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.


2018: The Year of YOUR Dog

I think most of us know that a typical New Year’s resolution may be dumped in a matter of days or weeks with little thought about it a few months from now. My intention with these few paragraphs is to inspire you to commit to one very specific type of New Year’s resolution; not so much for you, but for your dog. See here is the thing, the dark scary thing that I don’t like to think about, yet I do almost every single day; Our beloved dogs simply do not live that long. We forget this painful truth daily as we are overstimulated with world around us. Here’s why you should think about it. What if you only had 10-15 years to live? Or less?! You would likely choose to only allow certain things to occupy your mind, time, and life. You would savor the little things that go unacknowledged and unappreciated in a world where time was abundant.

There is something that I see on a daily basis that hurts my heart. People are out walking their dogs and they're either texting or talking on their phone. There is no connection whatsoever between dog and handler. I can promise you with every cell in my body, that when your dog’s time is up you will regret not squeezing every single moment of joy out of the time you had together. The hours upon hours we waste on social media and other things may seem fulfilling at the time, but you have the greatest gift right in front of you that can make you laugh, feel accepted or “liked”. Just look at them. Look how resilient and happy they are, for no reason. I get emotional thinking that my dogs are not going to be here forever. But instead of dwelling in sadness, I use it as motivation. The only time I am on my phone when I am out with them (within reason) is to record or photograph their most adorable moments so I can cherish them forever. Of course we need to work from our phones to communicate and your dog doesn't need attention 24/7. But let’s be real; we are mindlessly looking at dumb shit on the internet too frequently. Save that for the toilet and be present when you are with your dog.

Dogs innately know how to relish every moment here on earth much more so than we do. They know how to let an uncomfortable incident go and move on from things that stress them. They are so eager to explore, adventure and learn. They don’t complain and they greet the same day-to-day things with boundless enthusiasm.  Worrying about the future is not something they are even capable of and I envy them for that. They are our greatest teachers, personal comedians and companions. They are our ultimate cuddle buddies and mood enhancers. They improve our quality of life on earth so immensely that it’s impossible for us to picture life without dogs. Make your New Year’s resolution to live your best life with your best friend. Enroll them in that obedience or agility class you’ve always wanted to take. Start running or hiking with them regularly. Teach those tricks. Make your daily walks a bit longer and more adventurous. Call a dog trainer for help with behavior problems you have been struggling with so you can live a more fulfilling life together.

I am endlessly thankful for the simplistic, meaningful moments they share with us on a daily basis. They would take way more of those moments if we were more aware of creating them. We pass up so many of those opportunities because our brains are enticed into focusing on other things. Prioritize. Give your dog more time and be more present in the time you are sharing with them this year and your entire lives. You will both be better for it. Happy New Year!

















Kerry Hall is the owner of Flash Dog Training in the Denver, CO area. She is a Certified Canine Specialist and Behavior Consultant who specializes in behavioral issues and off-leash training.