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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How Dogs Help Me Cope with Hedonic Adaptation

So you have a great job, you’re making decent money, you hang out with friends on a regular basis and things are going well. But sometimes it all just feels like, blah.

On paper you should be happy, but it just isn't that way day to day. You have everything you need and most of what you want, so why don’t you FEEL as happy as you think you should?

You loved your job in the beginning, but now you’re bored and sick of it. You are in love with your partner, but the relationship just doesn’t have the same thrill that it used to its first couple of years. You feel like you should experience euphoric feelings more frequently, but you just don’t. Why?

If you can relate to any of this you are experiencing what is called hedonic adaptation. Essentially hedonic adaptation, or “pleasure adaptation” is the ability to adapt to changes in life, either good or bad. It’s also a theory of a survival mechanism in the brain. If you experienced a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one or a car crash, hedonic adaptation helps us go back to relatively normal level of contentment, a “set-point.” Every person’s set point or baseline is different, thanks to genetics. It helps balance us after a traumatic event so we can go on living life and function day to day. So what happens when you don’t have a traumatic event happening weekly in your life? Hedonic adaptation is still at work, so things just start to feel boring. What was once exciting is now mundane.

This feeling has plagued me so badly over the years. It bothered me so much I started researching why I felt this way. Once I found out that hedonic adaptation is actually a thing, it really helped me get a grasp on my feelings. Just having the understanding that we are programmed to adapt to our routine and environment really helped.

I consider myself a gypsy and I have enjoyed living in different places over the past 15 years. The biggest motivation behind these moves has been boredom of my environment. I get sick of the state I’m living in and seeing the same place every day. The things that the location has to offer don’t fulfill me anymore. Where I work and where I live by far made me feel like I was on the “hedonic treadmill” so many times throughout my adult life.

Using a treadmill as an analogy helps paint a picture of how HA makes us think. Essentially you can go through life accumulating all the material items/personal goals you want, only to remain stuck at your natural state of happiness. The riches you gain and goals you accomplish will only raise your expectations and leave you no better off. SEE-WANT-OBTAIN-HAPPY-ADAPT-BORED. Does this cycle sound familiar?

Because human beings have the remarkable capacity to grow habituated to most life changes, almost any pleasure can become monotonous overtime. We are prone to take for granted pretty much anything positive that happens to us. Whether it’s a brand new car or reaching a personal fitness goal, that initial boost of happiness fades over time.

So how do we combat these feelings? The number one thing we can do is to acknowledge that adaptation exists. Just understanding that we are biologically programmed to return to a baseline of happiness in order to survive trauma was probably 50% of helping me feel better. Secondly, be grateful. Look at all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for that you take for granted every day. I bet that list is really long; I know it is for me. Lastly, and I would say most importantly, dogs can greatly enhance our happiness. The way dogs’ view life is the antithesis of hedonic adaptation. Dogs see everything through new eyes, everyday. Every morning is like Christmas morning. Every game of fetch is the best game ever. Surrounding myself with dogs and making them not only my career but my lifestyle has helped me snap out of that humdrum, daily-grind feeling so many times. Dogs spark the zeal for adventure and lust for life that I know is always in me, but don’t feel everyday.

Naturally, there are days where I just don’t feel happy at all even though I love where I live and what I do for a living. Now when I feel those emotions, I take a break from what I’m doing and go walk in nature with my dogs, or simply observe them. The pure joy that they experience from something as simple as a stick, recharges me. The more time I spend watching them in their constant state of bliss, helps me put everything into a different perspective. I re-experience the pleasure of smelling the fresh mountain air. I re-experience the joy of just being. I re-experience gratitude for my health and my life.

As if dogs couldn’t do any more for us; they are our greatest role models of how to truly LIVE.  Happiness is infinite from their perspective. It’s always there just waiting to be tapped into; we just have to be mindful to get off the treadmill and enjoy it with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

http://www.flashdogtraining.com