Anti-Bark Collars – Genius Solution or Dangerous Quick Fix?

Recently there seems to have been a surge in the popularity of Anti-Bark Collars. These are collars that spray citronella when they detect the dog bark. I’ve met dog owners that swear by them but being a professional I don’t know of a single reputable dog trainer that recommends the use of them. 

In this article I will quickly sum up some of the reasons that dog trainers won’t recommend them. If you’re going to use a product, it pays to know the risks involved. 

 

The Risk of Causing Fears (and Therefore Aggression) 

Dogs don’t always think like you want them to think. They don’t always make associations the way you want them to. The basic premise behind the Anti-Bark collar is for the dog to make this association. 

Barking = Citronella Spray 

citronella spray collar

The problem is this doesn’t always work out. Lets imagine your dog barks at another dog and gets sprayed. Now what can develop is this association. 

Other Dogs = Citronella Spray

citronella spray collar

How many repetitions before your dog sees another dog and becomes afraid? Many dogs will take on a new strategy here. They decide that their best bet is to try to scare the other dog off with aggression.

Now instead of a barking problem we have a much more serious aggression problem. What if it wasn’t other dogs your dog was barking at but children? Aggression is a very serious potential side effect for a quick fix solution. 

Maybe your dog won’t react with aggression. Some dogs take the ‘flight’ option. They see another dog and to try to escape from the spray they simply run away. This isn’t a much better option. Your dog could be hit by a car or get lost and go missing.

Either way paying a dog behaviourist to help you get over these problems is going to be expensive. A lot more expensive than if you would of paid a qualified behaviourist to help you get over the barking initially. 

Suppression of Behaviour vs. Solving Problems

Lets say your dog barks when he’s home alone. We put an anti-bark collar on him. He stops barking. Result! Or is it? Well what if he was barking because he was anxious. We’ve got rid of the barking but he’s still anxious, potentially even more so now he’s worried about being sprayed. 

We have a duty of care to the dog and professionals have a duty to solve problems, not just mask them. The preferred way to deal with this case would be to work on resolving the dog’s anxiety, once you’ve done that the barking will cease on it’s own. 

Often people purchase Anti-Bark Collars without having considered why their dog is barking. That’s a really important question because dealing with the cause of the behaviour will be the key to a more side-effect, guilt-free answer to your problem.

[Further Reading: Turid Rugaas’s book Barking – The Sound of a Language (Amazon US) can be a helpful starting place for getting a grasp of barking behaviour.]

Unreliable and Unfair Punishment 

One huge problem with these devices is technical faults. In multiple dog households dogs are often sprayed when one of the other dogs barks. I’ve heard this reported numerous times and it concerns me greatly.

If these collars can go off when another dog barks then their reliability is really brought into question. Will they go off when a dog barks on the television or radio? Or when the dog rustles in it’s bed? The trust for these collars has quickly evaporated among professionals.

Whilst I don’t advocate spray collars at all leaving it up to the collar to decide when to spray is dangerous. This isn’t a Tesla self-driving car, these are cheap collars with cheap technology that have historically made mistakes time and time again. 

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