Getting a notice saying you have 10 days to fix your dogs barking issue is a lot of pressure and the time when I see most people resort to using bark collars that shock their dogs every time they bark. But don’t do it! You don’t have to go down that road! There is an alternative that is just as easy and you don’t have to shock your dog!
There are many reasons I do not advocate for the use of bark collar and other shock collar devises. One of them being that training with pain and punishment has a high potential for negative fallout. Two common forms of negative fallout with bark collars is an over-generalized fear of their environment (aka they become scared of many different little things around them) and the appearance of fear and avoidance behaviors. If not addressed these issues can lead to an aggressive response (flight turns into fight). Not every dog will have negative fallout, but it is like playing Russian roulette. If your dog is already sensitive and anxious in its environment than the chances of negative fallout are higher. I can never emphasis this enough.
Imagine if you were given a painful electric shock every time you had a very human reaction to something- say laughing or chuckling a little. Many of us would quickly learn not to laugh, but we would still have an emotional reaction to being shocked repeatedly enough to teach us that lesson. A friend may have delighted you with goofy antics in the past, but now those antics would result in having a shock delivered to you if you happen to laugh a little. Over time you would most likely begin to view your friend’s antics as annoying- they may even make you angry. Would you avoid that friend; lash out at them for their behavior? This is a lot like a dog joyfully/excitedly barking at a guest coming to the door. Now imagine if you were a nervous laughter- your nerves would worsen with the constant potential to be suddenly shocked. Now imagine if you were being tickled and you are the type of person who just cannot control a hardy laugh while being tickled- a once playful tickle becomes a painful threat and if someone consistantly tried to tickle you my guess is that you would try to defend yourself forcibly- like a good punch in the face. Barking is a lot like laughing- it is a species specific response to things in the environment with different meanings in different contexts.
THANKFULLY the brand PetSafe took a departure from their shock collar production to release a product developed by well-known veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar. The product has the same hands-off training as a shock bark collar, but uses positive reinforcement (specifically the delivery of food rewards) to teach the dog that being quiet brings good things. It then lengthens the amount of time the dog must be quit in order to earn some kibble or a treat. It is primarily designed to use kibble and becomes a way for you to feed your dog their “meal” throughout the day. Firm kibble-shaped treats also work in the device .
The product is called the AutoTrainer and currently retails between $129.99 and $199.99 depending on where you get it from. It is pricier then some of the low-end shock-bark collars on the market, but it is fairly new and I have hope that, like most new technology, the price will come down as new versions come on the market.
Training using positive reinforcement and things like the AutoTrainer have side effects too- but they are positive. Sid effects like calmness! Dogs who bark while patrolling the windows when their owner is out of the house learn that if they lie down quietly next to the device they are rewarded. Dogs with separation anxiety learn that their humans being gone is not so bad and nothing to howl about.
There are other ways to train a dog not to bark. The AutoTrainer can help dogs who are barking out of boredom, but providing adequate enrichment (mental stimulation and exercise) is another important part of fixing the underlying issue with a boredom barker. Other situations have similar needs. Though when it comes to the active portion of tackling a barking issue I have found many owners struggle with being consistent with training. I am beyond excited that there is a product out there now that can solve the consistency problem.
I am not a PetSafe representative by any means. They are one of the largest producers of shock collar products and electric fences and those products are anything but safe. But I will gladly recommend their AutoTrainer in a heartbeat to clients struggling with barking issues and steer them away from many other products they produce.
So if you find yourself in a bind don't go out and buy a bark collar. Try the AutoTrainer, see what adjustments you can make in the dog's life to solve underlying issues, and talk to a well educated and certified trainer about other solutions for your unique situation.