Barking is one of the most common reasons dogs are relinquished by their owners. Because it occurs so frequently, the pet supply market is flooded with various devices that promise to curb problem barking. Although you may be desperate for a solution, as a responsible pet owner you must weigh the short-term versus the long-term effects of bark control on your dog.
Spray collars hold a small canister of citronella or lemon scented liquid that sprays in the dog’s face when he barks. The spray startles the dog, interrupting his barking and deterring him from barking further. Of the bark control devices on the market, spray collars seem to be the most effective with the least amount of negative long-term effects. Dogs who bark due to separation anxiety or other fear issues can become more fearful and may channel their anxiety into destructive behaviors instead of barking with use of these collars.
Ultrasonic collars or devices emit an unpleasant sound in a range only dogs can hear. Collars are worn on the dog, but other devices are available that can be placed outside to deter barking. The theory is that the dog will stop barking to prevent hearing the sound. Some devices have been shown to emit the sound in response to any noise, which renders them ineffective at curbing barking and may lead to other unwanted behaviors, such as avoidance of certain places. Some dogs, especially the hearing-impaired, are unaffected by the sound.
Shock collars have metal tips that sit on the dog’s neck and emit an electric current whenever the dog barks. Most have a range of shock from mild to high. Because of the metal points on the dog’s skin, the collar has the potential to hurt the dog physically. Shock collars have the most potential for misuse and misplaced fear.
Positive reinforcement training tends to be the most long-lasting and beneficial method to curb problem barking. Understanding why your dog is barking can help you to teach him when barking is appropriate and when it is not. Punishment-based training, of which bark control devices fall into, has been shown to increase problem and fearful behaviors, especially in dogs who already have fearful or anxious personalities.
Only one study has been done looking specifically at the effects of bark control collars on dogs. The study used shock and lemon spray bark collars. The dogs’ plasma cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, were measured in response to the use of the collars. This study indicated that barking was significantly reduced in those wearing the activated bark control collars, and the dogs wearing both types of collars experienced elevated stress levels the first day of wearing the collars. After the first day and for the remainder of the study, the dogs' plasma cortisol levels returned to normal levels.
With any problematic behavior, it is best to consult a certified dog trainer or behaviorist to get to the root of your dog’s issue. Positive reinforcement training always should be the first step in correcting problem behaviors. If the training is unsuccessful, the use of a bark control device should be considered under the guidance of a trainer or behaviorist.
- Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine: Evaluation of Plasma Cortisol Levels and Behavior in Dogs Wearing Bark Control Collars
- Animal Behavior Resources Institute: AVSAB Guidelines: The Use of Punishment for Dealing with Animal Behavior Problems
- The Humane Society of the United States: Dog Collars
- University of Bristol Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, Anthrozoology Institute: Dog Training Methods: Their Use, Effectiveness and Interaction With Behaviour and Welfare
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images