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San Francisco may be first city in the nation to ban dog shock collars

Dogs play in Duboce Park in San Francisco. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

San Francisco might become the first city in the nation to ban dog shock collars—but the news has divided the local dog community

Last fall, SF dog trainers and animal welfare advocates proposed a shock collar ban for the city of San Francisco, the first of its kind for a major metropolitan region. These e-collars use what is called “static correction” to address dogs’ negative behaviors, and are often referred as “shock collars” because they train dogs by zapping them with varying levels of electricity or vibrations. 

The proposed ban has already garnered widespread support from local animal welfare advocates—including the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, SF Animal Care and Control (SFACC) and the city’s Guild of Professional Dog Walkers—many of whom claim that the e-collars may actually be counterintuitive to training goals and can cause undue psychological trauma to your pet. 

Dog owners and their off-leash dogs enjoy Golden Gate Dog Park. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Support for the Ban Mounting

Local dog trainers have founded ShockFree SF, a grassroots campaign dedicated to getting the sale and distribution of e-collars banned from the city, and to also forbidding their use by trainers and dog owners alike. Founders Ren Volpe and LT Taylor, both animal behavior experts and trainers, aim to educate San Franciscans about ways to train their pets safely and according to the latest science. 

“San Francisco has often been at the vanguard of animal welfare reform, from the SF SPCA’s launch of the no-kill movement in 1994 to becoming the first major U.S. city to ban the declawing of cats in 2009,” wrote Volpe. “This is not some extremist animal rights position: Many prominent and respected organizations, from the U.S. Humane Society to the American Veterinary Medical Association, agree that shock collars have no place in modern dog training.” 

According to ShockFree SF’s draft ordinance, veterinarians and behaviorists largely denounce these “aversive” training methods, which they say can cause dogs to “suppress or mask their outward signs of fear,” reversing the intended goals of their use—and often causing dogs that struggle with aggression to become more outwardly dangerous. 

Advocates for the ban instead insist that positive reinforcement can address any dog’s behavioral issues, regardless of their severity. 

“SFACC does not regulate dog training; however, there is plenty of science to support our belief that positive reinforcement is the best way to have a safe and happy relationship with your canine companion,” said SFACC Executive Director Virginia Donohue. 

A dog named Louie sits, leashed, in a knitted sweater at a market in Hessen, Frankfurt. | Frank Rumpenhorst/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

If San Francisco legislators decide to move forward with this movement, it would be the first city in the nation to do so—despite countless nationwide efforts from animal welfare advocates to enact further restrictions and regulations on static correction. 

Petco announced in 2020 that it would ban the sale of electronic shock collars, positioning itself as a “health and wellness company for pets” that champions positive reinforcement training. Legislators in New York state have also proposed similar legislation that promises to ban the sale or distribution of shock collars. Volpe says that numerous countries have banned shock collars, after Germany started the trend in 2006.      

And it’s not just animal welfare on the line; organizers see their movement as an extension of San Francisco’s famous social justice undercurrents, as well as its reputation as a city obsessed with its canine pals

“St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of San Francisco and all animals, believed that animals are not subjects to be dominated, exploited or abused,” wrote ShockFree SF advocates in their draft ordinance. “As the first city in the nation to ban the use of e-collars, San Francisco lives up to our tradition as a frontier of justice, rights for all and progressive ideas.”

Shock Collar Advocates Disagree 

Though rescues, animal welfare organizations and dog walkers across SF back the legislation, others feel shock collars are safe when used correctly. 

Critics of e-collar bans say that shock-free advocates fundamentally do not understand how static correction works, and that a ban would take away an invaluable training resource for dog owners with particularly stubborn pets. 

“We support static correction used properly,” said Jennifer Joyce, president of SpotOn Fence, a static correction fencing company. “Under the direction of people who’ve been trained, who know how to use it in a positive way, it can be an effective training tool and an effective way of training dogs that have behavioral issues.” 

Joyce says that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how shock collars should be—and are—used, leading to blanket ban legislation like the one proposed in SF. Rather, advocates of static correction say that rigorous training is needed with these e-collars, and that they are not supposed to be used frequently to cruelly shock or startle a dog. 

“The point is not to inflict pain, the point is for the collar to provide a slightly uncomfortable feeling that really stops the fixation on whatever is luring them, whatever is distracting them or causing them to be reactive,” Joyce said. 

Dogs wearing e-collars play with a ball. | Courtesy SpotOn Fences

Advocates for e-collars say that painful shocks are rarely ever used, and that other more gentle static correction methods like collar vibrations exist to ease dogs into these training tools. 

Yet, shock-free advocates vehemently refute these claims, and both supporters and critics of shock collars agree that there are little to no regulations surrounding them—such as required training or quality control—that might reduce the chances of an owner misusing or abusing static correction tools. 

Next Steps for Shock Collars in SF 

Despite some opposition from local e-collar advocates, the shock-free movement has already gained traction in San Francisco. 

In October, SF’s Commission of Animal Control and Welfare voted to support a proposed shock collar ban, after meeting with ShockFree representatives. Local pet stores also decided to stop selling shock collars, well before the potential ban was introduced and in line with Petco’s stance on static correction. 

“The Commission agrees with [ShockFree SF representatives] that the practice of administrating animal training through pain is inconsistent with our City’s values of treating all life with kindness,” wrote the SF Animal Control and Welfare Commissioners in a letter to District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. 

ShockFree co-leads Volpe and Taylor say that further legislative efforts are on the horizon, including building support for a statewide bill to require dog trainers to give “informed client consent,” or clear information about the risks and benefits of training methods. 

The next step? Organizers need to find a city supervisor to sponsor the bill, and the Board of Supervisors has to vote to enact the legislation.