Stop Bark Collars: Why Negative Reinforcement Won’t Stop Your Dog’s Barking
There are plenty of ways that people have developed to train dogs, including negative reinforcement methods such as stop bark collars, shock collars, choke chains, and more. Have you ever noticed, though, that correcting, chastising, even physically punishing your dog to try to stop the barking isn’t working? Ever wondered why that is?
First off, Stop Bark Collars or No-Bark Collars are a very controversial tool, but a fairly common one. People use these collars in an attempt to stop their dog any time their dog barks, especially when their dog has a history of excessive barking. When their dog barks, they punish it with a shock, a high-pitched sound, or an unpleasant odor.
There are three main types of no-bark collars: static shock, citronella and ultrasonic. All three collars fit snugly against your dog’s neck when they are fitted correctly. It is important both for safety and for proper training that the collar is fitted by a professional or by an experienced dog owner.
All three of the bark collars have a nylon collar which fits similarly to a regular nylon dog collar. At the front of the collars there is a mechanism which releases the deterrent of choice, this mechanism fits against your dog’s throat so that the vibrations caused by nuisance barking can trigger the mechanism.
The Ultrasonic Collar
The ultrasonic dog collar (some are just sonic collars) mechanism sends out a very high pitched and unpleasant sound which is intended to deter nuisance barking. Ultrasonic Bark collars can be a particularly difficult thing to fit to individual dogs and it is recommended that you discuss which bark collar is right for you with your veterinarian.
The Shock Collar
The shock collar mechanism that sits against the dog’s throat sends out a static shock that travels down two metal prongs that touch your dog’s neck when your dog barks or does something bad. The shock in some of these collars begins with a small shock which increases in intensity up through a variety of levels as your dog continues his nuisance barking. You can personally test the shock collar on your hand before using it on your dog if you are worried about the intensity of the shock.
If you are unwilling to experience the shock, then you shouldn’t be subjecting your dog to it.
The Citronella Bark Collar
The citronella collar mechanism sends out a citronella spray liquid when your dog begins to nuisance bark. For most dogs, the scent of citronella spray is unpleasant and will deter any further barking.
Are They Safe? Are They Ethical?
While industry claims that no harm is done to the dog, obviously the sensation provided by the no-bark collar is not something the dog likes. If it didn’t hurt them, they wouldn’t worry about barking freely despite the consequences. We can’t help but wonder how this is restraining some of dogs’ natural functions or causing undue stress and anxiety. Furthermore, consider the fact that in Europe shock collars are illegal. Also, consider that if shock collars are used on large breeds to stop barking, they can cause serious damage to small dogs.
Some studies suggest that the electric current from the shock collars for dogs results in aggression, stress or persistent anxiety. How severe the effects of the bark control collar actually depend on the trainer and the environment in which the collar is used. There are documented cases of serious skin damage to small dogs.
Matthijs B.H. Schilder and Joanne A.M. van der Borg studied behavioral effects of electric shock collars and came to the conclusion that shocked dogs showed more stress-related behavior than the control dogs — dogs controlled via human discipline instead of no-bark collars — the shocked dogs connected their handlers with getting shocks, and may even connect orders given by their handlers with getting shocked.
What does this mean? Schilder and Borg conclude that, while they have not proven that the long-term welfare of the shocked dogs is affected, it is clearly under serious threat.
In all actuality, the best way to train your dog is through positive reinforcement.
The no-bark collar has received quite a few critics whose points should be brought to light. Bark collars, while they discourage problem barking can also discourage all barking in some more sensitive dogs. On the topic of sensitive dogs, it is also true that some dogs can be particularly sensitive to one type of bark collar or another, so it is recommended that you discuss all of your options with your vet prior to using a bark collar.
For some dogs, the shock collar is too painful, while others seem to be unaffected by it. The citronella collar can cause some dogs to roll on the floor and try to disguise their scent with citronella. And for other dogs, the ultrasound noise does not deter the dog from barking, so it really is beneficial to know your dog and options when using a bark collar.
When people talk about positive reinforcement dog training, they sometimes refer to it as positive dog training, force free dog training, clicker training, even science-based dog training. Some of these terms relate to a wider dog training philosophy as well as a specific method, and those philosophical and ethical issues are important. But positive reinforcement is also a technical term with a specific definition.
What is positive reinforcement? Positive reinforcement is a very effective way to train dogs (and other animals). Positive reinforcement means adding something immediately after a behavior occurs that makes the frequency of the behavior go up.
Technically speaking, the term breaks down into two parts. Reinforcement means the behavior continues or goes up in frequency. (If the behavior went down instead, it’s not reinforcement). And positive means something is added.
For example, you ask the dog to sit, the dog sits, and you give him a treat (something is added). The dog is more likely to sit next time you ask (the behavior was reinforced).
Sometimes people make the mistake of calling the moment when something unpleasant stops positive reinforcement. It’s not. For example, some shock collar trainers pretend that when the electric shock stops, it is rewarding for the dog. It is not. Relief is not the same as a reward.
Remember too: positive reinforcement means something has been added. Stopping something is the opposite of adding something. It’s worth being alert to this because there are many weasel words used in dog training and there’s a lot of erroneous dog training information on the internet. Because there is no regulation of dog trainers, this is unfortunately something dog owners need to be aware of.
Clicker Training Your Dog
Clickers are used to mark the moment the dog is doing the right behavior. It’s very quick, so it buys you time to get the treat out and give it to your dog.
Some people absolutely love using a clicker. They also think it helps improve their technique (perhaps because they are paying close attention to when to click, and not to move before then).
Some people really don’t like the clicker. They find it clunky and awkward or too complicated. Luckily for them, there is a study that found using a clicker versus a verbal marker or no marker at all (just food rewards) didn’t make much difference to training success.
Another study compared the use of a clicker (and food) versus food only in a 6 week trick training course for novice dogs. People in both groups said the training was fun, and there were no specific advantages or disadvantages to using the clicker. Of course, it may be different if used over a longer period of time (e.g. at competition level). A lot of trainers enjoy using clickers because it allows them to be more precise with the positive reinforcement.
The most important thing is to use food rewards to train your dog. If you try the clicker and like it, that’s great, and lots of people do. But if you don’t like it, don’t worry about it. Just keep using food.
Why Negative Reinforcement Doesn’t Work
Look. We get it. You probably don’t enjoy negative reinforcement. Chances are that you don’t like shocking your dog with an anti-bark collar. Some people, however, are more used to old training methods that rely more on punishing bad behavior than building trust to promote good behavior. Negative reinforcement is really detrimental to your dog’s training, and it’s less effective than positive reinforcement. Here is a list to help you understand from your dog’s point of view.
It is his instinct
Barking is canine instinct. Imagine going your whole life without speaking, or communicating with those around you. I have always thought of the sacrifice monks must undergo to take a vow of silence. I, personally, could never go more than a day or two without speaking to someone or something. Actually, I think a day of silence would be difficult.
Yet, somehow, we expect our dogs to be silent. Dogs communicate with each other by barking. This is how they warn other dogs or members of their pack that something dangerous may be afoot. This is how wild dogs and wild dog packs maintain on survival. Your dog may be a pet and part of your “human” pack, but he is still a dog, and he still has canine instincts and need for communication.
Total silence is difficult if not impossible for some dogs. Instead, we can teach him WHEN he can use his vocalizations with this and what is appropriate to communicate.
He is rewarded by other dogs in the neighborhood
Remember how I discussed earlier how dogs communicate with each other by barking? It is true. If you leave your dog outside for extended periods of time, he is likely to find other outside dogs to communicate with for entertainment purposes. Ever heard stories of people in prison communicating with each other but never truly being able to interact personally? They get to know each other, share stories, and even warn of coming guards.
Dogs create similar relationships with dogs in the neighborhood. You can often hear them vocalizing amongst themselves and carrying on “conversations” if you will.
You bark with him
Oftentimes when we constantly yell at our dogs, they think we are chiming in or barking “with them”. Someone walks past your window and your dog begins to bark. You, as a human, know there is no real threat, so you become increasingly irritated. I mean, why would he bark at the 92 year old neighbor getting her morning paper?
So you yell back at him. “Shut Up!!!” “Be Quiet!!!!” “No Bark!!!” Let us remember, he does not speak English and therefore doesn’t understand the meaning of your words. He only FEELS YOUR FRUSTRATION And HEARS YOU YELLING
Both sound exactly like what he is doing. Take a step back… do you sound like you are “barking with him”? In order for dogs to understand that being calm is the way to handle a situation, you must in fact, lead by example and be calm!
Be calm, be quiet and teach your dog to understand and respect your “quiet” command.
You are painfully inconsistent
Most often when I talk to people who are infuriated with their dogs’ barking, I find that they are painfully inconsistent in their teaching or “correcting”. You may or may not chase your dog down to teach him to be quiet during the day. Quite frankly, a lot of dog training depends on when it is convenient for the human.
Are you busy, can you go to him and work with him? Will you correct it? Will you ignore it? This often depends on what you are doing and how motivated you are to get up. It also, often, depends on how long it takes for you to reach the point of “irate”.
One night you may become irate after a dozen or more loud barks, but sometimes perhaps after a particularly bad day, you might become irate after 5 loud barks. How is your dog to judge how serious you are if your seriousness fluctuates? This is a lot like parenting. Some days you are a more patient parent than other days. Some days you are easily irritable.
However the difference is that most children are able to reason and notice the subtle differences; dogs however are not as adept at reading and understanding our human ways of communication and therefore unless you are consistent they have difficulty learning.
You want him to bark sometimes
You Want Him to Recognize a Bad Guy
Again, this is an inconsistency. You don’t know how often I hear owners tell me that they don’t want their dog to bark.
But… they do want their dog to scare away strangers. Once again, I will point out that dogs don’t have a lot of powers of human rationalization and understanding. At the very core, I do believe that most dogs will defend their owners in times of threat.
Thankfully, however, those moments are few and far between. We, as humans, get more uptight about possible negative human interaction than most situations warrant. But we still want to feel like our dog is “protecting us”. The irony is, that unless you have your dog’s voice and bark under your control, you can’t have both.
You can’t have a dog that is quiet when the UPS man or mailman comes and then have a dog that “recognizes the bad intentions of a burglar”. Dogs are not predisposed to recognizing the intricate details that we as humans think we recognize (usually until the moment of aggression by the human). Understand that your dog is a “dog”, a canine that speaks a whole different language and stop expecting him to miraculously recognize the good or bad intentions in a human.
And, let me be the first to tell you that having a dog that loves everyone and doesn’t bark is much better than the alternative of having a dangerous dog that hates everyone! Don’t try and create a monster simply because you want to feel protected. Instead, learn to control your dog’s bark so that you can use it to your advantage, while still having a dog that is safe with people.
You realize shock collars don’t work
Tufts University did a study many, many years ago (1996) about the legitimacy and effectiveness of bark collars; shock collar vs citronella collar. And, the study showed that barely over 50% of dogs were affected by shock bark collars. Many of the dogs in the study just braced and barked through the shock. Yet, 90% of the dogs who used citronella collars learned not to bark.
Because the spray of citronella, combined with the sound and the smell was repulsive to dogs; AND the collars were consistent. The collars (as long as they were filled properly, the battery replaced and used consistently) were consistent with the dog’s barking. The collar doesn’t have “moods” where sometimes it takes more barks to set off the collar. The collar is consistent. 1 bark = one spray; every time! These collars are very consistent if used appropriately and regularly for long enough to break the original habit.
What Is The #1 Way To Stop Your Dog’s Barking?
The number 1 way to stop your dog’s barking is actually to learn to be in control of his mouth and his barking. When I teach my dog to bark on command, I can teach my dog to be quiet on command.
When I have control of my dog’s mouth or “barker” I can tell him when to bark (let’s say I am scared of a person approaching) and I can also tell him when not to bark (let’s say I don’t want him to bark as I sign for the UPS package I am receiving.
Teaching him to control one of his instincts, allows him to use it but also allows me to use it appropriately. I don’t expect my dog to be quiet for the rest of his life. I expect him to bark when I tell him to bark when I allow him to, and be quiet when I request. This provides a simple balance to a difficult problem!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.