Netherlands to ban shock collars for dogs, limit breeding of 'designer cats'

Dog wearing a shock collar
Dog wearing a shock collarPhoto: benjaminlion/DepositPhotos

The Netherlands will ban the use of shock collars on dogs from July next year, Minister Carola Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality announced. She is also tackling abuses in the breeding of so-called "designer cats", RTL Nieuws and the Telegraaf report. 

The shock collar ban applies to individual dog owners as well as qualified dog trainers. Those who still use shock collars after 1 July 2020, will risk a fine of up to 20 thousand euros, or a maximum prison sentence of three years, according to RTL.

According to current scientific insights, the use of a shock collar is "a serious, inescapable violation of the welfare of the dog", Schouten wrote in a letter to parliament. Shock collars are often used in dog training. According to Schouten, there is no evidence that the use of a shock collar leads to better results in behavioral training than other non-electric measures. "The collar leads, any way you look at it, to less animal welfare. The animal suffers from it, it hurts, and if that is not necessary, we shouldn't do it."

The Minister is also addressing abuses in the breeding of thoroughbred cats, the Telegraaf reports. "We no longer accept that the welfare of cats comes at the expense of breeders who design animals because people find it physically beautiful", she said. "We will now take action against that." Schouten is particularly focused on the cat breed Bambino Sphynx. In many cases, due to breeding for appearance, these cats have too short legs, have poor eyesight, can no longer orient themselves due to lack of whiskers, and usually have so little fur that they can freeze to death in the winter or suffer severe sunburns in the summer.

The Minister previously also announced new animal welfare criteria for dog breeding, primarily focused on breeding for external characteristics. Dogs should be bred for health, not appearance, she believes. 

While a number of political parties, like animal party PvdD, and animal welfare organizations are delighted by the shock collar ban, not everyone is pleased. Two dog trainers told RTL that they use shock collars to great success. 

Dog behavior expert Anniek Winters has been using shock collars for years, mainly for training unmanageable or non-socialized dogs. "Never has a dog become afraid of it, I have never had any problems with it", Winters said to RTL Nieuws. "The collar should not be seen as a way to punish the dog, that is a mistake many people make. It is not a button that you press if the dog is naughty. It is a communication tool, and we teach people that too." She sets the collar to the lowest possible shock to which the dog responds. She stressed that a dog must never react to a shock with whimpering, crying, or being scared. "Then it is too high and then you get a shy dog."

Edith Peters, who trains mainly hunting dogs, has seen shock collars being used improperly, resulting in physically and emotionally injured dogs. But she does not consider the collar itself being animal abuse. She uses it on all the dogs she trains. "Always with success", she said. "Without that collar, many dogs would have lost their freedom because they can no longer walk off leash. Or worse: they had to be put to sleep."

Winters and Peters both emphasize that the collars must be used correctly. "I am only in favor of an e-collar for people and dogs that are well trained by an experienced trainer", Winters said. "Never by a loose collar without explanation or training."

"If the collars are banned, a lot of dogs will become unhappy", Peters said to the broadcaster. "But do you know what you can ban? The sale of those collars to desperate dog owners who use them without guidance." According to her, a shock collar should be "the first aid", not the last resort. "And you must know what you are starting, otherwise don't do it."