Boulder trainer eyes ballot measure banning choke, prong and shock collars on dogs

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Mary Angilly seeks to ban the use of these collars in Boulder, for now, and not necessarily the sale of them.

A Boulder woman is starting a campaign she hopes will lead to a citywide ban on the use of dog collars that choke, prong and shock.

“I don’t want residents in Boulder to feel alienated or badly if they’re using them,” said Mary Angilly, a professional dog trainer. “This is about educating people and showing them there are other ways.

Angilly is still working out her plan of action and starting to build her coalition, but she said she aspires to get this proposed ban on the 2018 ballot in Boulder.

Copper strikes a majestic pose for owner Becca Mankinen on Friday, another day of dog bonding at Valmont Dog Park. For more photos, go to

Copper strikes a majestic pose for owner Becca Mankinen on Friday, another day of dog bonding at Valmont Dog Park. For more photos, go to (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

If the city does end up approving a ban on these three controversial forms of dog-training equipment, it will be the first in the United States to do so, though some similar efforts have succeeded in a handful of places outside of the country, including in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The case Angilly makes is that dog owners should train their animals with positive reinforcement.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, you don’t like a lot of that equipment, you’re a Boulder hippie who runs in a field of daisies,'” she said. “It’s not like that at all.

“My argument, and most trainers who are against the use of this equipment, is not that it doesn’t work. Punishment and using force and fear to train dogs can totally work. The main issue is the many potential fallouts.”

Among the side effects observed in some dogs when owners use fear- or pain-based training equipment, she said, are added stress; suppressed or unusually high aggression; and emotional shut-down and stunting.

It is possible, and often easier, to get a dog to behave as one would like, Angilly said, using reward-based systems.

Bridgette Chesne, director of animal behavior and sheltering at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, agrees. The Humane Society has run ad campaigns in support of the message Angilly is now working to spread.

“I think in the last decade there’s been more evidence to suggest the unnecessary nature of intimidation force imposed upon our pet families. The election to do it in a more gentle, friendlier, more positive way — we believe in the long run that really fosters a more successful relationship between that pet and that parent,” Chesne said.

She added, “When we show dogs what we want them to do and we offer them reinforcement to get them to do so, it gets them to our end goal in a way that’s fun and engaging and optimistic.”

A political calculation

Angilly has a long way to go if, in fact, her idea is to turn into a ballot measure. At a minimum, she’ll have to collect thousands of petition signatures from registered voters.

But she’ll also have to figure out what she wants and does not want her campaign to address.

In her “ideal world,” she said, the city would make illegal both the sale and the use of the three collars she’s identified as being problematic.

Given, however, that no place else in America has issued such a ban, she’s looking to start small, in order to give her campaign as good a chance as possible at winning support and affecting change.

“A zero-tolerance policy would be my preference,” Angilly said, “but I wonder what would reach the residents of Boulder the easiest.”

She’s already made one political calculation, deciding up-front to exclude from her proposed ban the use of invisible-fence equipment, which also relies upon shocks to dissuade dogs from straying outside an owner’s desired perimeter.

“Invisible fences are, for some reason, more widely accepted, so I don’t know how that would look in terms of reaching residents,” Angilly said.

That certainly seemed to be the case among dog owners and enthusiasts interviewed Friday at the Valmont Dog Park in northeast Boulder.

They offered varying takes on Angilly’s idea, but were generally much more comfortable with the use of shock collars, which are sometimes called e-collars, than they were with chokes and prongs.

Shock collars were first used in the 1960s to limit the wandering-off of hunting dogs, and today’s versions usually have different voltage levels available to the user, who, with some products, can control the collar through a remote control.

One woman was seen doing so at Valmont, but, as she demonstrated on her own hand, the voltage level she set was so low that the collar shock was more of a light vibration than an electric shock.

Observing this demo, two friends of the woman said that they didn’t have a problem with the technology, if used “responsibly.”

Choking a dog or using a collar that digs into a dog’s neck, however, was less appealing to them.

“Anything that does that,” said Nancy Portnoy, “is not the way to positively reinforce.”

But the humans at the dog park had more questions about the value and practicality of using the law to combat pain-inducing dog collars, even though they mostly agreed that, as Portnoy said, Angilly’s “heart is in the right place.”

Chas. Barbour — no, that’s not a typo; there really is a period in his first name, he said — has been volunteering at the dog park for many years, and, when asked whether he’d vote for the kind of measure Angilly is proposing, he paused to think.

“Hmm. I don’t know. Boys, would we vote for that?” he said, turning to his friends.

They both shook their heads.

“It’s just too easily circumvented,” Barbour said.

Joel Silverman, another visitor to the park, said, “I think it’s a little overkill to have a law. … It seems a little overregulated to me.”

Both men also said that lumping shock collars in with chokes and prongs would make them feel less supportive of the campaign.

“I see those are something that is far less humane, because they can cause more damage and hurt more than a buzz on the neck,” Barbour said.

“I think those choke collars are horrible and the prong collars, also horrible,” Silverman said.

Angilly said she knows that convincing people to approve a first-of-its-kind ban — in the U.S., anyway — may prove a difficult proposition, even in a city that has repeatedly shown a willingness to take on policies that would seem unpopular and overly restrictive in other communities, such as Boulder’s plastic bag fee and the soda tax.

“There’s not really anything like this in the country,” she said. “I think it will be pretty difficult to accomplish.”


Read the original article at here.

Add Comment