Animal welfare organisations pen open letter to Michael Gove

Animal welfare organisations pen open letter to Michael Gove urging him not to make exemptions within proposed ban on aversive electronic training aids

A group made up of animal welfare organisations, rescue homes, dog training bodies and animal behaviourists have issued an open letter to Michael Gove, following worrying comments made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during a recent parliamentary exchange on the proposed ban on electronic training devices, in which a possible exemption for invisible electronic containment fencing was mentioned. This aversive type of training aid administers electric shocks via a collar to dogs that attempt to pass through the invisible containment fence.

Proponents of invisible electronic fencing systems argue that they save lives but there is no evidence to support this view. Not only can these fence systems cause physical and mental harm, they can also be counterproductive. Research published in February 2017 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that electronic containment fencing was significantly less effective at containing dogs than physical fencing. In addition to a lack of efficacy, there are welfare concerns relating to electronic containment fencing.

As the containment fencing is completely invisible, a dog does not know where the shock has come from. This means that instead of associating the electric shock with the boundary line, they may instead associate it with something else in the environment at the time, such as other animals in their sight. This, in turn, can lead to fearful or aggressive behaviour and many case studies exist to illustrate this.

If a dog goes through the invisible boundary they may then have difficulty returning, because it would cause them to receive further electric shocks. Even if dogs are successfully trained to stay within the perimeter of the containment fence, domestic animals or wild animals can cross it at will unlike physical fencing. This poses potential risks from nuisance, disease transmission and attacks.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “The Kennel Club was very disappointed to hear Michael Gove’s recent comments regarding the government’s proposed ban on electronic training aids and a possible exemption for invisible electronic fencing. This method has been proven to cause physical harm to animals and can in fact be counterproductive. We therefore urge Mr Gove to maintain a strong position against all cruel electronic training devices.”

Signatories of the open letter include: Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary; Sam Gaines, Head of Companion Animals at RSPCA; Dr Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour and Research at Dogs Trust; Steve Goody, Chief Operating Officer at Blue Cross; Howard Bridges, CEO of Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home; Gillian Jones, Scottish Kennel Club Secretary; Val Harvey, Chairman of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers; David Montgomery, President of Animal Behaviour and Training Council; Jane Williams, Chair of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors; Claire Staines, Steering Committee Member of the Pet Professional Guild and Pet Professional Guild British Isles; Yvonne Mackender, Chair of the COAPE Association of Applied Pet Behaviourists and Trainers; Carolyn Menteith, dog training and behaviour expert and founder of the Puppy Plan; and Martha Brindley, Director of Happy Hounds, Neilston.