Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Shock collars must be banned: We can't justify causing our beloved pets pain, fear and stress

Would you want to use a shock collar on your beloved pet?
Would you want to use a shock collar on your beloved pet?

We love our pets in Northern Ireland. But we don’t always love the way they behave! Problematic behaviours like straying, excessive barking and aggression towards other animals or people are just not acceptable in our society.

A desire to solve these problems can lead owners to extreme measures, and we still have a percentage of owners in Northern Ireland using electric shock collars to attempt to train animals out of bad habits.

I believe, however, that it’s long overdue that we ban the use of all electric shock collars to control the behaviour of our pets. When we rely on the application of pain or fear of pain to control the behaviour of animals, we are risking the physical and emotional well-being of our pets.

Studies have shown that the use of confrontational training methods is actually likely to increase aggressive behaviour in dogs. Dogs respond fearfully to the application of shocks, showing lowered body posture and even yelping and barking, illustrating that the shocks are indeed painful.

They may start to associate the presence of their owner with pain, and respond fearfully to them too. Dogs can even present with medical problems after training with shock collars: skin irritation, contact necrosis, and serious bacterial infection have all been seen in dogs regularly trained with shock collars.

There is also the risk that shock collars will malfunction, delivering multiple shocks to the animal for no reason. The collar can cease to work at all, meaning the pet in question may return to the problem behaviour. 

In April 2012, we introduced new animal welfare legislation into Northern Ireland, making it illegal to cause unnecessary suffering to our pets.

When we consider that all of the behavioural problems mentioned above can be overcome with the use of reward-based training, the use of shock collars and the horrific side effects they can result in are unnecessary, and therefore, potentially illegal under the Welfare of Animals (Northern Ireland) 2011 Act.

When we take animals into our homes as our pets, we have a legal and moral obligation to provide them with a good quality of life. That means taking the responsibility to train them in an ethical and fun way to enable them to fit in with human society.

We cannot justify causing them pain, fear and stress by using punitive training methods when science shows us that these techniques often do more harm than good. Indeed, an animal prone to aggression or excessive barking is often an animal that is frustrated or scared, and causing regular pain and fear to that animal is not going to improve their welfare.

Science shows us that rewarding good behaviour is more effective than punishing bad behaviour. You love your pets. Don’t hurt them in the name of training. Support a ban on shock collars for pets.

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