Are We Going To The Dogs?
Alright! Let’s talk about some pesky little things called FACTS!
On 15th October, trainers, handlers, walkers, owners, and anyone with an interest in defending the truth, their rights, and the welfare of dogs, joined together in London to march on Parliament and the offices of DEFRA, chiefly the office of one Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Why were we marching? To protest against Mr Gove’s proposal to ban all hand-held electronic training aids – despite there being absolutely no evidence to support a ban on them.
Why does the government seek to ban a device that has helped to save lives, based on no facts and no evidence? Ultimately, because this isn’t just about electronic training aids - but more on that shortly. First, let’s start with some facts to set the stage: in a recent public consultation, almost 65% of respondents opposed a ban. Only 8% - yes, you heard that correctly – EIGHT PER CENT of written responses to DEFRA’s own consultation, called for a ban. I quote next from a letter I drafted for members of the Association of Responsible Dog Owners and the Association for Balanced Dog Trainers to send their MPs; a letter that we handed over at the march:
“Quite simply put, there is [no evidence]. The facts are that, in February 2018, a letter sent from DEFRA to the Royal Veterinary College stated that scientific research it had commissioned was “not strong enough to support a ban” on “electronic training aids for dogs”. Back in 2014, a similar statement had been made in a letter by DEFRA Minister George Eustice in which he stated the department did not consider that there was “evidence that the use of such devices causes unnecessary suffering.”
Yet, not long after DEFRA’s February letter to the RVC, it made a 180-degree turn on its own statement in light of “new evidence which has been emerging about the impact of e-collars”. A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted in September 2018 worded thus: “I wish to request now under the ‘Freedom of Information Act 2000’ what further evidence was presented between Feb 2018 and March 2018 which changed the government stance on these devices.” The response received was: “Following a search of our paper and electronic records, we have established that the information that you have requested here is not held by Defra. This is because there is no further evidence.”
The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from this is that either (1) DEFRA was being deliberately misleading about evidence; or (2) the only “evidence” existing was either anecdotal or hearsay in nature. Since when does this government and its advisory bodies pass legislation based upon hearsay and anecdotes?”
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of factual, experiential evidence supporting the humane and appropriate use of the e collar – and not one opposing it. Yet the government still seeks to ban it. It goes without saying that banning things doesn’t work. Banning something because of harm that could be caused by its improper use is a ridiculous, knee-jerk response. After all, we could apply that to almost everything! Someone got attacked by a lunatic wielding a hammer? Wow; hammers are clearly cruel and abusive and must be banned! How bizarre does that sound? Someone who is going to abuse and torture an animal is not going to go out of their way to buy a specific piece of equipment to do so. True animal abuse has nothing to do with tools and everything to do with the mental state of the person doing the abusing – irrespective of whether that’s Joe Public or someone claiming to be a trainer. It’s a human issue, not a tool issue. Therefore, this proposed ban has nothing to do with animal welfare. If it did, the government would also be proposing a ban on head collars (Gentle Leaders or Haltis) which, as an aversive tool, can cause severe distress in dogs they are used on. After all, head collars use force to make the dog move into a desired position. They are most assuredly not Purely Positive, “Force Free”, or “kind” training devices.
So let’s get to the crux of the matter. Why do “they” really wish to ban electronic training aids and, ultimately, other tools?
The answer, I believe, is, because it’s part of a bigger plan. It is the sincere belief of many of us that the government, together with certain other large and influential organisations (the ones you have seen me post about before), wishes to monopolise and control every aspect of dog ownership, from their breeding and acquisition, to their rearing, boarding, and training and, through this monopoly, make money. If you can control the parameters, you can control the market.
Several agendas are served, here. By telling people they must train their dogs using only “purely positive” methods, an enormous problem has already been created and our shelters are overflowing with dogs with unwanted and dangerous behaviours that could easily be rectified by using common sense training methods that have always worked. Every living being learns through consequences. Damn; there’s another one of those pesky facts! But when you go against Nature because you think you know better, fallout is going to happen. And it has. So, now you have entire generations of otherwise healthy dogs with behavioural problems that you can’t fix because you don’t want to be perceived as anything other than “the nice guy”. Gotta keep those donations rolling in, right? But you can’t put these problem dogs to sleep because it would be unethical to do so, not to mention the fact that your donors would be appalled and start deserting you in droves. Not only that; in the case of a certain organization, their policy states that they never put a healthy dog to sleep. But what if you could get around the “healthy dog” part of that statement? A dog that is reactive or aggressive could be henceforth be determined to be neurologically unsound, thereby justifying the case for euthanising it. There’s your overpopulation problem solved, in one fell swoop – keeping those kennels nice and empty for another load of “problem dogs” to arrive and provide you with fresh material for your next glossy ad campaign and yet more donor money. And so on and so forth in perpetuity. Until the truth starts to bleed through.
And just as with every successful strategy, this is a two-pronged attack. Get the message out there that punishment and abuse are the same thing. That “force” is a bad word (I guess the people who believe that have never seen “Star Wars” 😉). That properly fixing things in a timely manner is dangerous and leads to problems later on (another myth; it doesn’t). Present this “fake news” in a perky and palatable form because people these days are so concerned about “fitting in” and not rocking the boat, and the aesthetic of a thing rather than the reality and functionality of it, that pretty soon those people will accept it as fact. This false ideology, spread by a network of high net worth organisations with sufficient financial and PR might to create a nationwide campaign, has created a sub-culture of sheep who will allow themselves to be blindly led by the nose in any direction they are told is good for them and their dog, and who are too brainwashed and indoctrinated to question anything any more. “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda attributed to various historical figures; nobody knows for certain where it actually originated. The phenomenon itself was first identified in 1977 and is known as the "Illusory Truth Effect”. You got it: fake news is not a new thing! But because trainers like myself don’t fall in line with what has become the “party line” of dog ownership and training – because we know through years of experience that it is a lie – what we do and how we do it can make people feel uncomfortable. Their “new reality” is being threatened. And when your reality is threatened, it’s understandable that you would react emotionally; from a place of fear, and outrage, rather than curiosity and a desire to question.
Meanwhile, the trainers who toe the party line can continue to con unsuspecting dog owners out of thousands of pounds by taking months – years, even – to pretend to fix a behaviour that could, in reality, be fixed in a matter of days or weeks.
Whether we arrived at this current state of affairs by accident, design, or a combination of the two, no longer matters. To fix the situation would take more integrity than the organisations concerned possess, and pose more of a risk to their bank balances than they would ever be willing to take. And remember: these are organisations that present themselves as animal welfare proponents and “shelters”. One of these so-called “charities” boasts a net worth of around £150 million alone – and is still running massive ad campaigns to boost its coffers.
Sadly, the only ones to truly suffer from this blanket policy of deceit in the name of “modern dog training”, are the dogs. Dogs who’ve never changed the way they learn. Dogs who these days are being killed in shelters in unprecedented numbers. Alone, afraid, and confused.
So when we fight for our rights to train dogs in the way that works best for the dog because it always has, we are not simply fighting for our rights. We are fighting for the rights of the dog. And what true animal lover wouldn’t be in favour of that?