We thought we’d stop by and chat about a little contraption that has taken our industry by storm over the last few years… bark collars.
Traditionally, bark collars have been used on dogs as a deterrent to noisemaking – they can either be remote controlled or they can automatically react to both sound and vibration. The concept behind bark collars is that they reduce barking by deploying some form of unpleasant consequence at the exact time the barking occurs (e.g. a spray of citronella, an ultrasonic noise, or an electric shock). The dog learns to associate the punishment with the behaviour and as a result, the behaviour stops.
Except it doesn’t really work like that, and here’s why.
A dog’s bark is their voice – and not every noise a dog makes is a bark. They may vocalise in any number of ways including coughing, sneezing, snoring, yelping, or groaning, and as with barking, it is their natural and normal prerogative to do this. A bark collar can’t necessarily distinguish between these different noises, and as a result, dogs wearing them may be reprimanded for something they have no control over. In fact, we’ve heard of dogs’ bark collars being tripped by other dogs barking near them, and loud noises which aren’t even barks at all.
When it comes to actual barking, we must acknowledge that dogs bark for a reason, and this too is completely fair. They may be bored, frustrated, anxious, stressed, or lonely… the bark itself is simply the hallmark of a deeper issue. As we know, the most effective solution to any problem is to treat the cause, and not the symptom – but bark collars fail spectacularly to achieve this. Bark collars are a “band-aid” approach, the use of which rejects important factors for consideration, such as a dog’s mental and physical health or their environment. Whilst barking may not be desirable to us or our neighbours, there may be circumstances in which even we would agree it is entirely expected, particularly if we consider life from the dog’s point of view. And outside of these circumstances, when our dogs really do bark constantly for no apparent reason, we must still sit in empathy with our four-legged friends to understand the underlying cause for this behaviour. A bark collar completely disregards any valuable insights we might have about our dogs’ wellbeing, and also completely removes our opportunity to improve this.
Not only this, but bark collars cause compounding angst to dogs in the process of chastising them for their emotions – as if feeling bored, frustrated, anxious, stressed, or lonely isn’t unpleasant enough, imagine then being punished for those sentiments. Moreover, a bark collar deploys a punishment for any bark: even those barks which are elicited as a result of happiness or excitement. This would be enough to drive even the most sane and rational of us completely neurotic!
It’s easy to understand why people turn to bark collars, in a state of despair – it’s not uncommon to hear of dogs that bark so persistently that their owners have received angry letters from the neighbours, plus a complaint or two from the local council. Most dog owners are simply trying to do their best, and in this position they are understandably seeking a quick, easy, and effective solution. For as little as $29.95 (or less if rented), bark collars promise a calm and quiet dog almost immediately without the need of any professional intervention. But there’s a lot of fine print omitted from the packaging, which dog owners ought to know…
For a start, regardless of the ethical considerations around bark collars, they still really only work for a limited period of time before most dogs habituate to the punishment (i.e. they get used to it) and start barking again. This is because the underlying reason for the barking is never addressed, and the dog still feels an inherent need to express their concerns. The bark collar never changes the boredom, frustration, stress, anxiety or loneliness that causes dogs to bark in the first place – in fact, the application of a bark collar actually makes these things dramatically worse.
Secondly, although bark collars might appear to work for the first short period, this is not because dogs have learnt new or better behaviours, or miraculous coping strategies to deal with their barking addiction. Dogs stop barking when they wear bark collars simply because they have been caused shock, pain, or fear which temporarily jolts them out of their original behaviour pattern. As a result of this forceful method, many dogs go on to develop some kind of fallout (i.e. new undesirable behaviours) because their confidence and trust has been undermined in the training process. Many dog owners don’t realise this fallout is directly due to the barking collar as it may take time to develop, and because of this their dog is mistakenly considered to be at fault... again.
If you have a barking dog, there are proactive things you can do to resolve this, none of which involve harsh or unpleasant consequences for your dog. As a starting point you can ask yourself two questions to set you on the right path:
Why is my dog barking? What are they feeling? Are they bored, frustrated, anxious, stressed, or lonely? Are they sick or sore? Is the environment causing them to bark – are there birds or possums, or people walking past the property all day?
How can I take responsibility for this situation at a root level? Am I giving my dog enough exercise, positive training, nutrition, love and attention? Can I alter my dog’s environment to reduce stress or stimulation for them – for example, can I leave them inside the house, or can I set up an area outside the house where things won’t bother them as much?
Surround yourself with the right professionals – you may consider a Vet for a physical check-up, and a Positive Reward-Based Trainer to gain an understanding of your dog’s behaviour and environment. Depending on your dog’s individual circumstances, your Vet or Trainer may recommend a Veterinary Behaviourist or prescribe short-term medical intervention in conjunction with your training plan.
Whilst some barking dogs do so for more complex reasons (such as separation anxiety), many simply bark because their needs for mental & physical stimulation and companionship aren’t being met – whilst dog owners have every intention to provide this, they have limited time to fulfil their dog’s requirements, particularly in the early years when those requirements are quite substantial. One very straightforward and affordable solution to this is a professional dog walker – and best of all, it’s 100% enjoyable for your dog (not like a barking collar, which all dogs agree is rubbish).
Have you ever considered that the reason for your dog’s barking may simply be solved by giving them more to look forward to in every day – and what a wonderful solution that would be. We transform bored, frustrated, lonely and barking dogs into happy, calm, and relaxed dogs on a daily basis, and your dog could be one bark away from a life of fun, friends, and adventure. Send us an email and we’ll let you know if we can help you create a happier dog!
And if you liked this post, please Like Our Facebook page and join our dog-loving community where we share tips, tricks, happy snaps and videos of our adventures, and all good dog-related things!