Bark Collars: Do They Work?
Concern about dogs barking is the most common complaint from dog owners, with 35% of owners reporting problems with barking. So what is the best way to deal with it?
The reality is that there is no simple quick-fix solution to this problem, but it can be solved with some strategies at home, particularly by identifying what your dog is barking at and why. The key is to deal with separation anxiety, train your dog to be ‘quiet’ on command and reward quiet behaviour and ignore unruly behaviour.
Before we get on to a look at the various tools that can be used to stop barking, it is important to look at the reasons why your dog may bark. Your dog may be barking at people walking past, for attention, during play, due to anxiety (such as separation anxiety) and due to boredom or as a warning.
Before you use a collar, remember that you are effectively punishing the behaviour and you are not really getting to the underlying cause of the barking. This can be problematic if your dog is barking due to anxiety or fear. It also punishes your dog for barking should someone try to break into your house or yard. The collar will also punish ‘happy’ barking, such as with play.
The official stance of the RSPCA on barking collars is that they are ineffective, detrimental and cause undue distress to animals, a position that is shared by the team at Love That Pet. The preferred method of control is to use positive reinforcement, not punishment to correct behaviours. Dogs that wear bark collars and receive an aversive stimulus like a shock or unpleasant spray of citronella have higher stress levels than control groups, and while in some cases this is temporary, there is no doubt that punishment is unpleasant and unnecessary to control barking.
Do Bark Collars work?
The simple answer is ‘sometimes’. Because there are so many underlying reasons for your dog to bark and dogs use their bark to communicate many different things, a collar may or may not work for your situation. In several studies bark collars have been shown to be effective. However it may depend on your dog’s temperament.
Many dogs will simply ignore the collar and continue barking. Dogs that are anxious and fearful often respond poorly to punishment too and become more anxious if being punished. So if your dog is barking due to separation anxiety or fear a collar is unlikely to help. While these collars may act as a deterrent in the short-term there is a degree of habituation that comes over time, leading to decreased efficacy and a 86% relapse rate in a group of dogs who initially had a reduction in their barking frequency.
Types of Bark Collars
There are several types of bark collars available. Some deliver an electric shock, while others deter barking by spraying citronella or sounding an ultrasonic or audible noise in response to a bark. The use of shock collars is regulated and is only legal in some states of Australia. Citronella and ultrasonic collars are available throughout Australia.
How do these collars work?
Usually the bark collars rely on a vibration or a microphone that detects noise. This then triggers an aversive stimulus (electric shock, citronella, irritating noise or similar). This means that they can sometimes be triggered randomly when your dog does not bark.
Are electronic collars legal?
Regulations controlling the use of electronic shock collars in dog training is state specific. In SA and ACT shock collars are not legal under the Animal Welfare Act. In NSW they are not allowed except when used with invisible boundary fences, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulation 1996 Schedule 1. They are allowed in the NT, although those that use a remote control are disallowed. In QLD, WA, Tasmania and Victoria they are permitted so long as they do not cause pain to the animal.
Another control method for barking is the Husher. This is an elastic muzzle that fits around your dog’s mouth to inhibit it being opened fully for a bark. Your dog should still be able to eat, drink and pant while wearing a Husher.
They can be used as a training aid, so if you catch your dog barking and say ‘hush’, if your dog does not stop you can place the Husher on. Hushers have been proved in some studies to be less stressful than other types of bark collars for dogs, based on cortisol levels.
What are the other options?
If your dog is barking, the first step is to determine the cause and get to the root of the problem. You can find some useful information here. A trip to your vet will also help you work out some treatment options. If the problem is established and difficult to solve, your vet might recommend referral to a veterinary behaviourist to tailor a plan to your situation.