Problem barking can be an issue for dog owners and their neighbors. Many people turn to bark collars as an easy fix, however, bark collars do little but punish your dog for a behavior that comes naturally. Fortunately, there are other training methods that work much more effectively for nuisance barking.
What is Problem Barking?
There is a significant difference between barking and problem barking.
Barking is one of your dog’s few methods of communication and should not be discouraged as a general behavior. For example, you want your dog to bark to warn you of a fire, an intruder, or to scare away trespassers on your property.
What you do not want, however, is your dog barking every time they hear a floorboard squeak or every time someone passes by on the sidewalk outside your home. This is what is referred to as problem barking – barking at everyday stimulus that should be of no concern to your dog.
What is a Bark Collar?
A bark collar is a collar utilized to control problem barking by initiating a negative stimulus to the neck area whenever your dog barks.
There are five types of bark collar which are defined by the type of negative stimulus they use to deter your dog from barking.
The Static Shock Bark Collar
A static shock collar fits around your dog’s neck with two protruding “prongs”. These two “prongs” contact the skin on your dog’s neck. When the prongs sense the vibration of your dog’s bark, they initiate a static shock. The level of shock that is delivered can be customized using a dial on the collar or a remote control. The shock is designed to be “unpleasant” enough that it deters your dog from barking again.
The Citronella Bark Collar
A Citronella bark collar fits around your dog’s neck with a spray nozzle at the front of the collar. When the collar senses the vibration of your dog’s bark, it emits a spray of citronella to deter barking. This spray is emitted directly in front of your dog’s face. The sensation of having a substance sprayed in their face and the scent of Citronella are both “unpleasant” enough that they deter your dog from barking again.
The Ultrasonic Bark Collar
An ultrasonic bark collar fits around your dog’s neck and similar to the shock collar, it has sensors on the back of the collar. These sensors sit against your dog’s skin. When the collar detects the vibration from your dog’s bark, it emits an ultrasonic sound. This high-frequency sound is “unpleasant” to your dog’s ears and is designed to deter them from barking again.
The Vibrating Bark Collar
A vibrating bark collar is identical to the shock collar. Instead of emitting static shock, though, this collar uses vibration. This vibration is designed to deter barking by creating a distraction or a nuisance.
The Beeping Bark Collar
A beeping bark collar uses an audible beep to deter or distract your dog from barking. When the beeping bark collar senses the vibration of your dog barking, it emits a beep. The volume of the beep can be controlled with a volume dial. This type of collar often includes a vibration function as well.
Why You Shouldn’t Use a Bark Collar
One of the biggest concerns with using a bark collar is that it teaches your dog that barking, in general, is “bad”. These collars do not distinguish between problem barking and justified barking. Since these collars punish your dog every time your dog barks, your dog quickly learns that all vocalizations should be avoided. This creates a problem because it removes one of your dog’s only methods of communication with you. Without this method of communication, your dog can feel confused, isolated and depressed.
There are two main methods of training a dog – using negative reinforcement and using positive reinforcement. Bark collars are considered negative reinforcement because they apply an unpleasant stimulus in response to an undesired behavior. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding your dog for a desired behavior, for example, giving treats when your dog does not bark at the mailman delivering your mail.
Dogs respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement. By nature, they are animals that live to please. Additionally, when you reward your dog for desirable behavior, you are letting them know that this is something that you want them to repeat.
Dogs do not respond well to negative reinforcement. The biggest reason for this is that negative reinforcement does nothing to clarify what you want from your dog. Imagine, for example, that I tell you to do something that you don’t quite understand. You do something else and I punish you for doing the wrong thing, tell you again what I want you to do, and wait for you to do it. Do you see the problem? I’m punishing you for doing the wrong thing, but at no point am I clarifying what it is that I do want you to do.
If I do show you what I want you to do in the example above and you try again, but fail, and I punish you again, you start to become frustrated. You still don’t know what I want from you, but you are trying your best to give it to me. Despite your efforts, I am punishing you…so what are you going to do? You are going to stop trying and start losing trust in me as your teacher/guardian.
Another concern with using bark collars is the pain that they may inflict. Many advocates of bark collars state that they use very minimal negative stimulus that is not painful. If you have ever tried on a bark collar yourself, however, you will know that that shock can be quite painful.
What about other bark collar options?
The citronella or spray bark collars are frustrating for your dog. Imagine having something sprayed in your face every time you did something someone didn’t like! Not only this, but some dogs are particularly sensitive to substances like Citronella and experience respiratory distress in response to it!
The ultrasonic bark collar emits a high-pitched sound that you and I cannot hear, but to your dog, it is exceptionally unpleasant. Why would anyone want to expose their dog to such an unpleasant stimulus in any situation?
The vibrating bark collar is not as “detrimental” as a static shock collar, but it does nothing to teach your dog what is expected of them. Nor does this type of collar work for all dogs unless turned up to a particularly uncomfortable level.
The beeping bark collar is another unpleasant experience for your dog. Not only this but sounding a beep whenever your dog barks does little to deter barking other than creating more noise. When a beeping collar is combined with vibration, the effect is much the same as it would be with a vibration collar alone, only you are adding to the noise and torturing your dog with a warning sound prior to vibration.
How to Prevent Problem Barking Without a Bark Collar
Understand the Reason for Barking
The first step in stopping problem barking is to understand why your dog is barking. When you understand why your dog is barking, you can retrain your dog to behave differently when exposed to that object, person, or situation.
Eliminate the Positive Result from Barking with Retraining
Your dog barks because they receive a positive result from that barking.
For example, your dog feels satisfaction from warning you that the mailman is on your property. This is because your dog sees keeping you and their property safe from intruders as part of their job. So, by barking, they are warning away the mailman and keeping you safe.
If you work with your dog to retrain them to understand that the mailman is not a threat, they will no longer experience that feeling of accomplishment or feel a need to bark.
How do you retrain your dog?
Introduce your dog to your mailman if it is safe to do so. Have your mailman offer your dog treats. Praise your dog for not barking during this process.
Change how your dog sees the experience
If your dog barks because they’re fearful of the mailman, for example, turn it into an exciting experience! Show real excitement when the mailman arrives, play a game, reward with treats. Turn fear into excitement with positive rewards!
Reinforce obedience training
Work with your dog to reinforce commands like “sit” “stay” and “no”. This will allow you to put your dog in a position where they cannot see the mailman or are unable to bark while obeying your command.
Teach your dog the “quiet” command
Teaching the quiet command will teach your dog that it’s not forbidden to bark, but they must stop barking when asked to do so. This also allows you to train through positive reinforcement, rewarding your dog when they do a specific action required of them.
Distracting your dog is a good way to help them forget about what is causing them to bark. With repetitive distraction, it is possible that your dog will forget about their barking at the mailman routine and realize that there is no threat in his presence.
Tips to Keep in Mind When Working with a Problem Barker
Tip: Ignore Problem Barking
For some dogs, the reward they get from barking is your attention. If this is the case for your dog, ignoring their barking may help to stop this behavior.
If you live in an apartment or have close neighbors, this may not be a helpful solution!
Tip: Exercise Your Dog!
A dog may bark obsessively simply because it gives them something to do or because they are trying to get attention. These dogs often stop problem barking if they receive more exercise! A tired dog isn’t bored nor do they have a need to get the attention of passersby.
What You Should not Do to Stop Problem Barking
When you shout at your dog for barking, your dog frequently interprets this as you barking as well. This only reinforces the need for your dog to bark.
Don’t Punish Your Dog
Don’t punish your dog for barking. Barking is a natural means of communication for your dog and it’s unfair to punish your dog for doing something that they have been bred to do. Not to mention the fact that you are punishing your dog for trying to communicate with you!
Don’t Be Inconsistent with Your Training
Don’t train your dog inconsistently. Dogs don’t speak the same language as we do so it’s important to your dog’s ability to understand you, that you remain consistent in your training. For example, if you want your dog to stop barking at the mailman, do not allow them to bark at the mailman sometimes but ask them to stop at other times.
Know When to Ask for Help
Not every problem barker is easy to work with and if you have no experience in training dogs, it may be time to call in a professional trainer for help. A trainer will help you to modify your dog’s behavior with positive reinforcement. A professional trainer will create a stable and structured blueprint for your dog to understand their surroundings and what is expected of them in specific situations. This is a much-preferred method of approach for problem barkers because it eliminates the cause of problem behavior rather than just punishing the symptom!