Use of behaviour-modifying collars on dogs

Policy

Behaviour-modifying collars that use electric shock should not be used on animals and should be banned. Behaviour-modifying collars that use citronella (or other nontoxic substances) are not recommended.

Background

The use of positive reinforcement training methods is recommended for modifying the behaviour of animals. Negative reinforcement and positive punishment methods are not recommended. Although equipment based on these methods is available for use in Australia, its use is not recommended.

Barking is a normal behaviour of all dogs and occurs for a number of reasons e.g. guarding, excitement, attention seeking, and anxiety. The use of punishment to control excessive barking does not take into account why the behaviour is occurring and therefore does not address the root of the problem.
Dogs escape for a number of reasons but a common reason is anxiety e.g. separation anxiety, noise fears and phobias. Punishing a dog with an anxiety disorder is inhumane.

There are three different designs of behaviour-modifying collars:
1) Manual, radio controlled collars which are activated by a remote hand held transmitter.
2) Anti-bark collars which are activated when the dog barks. Such collars may utilise a
microphone, a vibration sensor, or a combination of both.
3) “Invisible fence” containment devices, in which proximity to a wire placed around the boundary activates the collar. These devices often incorporate a warning” beep” which precedes the electric shock by several seconds and enables the animal to move further from the boundary wire and avoid the shock.1

Such collars – commonly called “e-collars” – may deliver an electric shock (“impulse”) a squirt of an unpleasant odour (citronella, lemon juice), a puff of air, or an ultrasonic tone. The main concern with the use of these products has been regarding e-collars. The full effects of citronella and other collars on animals are not known however citronella and high-pitched sounds are likely to be aversive.

The shocks caused by e-collars “are not only unpleasant but also painful and frightening” and cause both short-term and long-term stress.2 Risks associated with use of behaviour- modifying collars that use electric shock include the potential for dogs to develop conditions such as learned helplessness, increased anxiety, increased aggression, redirected aggression, long-term potentiation (i.e. the problem becomes worse) and reduced motivation.

Positive reinforcement reward-based training has been shown to be more effective than punishment3 when conducted by experienced professional trainers and in the hands of the general public.4,5 The use of punishment is associated with an increase in the number of problematic behaviours4 and a reduction in owner satisfaction with the animal’s general and on-leash behaviour.6 The use of operator-controlled behaviour-modifying collars is more open to potential abuse than collars that are activated by the animal’s behaviour. Punishments (shocks) which are inappropriately applied and which the animal cannot predict (or avoid) cause more stress and suffering 6,7, and this is likely to be the case in the hands of an inexperienced trainer. While the AVA does not condone their use, they are in use in Australia and therefore their use must be supervised by appropriately trained registered veterinarians or a person with appropriate qualifications, training and experience in animal behaviour. They should be used in combination with other therapies that may address the underlying motivation for the behaviour including behavioural modification and medication where appropriate. The animal’s progress should be regularly reviewed and the program adjusted accordingly.

The use of electric shock collars is under review in some states and territories and prohibited in others as it is in many other countries. Using shock collars on animals is currently illegal in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia.

Guidelines

Those who wish to use these products should thoroughly investigate all other humane efforts to modify and manage the behaviour before electing to use this equipment.

The following guidelines should be observed for the use of citronella collars on dogs. Citronella anti-barking and boundary collars should only be used according to accepted principles of behavioural modification that optimise the effects of the adverse experience with the minimum of exposure. If, in the view of the supervising, competent person, the subject dog is likely to be distressed by exposure to the stimulus, then the collar should not be used.

The supervising person(s) must ensure that they and the persons using the citronella collar under their supervision fully understand the principles of learning (including negative reinforcement and positive punishment) that underlie the effective use of the collars and that the collars are used properly. Veterinarians should keep records of all animals on which such products are used.

They should be used in combination with other therapies that may address the underlying motivation for the behaviour including behavioural modification and medication where appropriate. The animal’s progress should be regularly reviewed and the program adjusted accordingly.

A citronella anti-barking collar must only be activated by the behaviour of the dog that is to be controlled. The device should not be activated by other influences, such as the behaviour of other animals, extraneous noise or electronic interference.

The initial use of a citronella anti-barking collar should be under direct supervision of a competent person who has been instructed and trained in the use of the collar until that person is satisfied that the device is operating correctly and without causing undue distress to the dog.

Boundary collars must contain a mechanism that gives the animal an initial audible or visual warning (e.g. a marker tape). The animal must only experience the aversive stimulation if it ignores the warning and continues to approach a boundary. If the animal immediately ceases that behaviour, then it must not experience the stimulus.

Other relevant policies and position statements

 The responsible ownership of dogs and cats and the human–animal bond

References and further reading

1. Polsky R (1994). Electronic shock collars: are they worth the risks? Journal of American
Animal Hospital Association 30:463–468.
2. Schilder MBH and van der Borg JAM (2004). Training dogs with help of the shock collar:
short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85:319–334.
3. Haverbeke, A., Laporte, B., Depiereux, E., Giffroy, J-M., Diedrich, C. 2008.
Training methods of military dog handlers and effects on their team's performances Applied
Animal Behaviour Science 113: 110-122
4. Hiby EF, Rooney NJ and Bradshaw JWS 2004 “Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interactions with behaviour and welfare” Animal Welfare 13: 63-69
5. Rooney NJ and Cowan S (2011) Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal behaviour Science 132: 169 – 177.
6. Kwan JY and Bain MJ 2013 “Owner Attachment and Problem Behaviors Related to
Relinquishment and Training Techniques of Dogs” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
16 (2) 168-183 (DOI:10.1080/10888705.2013.768923)
7. Blackwell E and Casey R 2006 “The use of shock collars and their impact on the welfare of dogs” a review for RSPCA UK available at http://www.rspca.org.uk/servlet/Satellite?blobcol=urlblob&blobheader=app...
=id&blobtable=RSPCABlob&blobwhere=1138718966544&ssbinary=true

Date of ratification by AVA Board: 4 December 2014

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