October 6, 2016 – In a move that has left veterinary professionals and animal welfare experts and campaigners stunned, the Scottish government has announced it is reintroducing tail docking of dogs and allowing the sale and use of electric shock and other aversive collars for dog training.
In an official statement entitled, ‘Protecting animal welfare’ Scottish government environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham, said: “Scotland is a nation of animal lovers and we take the welfare of our pets, animals and livestock very seriously.
“We have consulted extensively on a number of issues and we will now improve our legislation by regulating the use of electronic training collars. There is evidence that these devices can cause suffering so they will only be permitted for use as a last resort and under the guidance of an approved trainer or vet.
“Similarly, we have seen evidence that some working dogs are suffering tail injuries so I have decided to allow vets to shorten the tails of Spaniel and Hunt Point Retriever puppies where they believe it will prevent future injuries amongst working dogs.”
But animal welfare groups were left reeling by the surprise animal welfare backtrack, especially in light of the fact the devolved Welsh Assembly Government introduced laws in 2010 that banned outright “the use of any collar that is capable of administering an electric shock to a cat or dog. Examples of such collars include: electronic shock collars which are operated by remote control, anti-bark collars, those which are used in conjunction with electric fencing systems”. Anyone convicted of breaching the law faces a jail term of up to six months or a fine of up to £20,000.
Electric training collars are already banned in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany and in some states in Australia.
In its statement, the Scottish Government said it “decided to allow the use of electronic training collars only under the guidance of an authorised person, rather than implement an outright ban. This is because there is no documented evidence of deliberate abuse of collars on animals in Scotland and there are examples of use in certain circumstances to benefit the welfare of some animals.”
It also cited statistics from the Scottish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) which received 23 complaints between 2011 and 2014 about electronic collars, all were investigated and advice given, but SSPCA considered no further action.
Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “It is disappointing that an outright ban on shock collars has not been announced and that they still remain available to the public. However, we are pleased the new legislation means the use of shock collars will now be regulated, which is an improvement on the current system. We hope that the Government will ensure these devices are only used by authorised people or under the guidance of an authorised person, such as a vet, and always as a last resort.”
The charity Dogs Trust issued a statement calling the new Scottish laws “a huge step back for animal welfare”.
“Once Scotland led the way in banning tail docking for all breeds. Dogs Trust is extremely disappointed by the decision to allow an exemption to permit the shortening of the tails of Spaniel and Hunt Point Retrievers. We are strongly opposed to tail docking of puppies’ tails, not least because of the pain it inflicts, but also because it deprives dogs of a vital form of canine expression.
“Dogs Trust lobbied heavily for a complete ban to be introduced on tail docking in Scotland in 2007 and was delighted when the country led the way for dog welfare and banned tail docking for all breeds.
“We do not believe that the research conducted on behalf of the Scottish Government, which forms the basis of the announcement on tail docking, is sufficiently robust to warrant a review of the existing legislation.”
Dogs Trust Veterinary Director Paula Boyden added: “Dogs Trust is deeply concerned about the announcement that the Scottish Government will allow certain breeds of dogs to be docked. Amputating a puppy’s tail is a painful procedure but it is also unnecessary. Research by the Royal Veterinary College suggests that 500 dogs would need to have their tails docked to prevent one tail injury*.
“Tail docking takes place when puppies are just a few days old and so we also question how it can be ensured that only puppies that will go on to be working dogs will have their tails docked.”
“Dogs Trust has long campaigned for the sale and use of electronic training aids to be banned, and is deeply disappointed by the announcement that they will be regulated rather than banned in Scotland. Wales banned the use of electronic collars in 2010 and we had hoped that Scotland would follow suit.
“Dogs Trust is not alone in its concerns around electronic shock collars. A recent opinion poll of the Scottish public found that 77% of those polled supported a ban of shock collars for dogs. The new legislation does not speak for them, and Dogs Trust strongly believes that it does not speak for the welfare of dogs.”
The dog rehoming and welfare charity went on to say the Scottish Government’s announcement “has been positioned to protect animal welfare, Dogs Trust is pondering if this is in fact true”.
Pet News Today has requested further detail from the Scottish Government about the alleged evidence-based research and consultation process that it claims led to the animal welfare law changes.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and BVA Scottish Branch expressed ‘disappointment’ at the new laws.
“Although this new legislation will ban the sale of these items to the public, there is concern from vets and animal behaviourists that the devices will still be used by some as a method of training. This raises a number of welfare issues, such as the difficulty in accurately judging the level of electric pulse to apply to a dog without causing unnecessary suffering or understanding how variables, such as the dog being wet, can impact the electric pulse felt. Research also shows that aversive training collars are no more effective than positive reinforcement methods,” the BVA said in a statement.
Grace Webster, president of the BVA Scottish Branch, said: “Electronic training devices, such as electric pulse collars, have a negative, painful effect on dogs and can cause them unnecessary suffering. We know from our own consultation with leading veterinary behaviourists that using fear as a training tool is less effective than positive reinforcement and can instead take a toll on the dog’s overall welfare.
“We have grave concerns over how enforceability will work without an outright ban.”
BVA said it has long campaigned for a ban on tail docking and that “puppies suffer unnecessary pain as a result of docking, and are deprived of a vital form of canine expression. Until recently Scotland has led the way on tail docking welfare for dogs with a complete ban of the practice, and this new announcement is a retrograde step for animal welfare in the country”.
Gudrun Ravetz, president of the BVA, said: “After the clear leadership the Scottish Government has shown on tail docking, we are saddened at the decision to reverse its stance. BVA has carefully considered all the evidence and remains convinced that tail docking in dogs is detrimental to animal welfare.”
When contacted by Pet News Today, the veterinary industry’s regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, said it had no statement on the Scottish law changes and that the BVA had released a statement.
And in a bizarre about turn, the Kennel Club, which had actively campaigned against the use of electric shock and aversive collars, but does support tail docking to prevent injury, released a statement saying :
“The Kennel Club (KC) and Scottish Kennel Club (SKC) have welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement of a set of measures which will be introduced to protect and improve dog welfare. Both the KC and SKC are pleased that the Scottish Government has listened to the views of both organisations on issues which they have been campaigning on for a number of years.”
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) the UK’s regulator of vets and vet nurses, told Pet News Today: “We are aware of the changes to the Scottish animal welfare regulations which will allow some breeds of working dogs an exemption from the overall ban on tail-docking in Scotland and we will work with the Scottish authorities to ensure that any responsibilities for veterinary surgeons are clearly expressed. Our current guidance to the profession on tail-docking (points 40 to 50 of the ‘Miscellaneous’ chapter of the supporting guidance to our Code of Professional Conduct) will be amended to reflect the changes to the regulations in Scotland. This will be discussed by our Standards Committee once the regulations have been released.”
* Research as reported by Diesel, G., Pfieffer, D., Crispin, S. and Brodbelt, D. (2010). Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in Great Britain. Veterinary Record 166. 812 – 817.
The Scottish Government has published an analysis of the responses to the tail docking consultation. It is available from http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/10/6117