 but are still legal to use in other parts of the UK, despite the proposals.
Many experts believe shock collars do not have the desired results and are likely to cause pets distress and confusion.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines told The Guardian: “These cruel devices are used to train and control cats and dogs using pain and fear. Not only is this unacceptable but they are also unnecessary to achieve long-term behavioural change.”
Alternatives to shock collars
It may take time and effort but the best way to train a dog is often through positive reinforcement.
Here are nine alternatives to electric collars and things owners need to think about when training a pet.
If you're really struggling with your pet's behaviour, see ask your vet if they can refer you to a veterinary behaviourist. It might even be covered by your dog insurance.
1. Try a clicker
When training, it’s not always easy to explain to your dog exactly what they did that earned them the reward. For example, you might want to reward your puppy for sitting but as soon as you move to give them the treat, it’s likely they will have moved.
Vicky Carne, The Dog Coach, says: "Many trainers use a ‘marker’, sometimes a word but often a clicker, to tell the dog exactly which action earned the reward. If you click and follow it up with a treat your dog will soon learn that when they hear it a reward is coming. This can make it easier to be precise about the action you are rewarding."
2. Reward the good behaviour
This is the bread and butter of positive reinforcement. Experts believe that dogs respond much better, and learn quicker, through being rewarded for exhibiting desired behaviours than through being punished for misbehaving.
Help your dog understand the meaning of a command by offering a treat or praise when they demonstrate the desired behaviour. Be consistent and you'll create a positive association between the activity and the pleasure of getting a treat.
3. Enrol in puppy obedience classes
The key to obedience training is to start young. Try to find a class led by an expert and attend classes with your puppy.
You can start training at home from day one as well – just follow our puppy training schedule.
For older dogs, perhaps if you've just got a rescue dog, you'll need some extra patience. Sometimes your puppy or adult dog might benefit from a private trainer.
Hiring a professional to help with your dog’s training can be extremely beneficial as expert trainers have a lot of experience with behavioural issues. They can help to identify the causes and working towards resolving them.
4. Distract from barking
An effective way to stop undesirable barking is to provide a distraction that is way more interesting than the thing your dog is barking at/because of.
Entrancing them with a treat and waiting for the irritation to pass until you give it the treat is a much better way to reduce excessive barking than using a shock collar.
5. Wear them out
What you might be interpreting as bad behaviour could simply be a sign of unused energy and boredom. Common side effects of lack of enough daily exercise are excessive barking, destructive chewing, irritability and hyperactivity.
Making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise will help them burn some energy in a non-destructive way and maintain their physical and mental faculties.
6. Leave the TV on for them
A lot of dogs are destructive because they suffer from separation anxiety. Punishing a dog for chewing your furniture and wreaking havoc in your house when left alone for hours is not a productive method for dealing with the problem and might even make things worse.
Leaving the TV or the radio on might make your dog feel happier by alleviating its feelings of loneliness.
Dogs often misbehave when they are anxious or scared. If you notice that something particular sets them off, you can teach them to use their crate as a safe haven.
The safety of a cosy den is also an effective way to help dogs cope with separation anxiety. Fill the crate with soft blankets and toys to make it comfy and inviting.
Remember, the crate is not a place for timeout but a way for your dog to self-soothe. So it should be positioned in a social corner of the house, not an isolated one.
8. Train the whole family
For positive reinforcement to work, everyone in the family needs to follow the same pattern of praise and treats. Together, agree on what behaviour should be praised and what shouldn't. Avoid sending mixed signals to your dog.
9. Try fences and baby gates
Electric dog collars have been used to limit the space a dog can explore by delivering a shock every time it ventures outside of the desired area.
A much kinder way to restrict your dog to a particular area is to use fences and baby gates around your home. That way, not only will it successfully be limited to that space, but it won’t have unwanted visitors such as the neighbour’s dog or your mischievous toddler.
Whichever method you choose to use, arming yourself with a lot of patience and compassion can be beneficial to both you and your dog.
Avoiding punishment and giving lots of praise and treats to encourage good behaviour will not only help your dog learn faster and easier, it'll build trust and strengthen the bond between you as well.
Timeline of the electric shock collar ban
January 2022 – Still no legal ban on shock collars in any parts of the UK except Wales
May 2021 – The Government publishes the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which pledges to ban electronic training collars (e-collars), but no timescale is given for a ban.
November 2018 – Scottish guidance is published but states that the "Scottish government does not condone" the use of shock collars but does not explicitly ban the devices. The nature of the document is outlined as "advisory" and states that "a Court may, at its discretion, consider the guidance in a prosecution."
The guidance in its current shape leaves room for the devices to be used without any legal repercussions, which has led animal rights supporters to say the government has gone back on its word to ban shock collars.
May 2018 – campaign for a complete ban is abandoned. It is expected that the ban will now be limited to collars used for training and exempt collars used for containment.
A group of vets, who use shock collars to contain their pets, sent a letter to The Times stressing that collars can prevent hundreds of thousands of pet deaths every year, and urged Gove to exempt containment fence collars from the ban.
January 2018 – Scottish Government announces its intentions to ban shock collars.
Spring 2017 – Consultation on the use of shock collars in England after pressure for a ban led by the Kennel Club.
March 2010 – electric shock collars banned in Wales