Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saving Barking Dogs With Effective Electronics

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 the yard where it can dig out the toys you bury there, etc. 

Walk the dog in the morning and in the evening. Throw the ball. Take it biking or skating. Give it a chew toy.  

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 of any and every type and in every situation have never tried them. I have, for both barking and non-barking issues.

Do e-collars work to stop self-reinforcing barking -- the kind all too common with working terriers which are especially selected and bred to bark?  

Like new money.

So what's the history of these collars?  

When did the bark collars show up?

The first bark collars were patented in 1953, and were sold as a humane alternative to severe punishment administered inconsistently and with poor timing.

In training animals, such as dogs, it is well known that the effectiveness of punishment does not depend on severity, but on the promptness and regularity of its imposition. For this reason efforts to train dogs not to bark by scolding and whipping are often ineffective even when the punishment is severe.

According to the present invention a mildly disagreeable sensation is transmitted to the animals body automatically each time he emits a bark or whining sound. If desired, the severity of the sensation may be proportioned to the loudness of the noise. Essentially this is achieved by microphonic closing of a switching device, the microphone being actuated by sound emitted by the animal, which transmits electric current of low amperage across a pair of metallic elements in contact with its body.

Among the advantages of the invention are the promptness with which the training is accomplished, the simplicity of the apparatus involved, and the convenience of application whether the animal is running free or is tethered.

The main problem with the first bark collars was the same problem faced in making the first e-collars some 20 years earlier; massive batteries.

If the above-described dog collar is to be used for training an untethered dog, the cable may be attached to a small pack strapped on the back of the dog, containing a suitable switching device or amplifier and a small portable battery controlled by manual switch. In this case the ground connection of the switching device may be interconnected with metallic sheath through conductor 38 which serves as ground-return lead for the system.

The first commercial bark collar
I can find is a bark collar, sold in Field & Stream in 1972  and made by Tri-tronix, but competitors quickly came on to the market, including this collar sold by Relco.

Jerry Gonda, who founded Tri-Trinox (and who was its sole owner until 2011 when he sold it to Garmin) has been a continuous innovator in the field of electronic dog training, and his son, Jeff Gonda, runs Collar Clinic which repairs and sell parts for all makes of e-collars.

Jerry Gonda's 1980 patent drawing for an improved bark collar is below, but there have been numerous improvements in the field since then.

In 1994, Greg Van Curen and Michael Westrick
created Innotek, and one of the very first devices they brought to the market was a combination collar that worked as a confinement system and a bark inhibitor -- a new combination of two already-existing technologies in a small-collar package.

This collar not only varied
the level of stimulation when training (8 levels), but also varied it as the dog approached the perimeter wire, with the first warning being a tone.

It is often desirable to be able to both confine one or more animals within a predefined area as well as train those animals. Currently, this requires the purchase and use of two different systems, a separate confinement system and a separate remote training system. It is possible for these two systems to interfere with one another depending upon the particular frequencies at which they are operating. In addition, use of two separate systems is expensive because of the presence of such things as two separate collars and stimulator units. Furthermore, use of two separate systems is time-consuming because one receiver and stimulator unit in a collar must be removed and replaced with another in order to change between modes.

Bottom line:  Electronic e-collars have saved a lot of canine lives and reduced the need for debarking surgery. No matter how you calculate it, that's a massive win for dogs.


Anonymous said...

I would hesitate to use a Smell to discourage a dog...
Dog noses are so Sensitive

A shock is *over* --Done

Smells tend to linger.. 'stick'
to the inside of the nose, even after the initial burst has dissipated..
(ever had someone spray perfume in your face?)

geonni banner said...

Sad to say, many people with a barking dog would rather see their dog killed than corrected. As a former trainer, I had many people come to me who were about to be evicted from apartments because of barking complaints.

I offered these people training options, and were routinely told, "No! I couldn't do that! My dog wouldn't like it!"

Only one person out of dozens opted for de-barking.

A few agreed to do the work. A few of those actually did. The ones who 'followed the program' were mostly successful.

Most simply took the dog to the pound or to the vet to have it killed out of hand.

I would try everything I could think of to get these people to actually do something. But they would rather see their dog dead than trained.

Sam Ivy said...

This is a great post because dog collars have such a stigma surrounding their use. I am so glad you mention a wide variety of other ways to solve barking issues, before trying a collar. It is always best to try to make the dog as happy as possible to fix the behavioral issue. But like you said,sometimes that still does not work. Is it better then to train the dog or kill it? I am so glad you broached this important topic with information on how to humanely use a dog collar as a teaching aid.