Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Source: Everyday Health https://www.everydayhealth.com/pet-health/pros-cons-bark-collars/
A bark collar is a specific type of training collar that is worn by a dog with a tendency to bark excessively. It is designed to negatively reinforce the barking behavior and, over time, cause the dog to avoid that behavior. The use of bark collars has become controversial during recent years and many people consider its use a form of animal abuse. The following guide will examine the pros and cons of bark collars and help you decide if a bark collar is right for your dog. Types of Bark Collars Electronic bark collars detect the vibration of the vocal cords as your dog barks. When it detects these vibrations, a low-level shock is delivered to the dog’s neck. Some online pet stores cite these vibrations as being akin to the shock humans give or receive after shuffling their feet across carpet and then touching another person or doorknob. This type of collar, however, is criticized heavily as being cruel and inhumane by organizations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the use of electronic bark collars is even prohibited in Australia. The efficiency of electronic bark collars is also questioned by veterinary professionals. A study conducted at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that four of the eight dogs that tried an electric bark collar had absolutely no reduction in barking activity. Citronella bark collars have a small microphone in the collar to sense barking. Upon detection, it will release plant-based citronella fragrance into the air. The Cornell University study found that all dog owners found citronella collars to be effective at reducing or stopping nuisance barking, and many preferred them over the electric shock collars. Citronella bark collars are also used in several stray and pet adoption organizations to help control excessive barking. However, the design of most citronella collars poses a problem.
The microphone’s sensitivity must work properly at all times, or else it may pick up sounds of other dogs barking and possibly punish your dog for something he did not do, which confuses the dog and is counterproductive to behavior modification. Ultrasonic bark collars also have a microphone, and emit a high-pitched sound that is imperceptible to humans and irritating to dogs. Some systems have two tones—one to reward positive behavior and another to indicate negative behavior—but most just have one. Ultrasonic bark collars are also often paired with electronic shock collars to deliver first a sound, then a shock if the behavior continues. Of the three types of bark collars, the ultrasonic bark collar is the one with the least amount of corroborating research. Why Use a Bark Collar? Katherine A. Houpt, V.M.D., is the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Houpt describes the type of dogs whose owners typically purchase bark collars as "nuisance barkers." These dogs, she says, bark nonstop, either for territorial reasons or because barking is a learned, attention-seeking behavior. Houpt says that behavior modification can help manage nuisance barking, but owners who are not present when barking occurs, unwilling or otherwise unable to correct the dog may choose to try a bark collar. Many dogs bark for a specific purpose, and barking can usually be resolved without resorting to a bark collar. Behavior Challenges for Bark Collar Users
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not recommend the use of electric shock collars.
The SPCA considers them inhumane and never to be used. Dr. Craig Mixon, who authors BarkingDogs.net, says that dogs that wear bark collars may experience the habituation phenomenon. With habituation, the more the dog wears his citronella collar, the less well it will work, and the less effective it will ultimately be. Dogs may learn to circumvent the citronella collar, barking and then backing up so as not to smell the citronella or barking excessively until the citronella supply is exhausted. Mixon writes that the best way to circumvent habituation is to alternate the use of citronella and electronic collars and to use the collar as just one component in an arsenal of training and behavior modification, not the sole training method. Other dog behavior experts advocate leaving the training collar for short periods of time, never for the entire day. Some dog breeds simply bark more than others. Small terriers and toy breeds are far more likely to bark for non-essential reasons than are retrievers, sheepdogs and St. Bernards. Some breeds, like scent hounds, have been bred and trained to bark upon encountering their prey’s scent. Other breeds, like terriers, were bred to be active, dig and bark with their hunter owners. Reasons Your Dog Barks Your dog barks for several reasons. It barks as a response to stimuli, like when a stranger approaches or it sees a foreign animal in its territory.
It also can bark when other dogs bark, reinforcing the initial dog’s territorial response. This type of barking is most useful for human owners who keep dogs as a form of protection. Dogs can also bark as a learned response. If a dog barks and then receives attention from you, he learns that barking will help him get what he wants—attention or play. If a dog brings his toy to you, then barks, and you engage in play with the dog, he learns that barking is a good way to initiate play. If this behavior causes you to scold or yell at the dog, he may construe this as reinforcement as well—any attention beats no attention at all. Barking is a normal play behavior for a dog and can be directed to either a human or animal. In keeping with barking for attention, dogs may also bark in response to anxiety they feel when their owner is not present. This typically occurs just after the owner’s departure and is referred to as separation anxiety. Barking may persist for several hours at a time and usually only happens when the owner is not present. For many owners, one of the above causes is reason enough to justify the use of a bark collar. There is one instance, however, in which a bark collar should never be used to discourage barking. Some dogs that are in pain or that suffer from deafness, cognitive problems or brain diseases may bark excessively.
To eliminate these possibilities, always take your dog to the veterinarian for a full checkup before initiating a behavior modification program that includes a bark collar. Ultimately, the choice to use a bark collar is up to you, the owner. You are responsible for your dog’s wellbeing and health, but you also must be conscientious of your neighbors and your family. Try alternative methods of behavior modification before you select a bark collar. Your veterinarian can recommend specific exercises to train your dog to stop barking or remain quiet. While you do want to discourage unnecessary barking, you do not want your dog to stop barking entirely. Barking—within reason—is a natural behavior for a dog, but one that should be monitored closely. Learn to recognize the triggers that cause your dog to bark, and work to eliminate as many of these stressors as possible. While training your dog to stop barking may seem like a time-consuming burden, it can often prove more successful than simply using a bark collar. With dogs, just as with humans, there is no magic cure for unsavory behavior.