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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The Solution For Difficult Dog Nail Trims: The Grooming Sling

This is a step by step tutorial of how to use what is, in my opinion, the most effective tool for helping dogs who are fearful of nail trims. I have tried every technique out there with my dog Mudd, who developed a phobia of foot handling due to a chronic, brown nail. The nail ultimately had to be completely removed. In addition to that he has had to be put under numerous times for ripped nails. His nails grow like weeds. My attempts to trim them over the years led to a build in Mudd's distrust of me when it came to doing anything to his body. This was heartbreaking and I knew that there had to be a solution that he would be comfortable with.

The result you will see in this video took months upon months to create. Mudd was not one of those dogs that you see in some videos where they put the dog in the sling and magically they just hang there and allow the clipping. First of all, he would not even wear the sling. He would only let us put it on him as a jacket. You can see the other video of me conditioning him to wear the sling on our YouTube channel. Even after getting him to be comfortable wearing the sling, once we actually had him hanging, he would still thrash and try to bite. Long story short, this took essentially months of consistency to accomplish this result. Hopefully most of you out there don't have a dog as difficult as Mudd and that using this sling will really be a game changer off the bat, but you also must prepare that it may not be that simple.  

I consider Mudd's case to be the worst of the worst. Therefore, I am so happy to share these little tips and tricks of the trade that have taken us from worst case scenario, to an easy-breezy five minute procedure.

Stubborn? Not Your Dog

Why are people so quick to call dogs stubborn? Stubborn implies that the dog understands what is wanted by the human and then refuses to comply. As a trainer, I know that dogs are rarely stubborn. They truly don’t understand what is being asked of them because they’ve never been properly taught. If one of my dogs blows off a command, it’s likely because there is a competing motivator in the environment, not because they are being willfully defiant. Just because a dog will sit for a hand lure with a treat, does not mean that they understand sit while riding in the car. When the dog refuses to comply with the sit while riding in the car, he is not being stubborn; he doesn’t understand. He has never truly practiced that behavior in that context with a handler that is going to ensure success by using the correct and precise timing of reinforcement. Why do we presume dogs are just going to “get it?”

Trainers know that it takes hundreds if not thousands of repetitions for certain behaviors before the dog truly understands what the word-cue means. Additionally, the average dog owner can be incredibly inconsistent when it comes to the cues they give the dog and is typically not the best at follow through either. Trainers know not to expect a behavior when a dog is in the learning phase. It will take quite a while before that behavior becomes reliable in different environments and for different handlers. 

You control all of your dog’s resources. You are literally the hand that feeds, so how and when you choose to feed your dog will directly impact how willing your dog is to LEARN a behavior and also perform it reliably around distractions. If you are not using food to your advantage, it's likely your dog has little to no motivation because they’re used to getting everything for free. With intentional feeding, you can create an awesome boost in their motivation and engagement.

Dogs will forever be living in a world they will never understand; a man-made confusing world where they don’t speak the language. Engage your dog with empathy and ask yourself if you have actually taken the time to not only teach the command, but generalize it to different environments for reliability. For example, does your dog understand a release cue? If not, you can’t expect him to hold a down- stay if he doesn’t understand that the command has a beginning and an end. Also, ask yourself if you have the knowledge to really teach the dog by communicating in their language. Remember, dogs are a non-verbal species, so you cannot rely on verbal commands until he has been taught the sound’s meaning and context. If you want more reliability and confidence in your dog’s behaviors, seek help from a professional so you can understand how dogs learn and the importance timing, consistency and motivation in training. Your dog isn’t being stubborn or defiant, he just hasn’t been taught with the proper communication.