Cat containment devices using electric shock collars are cruel. Discuss.

A well-known cat containment device is employed in the UK and in America. You place a wire around your garden which transmits a signal to a receiver on your cat’s collar. When your cat approaches the wire she receives a noise and if she then proceeds further towards the wire she receives a mild electric shock which deters her from going over the wire into hazardous territory such as roads. It is an effective way of containing your cat in your garden (backyard in America). The big question is whether it is cruel.

A well-known personality, Andrew Lloyd-Webber loves cats which is partly why he wrote the ever popular smash it musical Cats based on TS Eliot’s collection of feline poems. Lord Lloyd-Webber uses this electric shock cat containment system. He is one of 40,000 cat and dog lovers who are facing criminalisation for employing the device. Lord Lloyd-Webber has Turkish Van cats which I find interesting. He uses the system to prevent his cats wandering onto a fast country road beside his estate in Hampshire, UK. The wire runs around his 350 acre estate which makes for a wonderfully safe and large area for cats to roam within.

However, a recent announcement tells us that the UK government has plans to ban the use of electric collars on dogs and cats in England. The point is this: there are different forms of electric shock training devices. Arguably some are acceptable but this is a discussion point. Michael Gove, the highly effective environment secretary who is able to push laws through Parliament, has included in the proposals “containment fence” systems such as the one used by Lord Lloyd-Webber.

In the Times newspaper a number of veterinarians have written a letter in which they say that this form of cat containment is not cruel but highly effective and saves the lives of 300,000 cats who would otherwise have been killed on the roads every year. They argue that collars of this type i.e. those employed in this form of containment system, are:

“overwhelmingly in the pet’s interests. In these systems the pet is in control and quickly learns not to go close to the boundary. If it ignores the initial warning buzzer then the electric pulse it receives is very mild.”

Another high-profile person using the system is Sir Steve Redgrave, the well-known Olympic gold medallist rower. He uses it to confine his Old English Sheepdog from wandering out of his unfenced 3 acre garden. He says that his dog, Arthur, has received a shock on fewer than 10 occasions over the six years that he has employed the fence.

The RSPCA is against the system. They support a ban on electric collars using containment systems as well as those used as training devices. I think that it is well accepted that the use of electric shock collars in training devices on dogs is certainly cruel and must be banned. However, there is a difference between that formal version of training and this form of containment fence.

This is clearly a tricky discussion because this pet containment device does train a cat or dog through punishment and punishment is universally accepted as being unacceptable in the training of pets. However on the upside it saves lives and the electric shock is very mild as stated. On balance, I would tend to agree that its use is acceptable. What do you think?

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Cat containment devices using electric shock collars are cruel. Discuss. — 7 Comments

  1. Any training regime that includes ANY element of punishment/consequence, is not only barbaric & crude, the only thing it teaches is fear, ergo, it is useless.

    There are so many operational & practical issues surrounding these dumb devices that one almost doesn’t need to explore the ethics of such ignorant “training”

    Whoever invented the first shock device had no clue, intelligence or compassion.




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    • Thank you, Jane, for commenting. I agree with you of course. However, what you think about the argument that a mild shock as provided by the cat containment fence I described in the article saves lives? It is a balancing act between saving lives and providing a mild shock. Of course you could argue that the cat owners could provide a cat containment fence instead but these are very expensive in comparison to the device described. Going down that route you would have to say that a cat owner has to be quite well off in order to contain her cat. That might be an unfair qualification.




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      • Hi Michael, this can be a very complex subject, but at the end of the day, the reality of mammalian learning is that any kind of negative consequence o r “punishment” have been scientifically evidenced as events that actually retard learning.

        There are many other issues such as what happens if an aggressive dog enters the area “protected” by the deterrent fence, the cat, with a rush of adrenalin rushes through threshold line, and cannot, for fear of shocks return to their own territory.

        A phenomenon known as “” current drift” can occur where a harsher current is triggered, the first clue a well intentioned steward may get is that the poor Cat has a burn on their neck or is spending a lot of time at the vet with stress related cystitis, self mutilation such as for pulling, eczema, rhinitis and plenty of other gritty conditions.

        I can empathise with those who believe the “invisible fence” is a great idea to keep a beloved animal companion safe without turning their garden into what looks a bit like a prison camp, but I cannot support any training method that causes fear. Even a small current can cause fear. Humans are just starting to understand how a constant level of low to medium stress can negatively affect mental & physical well being. I hope that this new understanding will eventually lead to kinder, more effective methods of keeping our wonderful felines as safe as possible!




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        • Please provide your “scientific evidence”. I help about 10-16 clans of wild raccoons during whelping season every year. Every year I see mother raccoons reprimanding their cubs that do something wrong or potentially dangerous to their offspring’s own well being. They do this by a quick snarl and bite, immediately followed by grabbing the raccoon cub and drawing it to them, then comforting their cries and whimpers with licks and soothing grooming. The cub quickly calms down, and now has also learned to not do that behavior which the mother knew was dangerous to the cub’s own existence.

          Punishment during parenting, when given with the proper consoling, is a method used by all animal species that survive by learning from the parents. It is only the recent irresponsible human parent, who wants to pawn-off learning how to be a responsible human on everyone else, that promotes the idea that they don’t need to give their children any kind of behavioral education whatsoever, that the world will educate their children for them. They neither need nor want to be parents so these “permissive, no punishment” parents throw their children to the world, children who now demand that any behavior from them is totally acceptable. That’s the source and result of your “no punishment for any living thing” fallacy. If the raccoon mothers by me didn’t punish their offspring when they were doing something that might put their children’s lives in peril later in life fewer of them would survive.

          Why do raccoons know more about reality and life, education and training their offspring, than any of you? That’s what I’d like to know.




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          • “Punishment during parenting, when given with the proper consoling, is a method used by all animal species..”

            I don’t think you can use the word “punishment” with respect to animals as it is a human concept which requires rational thought to connect the punishment with the so-called bad behaviour in a rational way. There has to be a rational, mental process which underpins the learning process to stop the bad behaviour.

            If you punish a cat for doing something natural as far as the cat is concerned then you are confusing the animal. Of course, these electric fences are anonymous forms of punishment so the cat does not connect the punishment, so-called, with the behaviour. But that said, I do not think that you can use the word punishment in relation to training animals. Perhaps a better phrase is “negative reinforcement”.




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