Barking is a normal part of every dog’s behavior. They bark to communicate with each other and with us. They bark to tell us that someone’s at the door, when they are hungry or bored, and they bark at their buddies in the dog run as they play. Barking is a useful and often helpful characteristic of a dog, especially one who is supposed to guard the house or perform a job like hunting or herding cattle or sheep. However, some dogs develop what is called nuisance barking, and there are ways to deal with it.
Nuisance barking is when a dog barks for unreasonable amounts of time or for the wrong reasons, and cannot be controlled. Nuisance barking is frequently the result of some kind of psychological strain, such as frustration, fear, aggression, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness. Just as humans develop annoying and self-destructive behavior as the result of mental and emotional issues, so do dogs. Nuisance barking can be more than just a noisy irritant to the owners; many people have been forced to leave their apartments or even get rid of their pets because of neighbor complaints about noisy dogs.
Correcting nuisance barking is often frustrating for owners. It is not something that can be cured overnight, because the underlying problem will take time to be dealt with, often by a trained professional. Many dog trainers will advise giving the dog extra exercise to relieve frustration and boredom, or getting a second dog to help keep a lonely dog company, and thereby addressing the underlying issue that causes their nuisance barking. Some trainers have programs involving positive reinforcement by way of treats or praise, often using “clickers” or other owner methods to achieve their goal of reducing nuisance barking. Another popular way to deal with the annoying habit is by using bark control collars.
Bark collars all work on the same principle: the dog wears a special collar that has a type of sensor that detects noise vibrations from the dog’s vocal cords. When the sensor picks up barking, it can emit either a tone, an electrical shock, or a smell that the dog finds offensive, usually citronella. All of the collar variations work as a form of negative reinforcement. The dog learns that when they bark they are subjected to an uncomfortable sound, sensation or smell. After time and proper training with the owner, the barking behavior will usually stop over time, although reinforcement sessions are often necessary in persistent barkers.
Many dog lovers and trainers argue that this kind of training does nothing to eliminate the cause of the behavior, and is simply punishing the animal for a natural reaction to emotional or mental stress. They say the electrical shock or the audible tone is cruel, and that negative reinforcement is not effective long-term. Advocates of bark control collars reply that the tone and the shock are both very mild, and do not actually hurt the dog; instead, they act as interrupters that startle the dog out of the course of the bad behavior. “Unpleasant” does not necessarily equal “painful,” and there are times when negative reinforcement is necessary to curb violent and destructive behavior.
If you are unsure about what tactics to use when dealing with nuisance barking, or whether a bark control collar is right for your dog, consult your veterinarian or a qualified dog trainer. Speak with other dog owners who have had the same problems and successfully banished the barking. Most of all, listen to your conscience and think about your dog. Go with the option that seems best for you both.