Use of behaviour-modifying collars on dogs
Ratification Date: 15 Jul 2022
This policy can be used to help veterinarians understand the appropriate steps when presented with a dog whose owner is considering the use of such collars.
- Collars designed to inflict pain, discomfort or fear to achieve behavioural change should not be used on dogs. Examples include electronic collars, citronella and choke collars. Positive reinforcement training of dogs renders the use of such equipment unnecessary.
- Prong collars must not be used under any circumstances due to their highly aversive nature. Their use should be illegal in all Australian jurisdictions.
- Invisible fence containment collars should not be used unless their use can increase the safety and overall welfare of the animal. When used, there must also be a visible boundary marker indicating where a dog will receive the potentially painful electronic stimulus. The dog’s owner must monitor the dog’s behaviour while the dog learns the association between the visible marker and the potentially painful electronic stimulus. If the dog does not avoid the stimulus after two experiences of it, then further advice from a veterinarian should be sought.
- Dogs should be assessed by a veterinarian if their behaviour does not improve with appropriately applied positive-reinforcement training.
The use of positive reinforcement training methods is recommended for modifying the behaviour of dogs1,2,3. The collars referred to in this policy are designed to reduce or stop behaviours by utilising the principles of punishment and negative reinforcement4. The psychological dangers and negative welfare implications of using punishment and negative reinforcement are well documented1,5-11.
Common behaviours for which owners use these collars include: pulling, jumping up at people, lunging at dogs or people, barking and escaping.
Choke collars, prong collars and slip leads
People use choke collars (choker chains) to control pulling and other similar undesirable behaviours from their dogs. Prong collars (also referred to as pinch or constriction collars) are used for the same reason, despite a prohibition on importation into Australia8. The use of prong collars is banned in some jurisdictions, eg Victoria.
As well as the psychological risks of using these collars, there are physical dangers to an animal when owners use this equipment. Pulling on choker chains can cause soft tissue trauma and increased intraocular pressure12. There has been at least one reported case of severe brain damage with consequent euthanasia after the use of a choker chain to punish a dog13.
Barking is a normal behaviour of dogs, used for alerting, warning and attention-seeking 6. Barking can also be excessive and related to a behavioural illness6.
Dogs escape for a number of reasons, including enrichment/exploration, anxiety and for reproduction.
The remote delivery collars (often referred to as ‘e-collars’) may deliver an electronic stimulation, a squirt of an unpleasant odour (citronella, lemon juice), a puff of air or an ultrasonic tone. They are most commonly used to control excessive barking and escaping; however, this use does not address the root cause of the problem.
There are three different remote delivery systems for behaviour-modifying collars:
- Manual, radio-controlled collars that are activated by a remote hand-held transmitter. These collars are dependent on the handler being able to deliver the stimulus while the problematic behaviour is being performed by the animal.
- Anti-bark collars that are activated when the dog barks. Such collars may utilise a microphone, a vibration sensor or a combination of both. These collars often contain a warning beep to alert the dog before any electronic stimulus is delivered so that the dog can stop barking to avoid the stimulus.
- ‘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 electronic stimulus by several seconds and enables the animal to move further from the boundary wire and avoid the stimulus.
In some states of Australia, it is a legal requirement that there is a physical barrier in addition to the containment collar; however, in other jurisdictions, the physical barrier is recommended, but not required by law14. Without a visible boundary marker, an animal cannot predict when it will receive the electronic stimulation until threatened by an audible sound or unless receiving the electronic stimulation. This creates a situation of unpredictability and lack of control over outcomes, both factors that contribute to the development of anxiety15.
Because other animals and people have no restriction on their ability to enter the yard, the dog which is collared and cannot escape may be at risk from other wandering dogs16. Others such as children can be at risk if, unsupervised, they approach the dog in its yard unsupervised.
In some rural areas of Australia, an electronic containment fence can increase the safety and welfare of a dog because other fences may not keep the dog from gaining access to a road. In these cases, invisible fence containment collars are considered acceptable if:
- The owner of the dog attends to the dog’s needs, making sure they have addressed underlying problems that may result in the dog roaming off their property.
- There is a boundary marker visible to the dog, so that the dog can predict where it will receive a shock.
- The owner of the dog monitors the dog’s behaviour while the dog learns the association between the electronic stimulus and the visible boundary. For an uncomfortable or painful stimulus to provide effective punishment, there must be a visible reduction in the target behaviour, indicating that the animal is changing its behaviour to avoid the potentially painful outcome. The animal needs to be able to associate the uncomfortable or painful sensation with its approach to the boundary marker. If this association is not reliably made, there is a risk the dog will escape and be injured. In the event that the association seems difficult for the animal to learn, the dog should be removed from the area and assessment by a veterinarian should be sought.
Electronic collars that apply stimulation to the animal can provide varying levels of discomfort, pain or trauma. Products of higher quality that meet recommended specifications provide stimulation that can range from a prickling sensation in the skin at low levels to physiological pain and emotional distress at high levels of electronic stimulation17.
The sensation a dog receives on any given day will be different on another day depending on environmental conditions16. Every individual dog will have a different experience of the electronic stimulation. Some may find the stimulation mildly irritating, while others can be fearful7,16.
A dog’s perception of any experience that is unpleasant and out of its control may be affected by whatever is causing the behaviour problem. Behaviour problems can be related to an underlying mental health problem, with a dog showing behaviours that are coping mechanisms secondary to increased fear or anxiety. An unexpected, unpleasant sensation that happens out of an animal’s control can become intensely feared. Resultant increases of fear and anxiety can exacerbate a pre-existing disorder of emotional regulation, leading to increased behavioural pathology and anxiety15,16,1,7. Animals which have mental health problems and are subjected to punishment or treatment by animal trainers, rather than receiving appropriate veterinary treatment, have poorer long-term outcomes18.
All collars designed to reduce behaviours through the use of punishment or negative reinforcement bring with them a risk of long-term negative behavioural effects, such as aggression or compulsive behaviours1,6,7,11, and poor welfare5,10,11, but not necessarily any long-term behavioural benefit19,20.
The use of electronic collars is currently illegal in New South Wales (except for containment collars), the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia21.
Positive reinforcement (reward-based training) has been shown to be more effective than punishment22-24 when conducted by experienced professional trainers and in the hands of the general public10,19. The use of punishment is associated with an increase in the number of problematic behaviours10, reduced animal welfare5,10,11, reduced dog–owner bond11 and a reduction in owner satisfaction with the animal’s general and on-leash behavior22.
- Owners having difficulty with a dog pulling on the lead, jumping, lunging, escaping or causing annoyance with barking should seek help from veterinarians or qualified force-free positive-reinforcement trainers.
- Pulling on the lead and other undesirable behaviours can be modified using positive reinforcement to understand the boundaries of the lead and become motivated to stay within those boundaries. Many types of harnesses, head halters and collars can be used in dogs that enable owners to redirect an animal to positive behaviours. In veterinary clinics, fitting a slip lead as a harness can be dangerous with some dogs. Also, fearful dogs may become stressed with the proximity of veterinary staff. Therefore, using a slip lead around the neck is necessary in some circumstances. However, if safe to do so, it is preferred that a slip lead is placed as a harness.
- Dogs that do not respond to positive reinforcement training that is correctly delivered may be suffering from an undiagnosed health problem and owners should be recommended a diagnostic veterinary work-up to rule in or out physical and behavioural illness. With diagnosis, appropriate treatment can be advised.
- Behaviour problems remain the largest cause of euthanasia and relinquishment22 of dogs in Australia. Early intervention with appropriate advice for behaviour problems is important for the health and welfare of dogs, as well as increasing the probability of a dog continuing as a pet within a household.
Other relevant policies and position statements
- The responsible ownership of dogs and cats and the human–animal bond
- The use of punishment and negative reinforcement in dog training
References and further reading
- Herron, M.E., F.S. Shofer, and I.R.J.A.A.B.S. Reisner, Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. 2009. 117(1-2): p. 47-54.
- Brammeier, S., et al., Good trainers: how to identify one and why this is important to your practice of veterinary medicine. 2006. 1(1): p. 47-52.
- Blackwell, E.J., et al., The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. 2008. 3(5): p. 207-217.
- Skinner, B.F., Science and human behavior. 1953: Simon and Schuster.
- Beerda, B., et al., Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. 1998. 58(3-4): p. 365-381.
- Overall, K., Manual of clinical behavioral medicine for dogs and cats. 2013: Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Overall, K.L.J.J.o.V.B.C.A. and Research, Considerations for shock and ‘training’collars: concerns from and for the working dog community. 2007. 2(4): p. 103-107.
- Australia., R.S. Lead by example. Train your dog the force-free way. 2018 [cited 2019 March 16]; Available from: http://www.rspcasa.org.au/the-issues/lead-by-example/.
- AVSAB, A.V.S.o.A.B. AVSAB Position Statement: The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals. 2018 [cited 2019 3 March]; Available from: https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf.
- Hiby, E., N. Rooney, and J.J.A.W.-P.B.T.W.-. Bradshaw, Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. 2004. 13(1): p. 63-70.
- Schilder, M.B. and J.A.J.A.A.B.S. van der Borg, Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. 2004. 85(3-4): p. 319-334.
- Pauli, A.M., et al., Effects of the application of neck pressure by a collar or harness on intraocular pressure in dogs. 2006. 42(3): p. 207-211.
- Grohmann, K., et al., Severe brain damage after punitive training technique with a choke chain collar in a German shepherd dog. 2013. 8(3): p. 180-184.
- Victoria, T.S.o. Containment Collars. 2017 [cited 2019 March 17]; Available from: http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/pets/dogs/legal-requirements-for-dog-owners/electronic-collars/containment-collars.
- Grillon, C.J.P., Models and mechanisms of anxiety: evidence from startle studies. 2008. 199(3): p. 421-437.
- Masson, S., et al., Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology. 2018. 25: p. 71-75.
- Fences, H. Animal Welfare and Hidden Dog Fence System. 2002 [cited 2019 March 18]; Available from: https://hiddenfence.com.au/animal-welfare-and-hidden-dog-fence-systems/.
- Siracusa, C., L. Provoost, and I.R.J.J.o.v.b. Reisner, Dog-and owner-related risk factors for consideration of euthanasia or rehoming before a referral behavioral consultation and for euthanizing or rehoming the dog after the consultation. 2017. 22: p. 46-56.
- Cooper, J.J., et al., The welfare consequences and efficacy of training pet dogs with remote electronic training collars in comparison to reward based training. 2014. 9(9): p. e102722.
- Protopopova, A., D. Kisten, and C.J.J.o.a.b.a. Wynne, Evaluating a humane alternative to the bark collar: Automated differential reinforcement of not barking in a home‐alone setting. 2016. 49(4): p. 735-744.
- Australia, R. Is the use of electronic dog collars legal? 2016; Available from: http://kb.rspca.org.au/is-the-use-of-electronic-dog-collars-legal_279.html.
- Kwan, J.Y. and M.J.J.J.o.A.A.W.S. Bain, Owner attachment and problem behaviors related to relinquishment and training techniques of dogs. 2013. 16(2): p. 168-183.
- Rooney, N.J. and S.J.A.A.B.S. Cowan, Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. 2011. 132(3-4): p. 169-177.
- Haverbeke, A., et al., Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team's performances. 2008. 113(1-3): p. 110-122.
Date of ratification by AVA Board: 15 July 2022