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There’s no doubt that excessive and persistent barking is one of the most disruptive behaviors exhibited by dogs on a daily basis.
While there are tried and tested training measures out there to help owners teach their dogs to stop barking, there are also other tools available.
Many dog owners are now choosing to use bark collars to deter their dogs from barking. These collars work in several different ways, from creating a vibrating sensation to delivering an electric shock.
The use of bark collars is hotly debated within the dog-owning and animal rights communities, with some models drawing more criticism than others.
This article will explore the different types of bark collars on the pet training market with the aim of determining which ones are harmful to dogs, and which (if any) are humane.
Do Shock Bark Collars Hurt Dogs?
Let’s start with what is by far the most controversial type of bark collar out there: the shock collar.
The idea behind shock collars for barking is that the shock delivered by the collar acts as a deterrent when administered during or following undesirable behavior (in this case, barking).
Many people believe shock collars to be harmless methods of correction because most models allow for an adjustable, low-level shock to be administered.
This means that, in theory, a shock collar should not cause lasting physical discomfort or damage.
Dog owners who use shock collars often also argue that it is harmless because the shock is not intended as a punishment but as a deterrent.
However, at its core, a shock collar for barking uses negative feedback to alter a dog’s behavior. This is at odds with the methods of positive reinforcement advocated by most trainers.
Regardless of the intensity of the shock, the use of a shock collar can trigger a fear response in the dog. This can actually increase anxiety-based behavior (which includes barking) and even lead to aggression.
Ultimately, a shock collar has the potential to traumatize the dog wearing it, damaging their psychological health and relationship with their owner.
Physical damage has also been observed in some dogs whose owners use shock collars to correct barking. This includes elevated heart rate and skin burns.
For all of the reasons listed above, most veterinary associations advocate against the use of shock collars.
Studies have shown that training through positive reinforcement is more effective than using shock collars for barking without causing the potential physical and psychological harm associated with shock collars.
Do Vibrating Bark Collars Hurt Dogs?
A more gentle alternative to shock collars when it comes to deterring barking is the vibrating bark collar.
Instead of administering an electric shock, these collars produce a vibration stimulus that is intended to distract from and deter barking behavior.
The use of vibration collars is not so heavily criticized as the use of shock collars for barking, but there are still arguments for and against this training method.
On the one hand, vibration bark collars do not carry the same risk of physical damage (burns, for example) as shock collars do.
Because a vibrating sensation is less intense and painful than an electric shock, many dog owners are more comfortable using this type of bark collar.
However, the bottom line is that vibrating bark collars are designed to provide an unpleasant sensation. If it were enjoyable, it would not act as a deterrent.
Therefore, this kind of collar still uses negative reinforcement over positive reinforcement, which means that they are generally less effective than reward-based obedience training.
The main reason why many dog owners and veterinarians object to the use of vibrating bark collars is that the use of negative reinforcement in any form can cause anxiety in dogs.
Do Spray Bark Collars Hurt Dogs?
Spray collars for barking work by spraying the dog wearing the collar with a citronella solution. Some collars also spray with lemon juice or simply water.
Again, this is a less aggressive alternative to using a shock collar, so many dog owners have no qualms with using spray collars to correct barking.
However, the reason why citronella and lemon juice are go-to spray solutions for dogs is that citrus smells are generally unpleasant for dogs.
Even being sprayed with water can be alarming, especially for an anxious dog. While it may be a milder method than electric shocks, this is still a training method based on fear over positive reinforcement.
Another issue to consider is the fact that while some dogs will be very disturbed by the use of a spray collar, for other dogs, the spray is not enough to deter them from barking.
If an owner continues to use a spray collar despite it being ineffective, they are essentially subjecting their dog to an irritating or distressing experience for no reason.
Do Ultrasonic Bark Collars Hurt Dogs?
Ultrasonic bark collars are considered some of the most humane bark collars on the market.
An ultrasonic bark collar will emit a high-pitched noise to distract the dog when it starts to bark and ultimately deter the behavior.
However, just because this collar type uses sound rather than sensation or sprays to stop barking does not mean it’s totally harmless.
At the end of the day, ultrasonic bark collars use an aversive method (sound) to elicit a stress response in the dog, which is what supposedly discourages the behavior.
Actually, a laboratory study conducted in 1990 proved that these collars are aversive to canines (and thus, not a positive training method).
A subsequent study in 2017 went on to provide evidence that such methods are less effective than more rewarding training techniques.
There are several types of bark collars on the market, and some are less harmful than others.
Shock collars have been confirmed by veterinary organizations to be psychologically and sometimes physically harmful to dogs.
Vibration, ultrasonic, and citronella spray collars are generally considered to be less cruel than shock collars.
However, they all essentially work by creating a stress response in a dog to discourage barking.
This can cause aggression and anxiety in dogs and is not compatible with the positive reinforcement recommended by most experienced dog trainers and veterinary professionals alike.
Ultimately, we would always recommend training your dog out of excessive barking using patience and reward-based training methods rather than aversive bark collars.