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Dog shock collars are cruel – take it from a vet

The behaviour 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, therefore we are against the use of shock collars other than under exceptional circumstances. We believe this strongly, which is why we formalised this view in a 2014 NZVA policy. In August 2015, in animal welfare regulation development workshops and meetings, the NZVA put forward that electric collars should be banned.

As veterinarians, we are lucky to be in a position to advise pet owners on dealing with inappropriate or undesirable behaviours in dogs. Many veterinarians are specialists in dog behaviour and training; if you’re having behavioural issues with your pet, we strongly advise engagement with veterinarians, and these specialists, to address them.

Behaviour modifying collars (which include electric or shock collars) provide an aversive stimulus, either by delivering an electric shock or vibration from a battery unit through electrode studs inside the collar, or by emitting citronella spray from a canister on the collar. These are obviously very unpleasant, at best, or distressing (at worst) for a puppy or dog.

Used incorrectly, electric collars have the potential to cause extreme distress. Their use has been associated with both short term and long term consequences such as fear and anxiety. The behaviour of nervous or aggressive dogs may actually intensify after the shock, and some dogs are reported as becoming depressed and losing motivation. For these reasons, and because we recognise that reward and positive reinforcement is a better option, the NZVA is against the use of electronic shock collars as a method for the training of dogs except in exceptional circumstances. This is in line with current knowledge that concludes that punishment-based methods may be detrimental to the welfare of the dog and cause increased behavioural problems.

A common reason cited for using shock collars is to stop barking. However, these collars don’t treat the underlying cause of barking, including anxiety, loneliness, hunger or to express alarm (as guard dogs do). In these cases, simple modifications of management or environment, and an understanding normal dog behaviour, usually resolve the “problem”.

The NZVA recognises that the use of negative reinforcement, including behaviour modifying collars may – on very rare occasions, and only when used by persons with adequate training – be necessary. But because the use of behaviour modifying collars is open to potential abuse, they should be considered only where other methods of behaviour modification have failed and euthanasia is considered the only other alternative. They should be used only under the supervision of an appropriately trained veterinarian or a person with appropriate qualifications, training and experience in animal behaviour.

Dr Helen Beattie is the Chief Veterinary Officer at the New Zealand Veterinary Association

This article was updated on May 2 to remove reference to The Big Walk With Lots of Dogs after organisers contacted the Spinoff with clarification


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