Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border and the only vet in the House of Commons, joined a coalition of animal welfare and veterinary charities to call on Government to ban the use of cruel and unnecessary Electric Shock Collars (ESC) in England.
Lending his expertise to the wider debate, the Cumbrian MP met with representatives from The Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the British Veterinary Association and Blue Cross, at an event in Westminster on Monday 28th November to spread awareness.
Evidence presented to governments across the UK has led to collars administering electric shocks being banned in Wales and condemned in Scottish guidance. In 2018, the Westminster Government committed to introducing a ban when parliamentary time allowed, but despite this, it is still legal to use them in England.
ESCs are used to train dogs by punishing unwanted behaviours through the application of a shock to the dog’s neck. However, studies have shown that these devices have a serious impact on the welfare of dogs , including behavioural and physiological signs of distress, and robust research evidence shows that such techniques are not needed; positive reinforcement is effective at improving behaviour.
Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, said:
“We are a nation of dog-lovers and I myself have two lovely Labradors so I’m proud to support this broad coalition of charities pushing for more compassionate treatment of our pets. It is much better to train dogs with positive reinforcement techniques like treats and toys rather than cruel negative stimuli such as electric shocks delivered to the dog’s neck.
“As a vet and a scientist, I’ve always said we need to make sure legislation reflects the most up-to-date evidence. The evidence shows that shock collars negatively impact dog welfare and can even be detrimental to training with pets often displaying unwanted and unnecessary fear responses. In 2018 the Government looked at the evidence and agreed to ban shock collars.
"I know from speaking to people across my constituency that almost everyone agrees with me on this issue, so I hope the Government can act soon to stamp out this unnecessary and cruel practice."
Dr Hudson is a strong voice in Parliament for animal health and welfare, lending his many years of professional experience to the legislative process. Recently he called for firework laws to be reformed ahead of Guy Fawkes Night to protect animals from trauma, chaired an international horse welfare conference, and worked with Dogs Trust to call for an end to the unscrupulous puppy smuggling practices taking place on an industrial scale.
To change unwanted behaviour, the shock administered by ESCs needs to be strong enough for the dog to feel pain and be fearful of experiencing that pain again. It also requires the dog to associate the shock with their undesirable action. Creating fear in this way risks numerous negative consequences for the dog and owner:
- Dogs may associate the pain with other things in their environment, such as other dogs or people, and learn to avoid or be aggressive towards these.
- Dogs may not associate the shock with anything and become anxious about the wider situation where the collar is used. They may avoid going for walks at all, be very inactive on walks, or stick close to their owner through anxiety.
- Dogs can become aggressive towards, or avoidant of, their owners either in immediate response to the pain, or to avoid further shocks (for example when the collar is put on).
- Where the shock is used in situations where dogs are already anxious (e.g. for barking or lunging), this is likely to increase anxiety potentially leading to more extreme or different undesired behaviours.
- Collar use can cause physical injury to the dog.
Dr Rachel Casey, PhD FRCVS, RCVS Specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine and Director of Canine Behaviour & Research at Dogs Trust, added:
“It is both unnecessary and cruel to use these collars on dogs. They are painful and have a serious negative impact on dogs’ wellbeing. Worse still, they can be a mechanism for abuse if used in anger.
“I will never forget coming across a little terrier when out on a walk, with no owner in sight. He was crouched down, shaking and screaming repeatedly as his e-collar was activated again and again.
“These devices have no place in modern dog training. We know that positive reward-based methods are at least as effective. We know that using e-collars impacts on dog welfare and risks causing further behaviour problems. It is past time for a ban.
“Whilst Wales and Scotland have made moves to ban the use of electric shock collars, England is dragging its heels. Westminster has the power to ban the use of them, so we have joined forces with colleagues from across the animal welfare sector to calling for a long overdue ban on these cruel devices across the whole of the UK”
Mark Beazley, Chief Executive of The Kennel Club said:
“The Kennel Club has long campaigned for a ban on electric shock collars and we are so pleased to be welcoming MPs to this event to demonstrate, alongside our fellow animal welfare charities, a shared commitment to ensuring this is implemented.
“In August 2018, the then Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, announced electric shock collars would be banned, describing the collars as punitive and harmful. It is time for the Government to come good on this promise and introduce regulations to ban these dangerous and unnecessary devices imminently.”
Prof. Daniel Mills of the Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare Research Group at the University of Lincoln said:
“This event is so important for bringing together animal welfare charities and the Government, so they can appreciate the ethical and practical issues posed by handheld electric training collars and their unnecessary use in animal training.
“Not only does our own research indicate that the use of handheld devices is unnecessary, but there is a complete lack of scientific evidence to support any claim that their use reduces the risks of livestock-worrying by responsible owners. There is also a clear risk of harm to dogs through the use of these devices. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion, on the basis of all the evidence I have seen, that a ban will also help dogs in other ways: most notably, responsible owners will be able more easily to find compassionate solutions which do not risk their pet’s well-being nor that of livestock. Accordingly, there is a wealth of support towards progressing a ban of these types of training device and I am pleased that today’s event will encourage discussion between Government and animal welfare charities to do just that.”