Taking the Bite Out of Bark Collars

The bark collar is a tool that doesn’t get enough credibility or exposure when dog trainers talk about all the tools in their training belt. Years ago before I knew anything about bark collars, intuitively I thought that if you put a bark collar on a barking dog and they got corrected, it would make them more anxious and frantic. What bark collars do is actually the stark opposite of that.

When dogs bark continuously they adrenalize themselves, essentially working up into a frenzy. That frenzy can lead to very dangerous behaviors, like breaking out of kennels, lighting up at other dogs or even attacking other dogs. Also, the barking leads to pacing, whining, stress panting, dilated pupils, hyperactivity and a general “cracked out” state of mind of full blown stress. If the dog cannot bark, the stress is exponentially reduced. They stay in a healthier state of mind where they are more likely to take food in crate training exercises and actually rest in the kennel. This keeps the environment much safer, as well as calm and peaceful.

Before putting a bark collar on a dog there are a few things you should know. Proper fit and placement are essential. Read the directions. Don’t just slap it on the dog. In a perfect world we like to condition dogs to the E collar first. What this means is we like to familiarize the dog to working with the stimulation in a hands-on training context. However, sometimes dogs come in so out of control that we have to put a bark collar on them day one. This is how we do that: we set the collar to the automatic setting, not a number on the dial. We only use collars that have an automatic setting. What happens is when the dog barks, they will receive the lowest level stimulation correction. If they bark again it will go up one level higher, increasing the level with each bark. This way the dogs can learn the cause and effect of the tool without being flooded by a high level correction off the bat. 

Bark collars are not only essential for maintaining a calm environment so dogs around the barking dog are not stressed, but for safety. I have to emphasize that again. I have had dogs come in, going hysterical barking in a kennel, biting at the door, throwing themselves from side to side, trying to bend the door with their head and/or trying to chew their way out. As soon as they cannot bark, the next time I check on them they’re laying there peacefully, looking like an angel. I’m serious. Worst case scenario the dog will be panting, but more often than not, the majority of dogs will be laying calmly without any signs of stress. This is how relevant bark collars are to stopping that toxic surge of adrenaline in unstable dogs. Typically, after only a few days, we don’t even need the bark collar anymore. Because of all the structure the dog is receiving in training, they quickly morph into a more balanced state.

Like anything else the tool has to be introduced properly and it cannot be abused. It should not be left on for extended periods of time and dogs with different fur and skin issues will have different needs for contact points.

Bark collars are beneficial in many other contexts outside of using them in a board and train program. Do you own a dog that incessantly barks when you leave the house whether it is crated or not? Can you not have your dog outside in the yard for more than 30 seconds without him barking like crazy and disturbing the neighbors? A dog is much more likely to make good choices when they can not spiral down an adrenaline rabbit hole by barking.

Bark collars are not a replacement for training. They are a tool just like all the other tools that we use when working with dogs. But if an owner  doesn’t have time to exercise their dog that day, using a bark collar to keep their dog quiet at times is far more humane in my opinion, than letting a dog bark his head off constantly with pupils the size of quarters.

Again, a bark collar isn’t a permanent solution to your dog’s barking. This tool helps a dog become more stable because of EVERYTHING ELSE we are putting into the dog training-wise. They help keep the dog far away from unhealthy, aroused states of mind. Dogs learn to settle faster and even dogs that are not crate trained will learn to not only accept, but enjoy the peace and comfort of being in a kennel with the help of a bark collar.

Like any other tool in the world, it can be used correctly or incorrectly, humanely or inhumanely. When used properly the bark collar is an incredible tool that can facilitate relaxation even in the most stressed and excitable dogs.

Consult a balanced trainer in your area to help teach you appropriate contexts for using a bark collar to help your dog.

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Corrections: Your Environment is Trying to Tell You Something

I loved letting my puppies out in the snow this morning. I loved watching them romp and frolic. I loved watching them find little treasures like pieces of ice or sticks in the snow. I also enjoyed watching their communication of correcting one another over and over again when each puppy tried to steal the other's find.

To say that dogs don't need to be corrected is the most preposterous concept. Quite frankly, it's ruining the dog training industry. It's also making dogs more aggressive due to lack of consequence. We have seen more aggression in domestic dogs in the past 15 years, than ever before in history. We have also seen a rise in positive-only training methods. There is a correlation there. As always, mother nature knows what she's doing. The first correction a puppy ever feels is from its own mother. She is sure to let the pup know when it's nursing too hard by giving the pup a hearty nip. Picture wolf pups exploring their wondrous new environment. When you stick your head down a porcupine's den, you only do that once. Hopefully the quills don't hurt too bad coming out. It is ingrained in all of us to avoid things that could harm or kill us. We learned to avoid those things through environmental correction. That's what survival is all about.

When you're making dinner and you accidentally touch the flame of the burner, you vocalize, and immediately pull your body away. You remember that lesson as you do not want to hurt yourself and get burned. It never makes you afraid to cook.

Imagine you are in a foreign land where you do not speak the language or have any understanding of technology, architecture or any man made hazard.  Let's say you wandered onto a train platform walking too close to the edge of the tracks. Just as you're about step over the yellow line and off the edge, a stranger grabs your body and firmly pulls you back. He saved your life. Was the stranger's grasp on you painful? No. Even if it was momentarily uncomfortable, would you really care when it came to a life or death situation? This is a dog's reality. We must manually teach them hazard avoidance through the use of properly timed corrections. Running after cars, bolting out of the car, barging the front door threshold are just three examples of daily hazards for our beloved dogs. 

Dogs need to be corrected properly, timely and fairly. Just like anything else there is a right and wrong way to go about it. It is my belief that both positive-only training and correction-only training is unfair to the dog. We must always reward behavior we like and correct behavior that is unacceptable at home or in society. That is your job as your dog's advocate. Find a local "balanced" trainer in your area that can help you communicate with your dog properly if you are struggling. Do you want a happy, safe dog that understands his role in this world and your environment? Tell him when he's doing it right and tell him when he's doing it wrong.