Friday, July 15, 2016

Saving Barking Dogs

Unending barking has probably resulted in the death of more dogs than any other behavior problem.

There is barking .... and then there is BARKING.

Unending barking has probably resulted in the death of more dogs than any other behavior problem.

It's all well and good to say that "only bored dogs" bark and that the cure is more exercise, but that is not always true. Generally true, but not always true.

It's also not true that it's as simple as "train the dog to bark when given a signal, and then never give that signal." This is the kind of stuff copied from one book to another, but which crashes on the rocks of reality pretty quickly.

The simple story is that barking is a self-reinforcing behavior, which is a nice way of saying that, for some dogs, barking is its own reward.

Sometimes a long spate of barking can be set off by a squirrel scampering across a tree in the backyard or a bird flying overhead. You can try removing all the bird feeders, but there are limits.

Yes, by all means give your dog a job -- a hard chew toy filled with peanut butter (try freezing it in the toy overnight), a place in the corner of its yard where it can dig out the toys you bury there, etc. Walk it in the morning and in the evening. Throw the ball. Take it biking or skating. All of this will help and, in fact, it may be a perfect cure for your problem.

But not everyone has the time for such 24-7-365 efforts. What do you do about a dog that is exercised, has a big backyard with access to food and water and even other dogs to play with, a sand pit, and lots of toys and simply likes to bark for hours on end?

For a long time, the answer was "get rid of the dog," and as a consequence a lot of dogs ended up in pounds, and most ended up dead just five days later.

Then, in the 1930s, a veterinary surgeon found that a very loud and piercing bark could by muted by going down the throat and punching a few holes in the vocal cord membrane.

The operation was simpler than a tonsillectomy, and it was 100 percent successful. A "debarked" dog could still bark, but now it was simply "toned down" quite a bit. Now the dog could "talk," but it could not roar and yell as before. Result: a lot of dogs were spared a dog pound death.  If you think that's a bad outcome, go away.

Popular Science article, circa 1936. 

About 10 years ago, a new invention came along which has largely replace surgical debarking (which was never common) -- the e-collar.

Now, instead of giving a dog an operation, owners can simply put on an electronic debarking collar. These collars give the dog a mild aversive shock that is about as painful as a rubber band snap if the dog barks continuously for more than a set period of time -- say 30 seconds or so. Collars can be adjusted to give the dog more or less time to bark, and corrective shocks can also be dialed up or down as needed (generally the lowest setting is enough). Some collars do not shock -- they spray citronella, which the dogs are not supposed to like, but I have never heard anyone say these collars actually worked.

Most of the folks who protest e-collars have never tried them. I have.

Do anti-bark e-collars work? Like new money.

They also work for containment, and the modern e-collars are also very good for training, provided  you are trained on them and know something about dog training.

In fact my three game-bred working terriers are held in the yard at the driveway by an e-collar -- an "Invisible Fence." Not only has it worked well now for 19 years, but it is also a product endorsed by both veterinarians and humane societies.

So is an anti-barking e-collar any different? Nope.

Modern collars only give a warning tone and then a mild shock if the dog wearing the collar is actually barking for more than 30 seconds (which is a pretty long time) and they are only triggered by the combination of sound and throat vibrations. Another dog barking in your yard or a noise next door cannot set them off.

Another case of e-collars saving canine lives.


littlezoo said...

yup, I took in a terrier mix a few years ago..his old owner told us he barks a lot, we thought "whatever, all our dogs bark" stupid mistake...this dog BARKS a LOT, the drop of a pin would set him off for 20 minutes of solid barking, I tried all the tricks in the book, but nothing interupted him for even a split second. finally, I got past my aversion to an e-collar, and I decided to give one a shot...he had other issues too, so I picked a remote retreiver training type, a Tri-Tronics G3 sport combo. it doesnt hurt fact he runs over in exitment, and sits politely to have it put on him, and the best part? it WORKS, and it started working the very second I first placed it on him. best investment I ever made.

Mongoose said...

That's good to know. Thanks for the info.

Personally I got my dog from a breeder who would re-home her if I wasn't able to keep her, so I know my dog would be safe if she had behaviours that precluded her staying with me.

ArdenwoodPatti said...

Citronella collars can work on some dogs in some situations. My first flatcoat had a terrific pain tolerance. He would push through the deepest cover full of brambles and thorns to get to a pheasant. He would hunt valley quail & chukar over lava rock until his feet were raw, if we let him.

When he was young, we used an Invisible Fence. He was well trained to respect the boundaries, but would still "grit his teeth & bear it" if his best golden buddy went running by with her owner.

A human activated e-collar was an effective field training tool, and he usually responded to the vibration setting, rarely needing a "nick." He wanted to please, so the e-collar worked more like a remote leash correction when he was so occupied with bird scent that he didn't respond to a whistle command.

The citronella collar was the ONLY thing that he wouldn't gut through. He might bark with an electric bark collar, but not a citronella one. He HATED it after only one session. I've never had another dog respond to one in the same way.

ArdenwoodPatti said...

BTW - Dogs don't LIKE citronella spray. If that were the case, the dog that wore one would bark non-stop when wearing one.

My dog hated the scent so much that he would leave the area where a citronella candle was burning.

YesBiscuit! said...

I tried a bark collar on two dogs. The first dog it didn't work on at all - that is, the dog continued to bark. The second dog figured out what level of continual whining he could replace the continual barking with so as not to get shocked. The constant whining was not loud enough to warrant a neighbor complaint so in that sense, it was successful. But the whining was extremely annoying. I also noticed on this dog that the collar appeared to go off at times when he wasn't barking and I wondered if some sort of interference caused that. I don't remember the name brand and this was many years ago so apparently they've improved since then, as you say.

Jolanta Jeanneney said...

Occasionally we use antibark collars on 1 or 2 dogs (we have 12 dogs), which have a tendency to bark too much. It works. The model I like the most is Dogtra YS300. It has non-electrical stimulation vibration warning prior to the stimulation. There are 6 intensity levels (I have never had to go above level 2). And it has a rechargeable 2-hour rapid charge lithium battery.

With multiple dogs it is not always possible to prevent dogs from barking. Sometimes you just need them to be quiet. This is a very humane way of controlling excessive barking. We live in the country, far way from neighbors, dogs get a lot of exercise, yet, occasionally we have to use the device. It does not traumatize dogs and they learn very quickly that if they don't bark, there is no stiumulation (when they have a collar on).

Jolanta Jeanneney

Heather Houlahan said...

I have used dogtra and tritronics anti-barking collars on a number of client dogs and one of my own dogs.

The client dogs were industrial barkers; after addressing their exercise needs and their deficits of formal training, clients have invariably been successful at stopping protest barking and overly reactive barking using a dogtra or tritronics collar. It must be set correctly (you start HIGH and then can gradually lower the setting so that the very light correction just elicits the previous quite surprising one, a reminder to the dog -- not what many people want to do) and the dog supervised for the first uses of the thing, and in any situation where he will be more stimulated by the surroundings or otherwise challenged than he was for previous lessons.

Usually the collar can go into a drawer after a month or so of wearing it. It may have to come out a few more times over the life of the dog for a reminder month. Properly introduced to a dog whose needs are being met, the dog will learn in anything between one and a few dozen corrections.

Some dogs do require the collar as a more or less permanent management device. They aren't getting shocked all the time, just need to have the collar on for the odd times when they experiment.

The dog of my own who I've sometimes used a bark collar on is an excited shrieker. When she gets shrieking, she also runs around like an idiot slamming into people and other dogs, and generally pissing everyone off. When this looks to be really bad, I pre-emptively collar her so she doesn't get rolling. Prevent shrieking = prevent the worst of the idiocy for her. I haven't had to do that for over a year, but I think I'm going to have to this week, as she seems to be cranking herself up lately.

These collars are easily misused. I was once at a conference where a SAR handler slapped an over-hot discount store collar on his crated dog in the campground and left for parts unknown. The dog barked, got shocked, screamed because he'd been shocked, got shocked for the scream -- and on it went. By the time someone (not the handler, who was AWOL) got to him to get the collar off, he was in frothing hysterics, and his rescuer risked a serious bite and/or escaped dog. But someone had to do it.

Needless to say, there were WORDS when the handler was found.

Stoutheartedhounds said...

I have used anti-bark collars before as have several of my friends. The best advice I can give is to get the best brand that you can. The cheapie anti-bark collars may be cheap but they won't last as long and won't function as well. I purchased an Innotek lap dog sized anti-bark collar and it works great for both my little dogs (under 10 lbs) and my big dogs (60+ lbs). The receiver is very small and light-weight and is removable so it can be put on any size collar you want. If I want to use it on my big dogs I can, and the shocks are strong enough to work on them as well. It comes with 4 settings as well as two tonal corrections. The range is about 100 feet or so but that's all I need to train my dogs not to bark or to deter them from counter surfing.

I'm very active in dog racing and hunting in the open field with sighthounds. Lots of my friends have used e-collars for dogs that have problems with recall or with interfering with other dogs while they run. The collars work great for these types of problems so they can definitely be used for more than just barking.

an American in Copenhagen said...

I worked for a vet for a summer in college. We used citronella collars on client dogs when they were in the kennels and it worked about 50% of the time. We actually didn't use citronella in them though. We used unscented air cartriges. The spray of the air would startle the dogs (50% of them at least) and they'd stop barking. I don't know if air or citronella collars would be effective long term but it was certainly better than nothing for that situation.

Our neighbors had two German Shepherds who barked ALL NIGHT when I was a kid. They eventually got them debarked but the sound of them 'barking' would still keep me from sleeping in the summer when the windows were open. It was such a pitiful sound.

Marie said...

Citronella collar was totally useless on one of our terriers. It's sitting and collecting dust.

We plan on installing invisible fencing this spring. Have talk with many terrier people that work their dogs and it's been effective on those dogs containing them even in semi-rural settings like we live in. Of course Murphy's Law says it will be MY dogs that it won't work on lol.

mscriver said...

My animal control experience is kind of ancient now, but dogs and humans have not changed much. All these comments look pretty valuable. One of our favorite stories about the importance of the "owner/operator" was the man who bought a bark collar, set it on high, put it on the dog next to him -- the dog barked, was shocked, sized up the situation and bit the man.

Another failure was the family with a small shrieking child. The collar was on the dog which was soon reeling and staggering from the shocks set off by the child.

A rather effective cure for the neighbor's barking dog (intractable dog and intractable neighbor) is an air-powered boat horn. It's a can, like a spray, and will make sure that the dog owner is awake, too. Works pretty good on dogs that chase bicycles, too.

Prairie Mary

Ben Rebel said...

I have to break my comments into two parts. First, in response to the request for personal experience with bark collars, we are currently using a Tri-Tronics No Bark collar with good success. We chose that collar for our Welsh Terrier over other collars because it has a feature that counts the number of times the collar is activated by barking. We keep our terrier on a screened-in porch while both of us are at work. Without the collar, Ringo would bark at the ducks in the lake behind as well as any other animals or people that would come into the back yard. Now that he is trained with the collar, we get almost no record of him barking during the day. A citronella collar was used previously, but it only slowed him down from barking and once the spray was used up, it was of no value. I do need to mention that as soon as the Tri-Tronics collar is removed, the barking returns so what has been taught is only that you don't bark when the collar is on. That is just fine with me because I would never want to stop him barking totally.

Sue said...

I don't have a problem with the use of aversives in certain situations. But as with guns, the person who buys an e-collar might not be the only one in the family to use it. Kids can be especially cruel. Kids and inexperienced people with no dog chops, that is what scares me about recommending e-collar solutions. Like the A-hole that Heather mentioned at the dog show. That hurt to read.

PBurns said...

You can misuse anything.

Last week someone killed their wife with a hammer. This morning someone drove their car through a waffle shop.

In the panoply of things that are not likely to be misused, a bark collar is pretty high up there.

Modern bark collars can only be set off if the dog is barking, AND the collar picks up the sound AND the VIBRATION from the dogs throat, AND the dog ignores the beeper warning tone, AND the dog barks solid for more than 30 seconds or one minute, or whatever the collr is set for.

Links are provided so people can actually read the options on modern collars.

Of course, people can always get out a hammer and cure the continuous barking dog problem the old fashioned way. I assure you that works and is still being done.


The Dog House said...

We use MultiVet Citronella collars and Innotek No-Bark collars.

We use the citronella collars on crated pups - they work brilliantly to interrupt barking for the sake of barking, and when used on a young dog I've found that it prevents nuisance barking.

I generally use the e-collar version on adult dogs, although a friend of mine has two dogs (one JRT one mini aussie) who, after wearing the collar for less than an hour it only had to come into sight to give both dogs something to think about before carrying on. This is an extreme example of course.

My experience with the electric version has been similar to others in regards to the whining. Our solution has been working with a remote collar.

As such, I have three dogs who all talk quite a bit, bark when necessary, roar when required, but are 99% responsive when asked to be quiet.

I'm always stunned when folks feel that surgical intervention is more humane than an e-collar (Patrick describes it with great accuracy as a rubber band snap).

Viatecio said...

I have a TriTronics Barklimiter (probably the last incarnation before Garmin bought TriTronics).

My dog is exercised appropriately, trained well and still decided to sing like a canary after a period of time in her crate.

I live in an apartment setting. Seeing as how I don't really want to resort to the Koehler correction (not to mention that whaling on the dog while she's in the crate is a little awkward), the static anti-bark collar was my solution. She still wears it when I leave, but it is turned off a good majority of the time. I'll turn it on maybe once a week just to reinforce the notion if she decides to test the limits, but for the most part, she has learned to be quiet, lay in the crate and feel sorry for herself because she can't sing along to whatever incarnation of music goes through her little brain.

At work at the veterinary clinic, I find that most people who threaten to buy their dogs anti-bark collars have done few steps to address the issue and simply want the symptom to go away. The universal bleat is that "Training doesn't work," while the dog is tell me that it is trained--with ineffective techniques, and to do the wrong things! It's difficult to make people realize that a little bit of elbow grease should be applied toward a solution before simply punishing the problem and not thinking about the issue any further.

Gina said...

Have had experience with all three: debarking, and citronella and electric collars.

In the early '80s I had a Sheltie who was barky even by Sheltie standards. In those days everyone in the Sheltie show world debarked pretty much everything. None of the vets would do the surgery, except some ol' semi-retired guy who made a tidy side income doing nothing *but* debarks a couple days a week. Toni lived a good long and happy life, barked non-stop through most of it, just at a sound level I could live with. Also had a lot of debarked Shelties come through Sheltie rescue, and they didn't seem at all troubled by their inability to make as much noise as they would have otherwise. My last Sheltie came me debarked, and the only thing I noticed that was negative about it was that he would fairly regularly have gagging fits. I wondered if the vet who did the surgery botched it.

Still, I bet I've seen 20-30 debarked Shelties in all, probably more. The surgery eemed pretty harmless, the "cruelty" of it more in the human mind than in the dog's reality. Never really cared for the sound a debarked dog makes (a harsh hard whispered har! har! har!) so I would be highly unlikely to seek out that option again.

Got sent samples of the citronella collar when it first came out. Mildly effective on the rescue Shelties, with about half (as I recall) learning to stop non-stop Sheltie yapping, the others continuing unabated. I also used it on one of my retrievers when I was living in a beach house. She would bark when she'd see another dog walk by on "her" beach. Smart dog: After a week she stopped barking and substituted intense staring.

I had a situation with a neighbor at my last home, with a non-stop barker. They were hopeless, helpless and clueless, and highly resistant to any "cruel" solution, which was to say any solution that did not involve fairy dust. Easy for them: They were at work all day when the dog was barking, but I work at home. After I stopped asking nicely for them to deal with it and offered to call animal control, they took me up on my offer of the citronella collar. That dog blew through an entire can of citronella, to no effect. The electric bark collar I have (a Dogtra) they would not use. The situation only resolved when the dog bit his owner in the face and was put down.

The Dogtra bark collar I haven't used much, but I have used it on the retriever I have now, who is the barkiest retriever I have ever had. And she has a very big, booming bark. It worked a treat, very effective. It has been in the drawer for a couple years now.

Based on limited personal experience, I would guess the tool you need to use is based on the dog you have. But good luck finding a vet to debark: I'm sure all those ol' codgers are long gone now, and a younger vet will consider reporting you to the authorities for even bringing up the matter.

I doubt electronic collars will ever be banned in this country, although I would suspect to see eventual bans in places like West Hollywood or other notorious nanny-state municipalities.

M said...

I own several bark collars.

I own an older tritronics bark limiter. Works like gold for dogs in a crate where I want them to quiet and settle down. The downside is vibrations can set the darn thing off without any barking occurring so the barking wonder yapper can be out playing and just being a normal dorky dog and set it off.

So I went looking for a better option and found the sport dog 10R. It requires a bark and a vibration to go off so it's much less likely to give an unfair stim. It's rechargable - has some learning modes and works great.

Garmin which purchased Tritronics has come up with a line of e collars with built in bark collars I may give a try to if the old remote ecollar ever gives out.

I have also debarked a dog. He was too small to wear a bark collar and liked to go off like an air raid siren at the smallest sounds in the wee hours of the morning which if you have two babies in the house is not a fun prospect. It was becoming a choice of either fixing it or finding a new home so I went with the easier option which was an $80 surgery. There is a mild amount of pain management for a couple days and after that he had a quiet weezy bark. Never seemed to even phase him and he was a weezy yapper to his dying day.

Anonymous said...

E Collars are flat out prohibited in Switzerland. Also citronella. They are both considered animal cruelty. The only applicable version would be compressed air or water. ...or people -many of those with the more serious dogs like German Shepherds, Rottweiler, big Snouzers etc.- ship their dogs to other countries for training where there are no rules. Or buy them all trained from there in the first place.

Anonymous said...

No E Fences either. There have been cases of conviction because of farm dogs with an E fence to prevent them running on the street and leaving property on their own. The end for the dogs: back to the chain or the kennel. Go figure.

PBurns said...

Does anyone care about the Swiss? Why? A small beautiful country built on the backs of corruption, war profiteering, and the miserable lives of millions of people exploited for gold and other riches laundered through their banks. The Swiss are people who would not save those fleeing death camps, but were happy to cash Nazi dental gold and play footsie with their oppressors. Apparently it is too much to fight to save human live, but an e-collar on a dog is a horror? Right. This is a country of 8 million people, who blanche at citronella but who continue to wink at blood diamonds, blood gold, and blood oil, and who have apparently never seen a military dictator they would not give a numbered bank account to. Strange values in a small country with a population no larger than that of a big city like London.

JL said...

I once did some pet sitting for people with a beagle in suburbia. They used a citronella collar on her which worked until the citronella ran out. Apparently she was stubborn enough that she learned how long a collar would function and bark/bay beyond that.

I've wondered how much the citronella would build up if the dog was in the house. Would I come home from work, open the door, and then practically pass out from the smell if the dog was a truly dedicated barker?

My favorite anti-barking experience was with two previous dogs who barked at everyone going down the street. My solution only was effective if I was home, but it made me laugh a number of times. When the dogs barked at the windows, I would inform them that they were clearly telling me they wanted to be crated together and cheerfully escort them to a crate for a few minutes of "together time." (These were not dogs who snuggled up together.) Then I would let them out. Lather, rinse, repeat without fail (very important to be consistent during the training period). After a day or two, I noticed they started strangling their own barking as soon as they started. If one was quiet and the other barked, the quiet one would shoot some very nasty looks at the barker because I was indiscriminate -- anybody barks, both go in the crate. While I would not expect this to hold up when I wasn't home, it meant I could have the windows uncovered when I was home and only need to cover them when I left. Typically I'd have to do a brief refresher period in the spring after the blinds were opened after being closed for most of the winter.