How to Use a No-Bark Collar
by Robin MacFarlane
Understanding how to teach your dog to respond properly to it is necessary.
Before you decide on the use of a bark collar to stop your dog's nuisance noise-making, be sure you have a good understanding of why the barking may be taking place. Read this article to see if there are some steps you can take to resolve underlying problems that may be contributing to your dog's desire to vocalize.
If you decide that a static collar is the right solution for your situation, then it is important to learn how to use it. The bark collar is a tool like any other, so understanding how to teach your dog to respond properly to it is necessary.
My preferred way of introducing a bark collar is to actually use a remote collar first to condition the dog to e-stim. If a dog is at least minimally e-collar literate (he understands that he can control the sensation by taking certain actions), he will quickly be able to figure out that stopping the barking will "turn off" and avoid the sensation.
When I introduce with an e-collar first, I use the remote to do the foundation "paying attention" and "follow the handler" exercises as well as some minor interruption of nuisances like jumping up or play biting behavior. Then I put the dog in a situation where barking is likely to occur (ringing a doorbell, a knock at door, etc.) and use the remote collar to interrupt it.
When the barking has been effectively interrupted, I reward the silence. This teaches the dog the difference between the consequences of barking = "sensation turns on" and silence = "no sensation + reward."
At this point in the training, I am in proximity and visible to the dog. I simultaneously overlay a word such as "Quiet" or "Enough" so the dog is learning the association and to take a directive from me to cease the barking. In this way, I can choose how much barking to allow and when to interrupt and teach accountability. By learning accountability to my commands, the dog is not led to believe that barking is bad, but rather, that he must stop when I request it. There are certainly circumstances where barking is desirable, so this type of training will give you verbal control over the behavior so you can allow barking based on your discretion.
After a session or two of e-collar training for bark control, the dog has an idea of how to respond appropriately to the stimulation. Next, when I put the bark collar on that will automatically activate based on either sound or vocal cord vibration (depending on the collar model), he will be clear on how to have control over the sensation. The dog can quickly learn that when the bark collar is on he must control the barking himself, rather than waiting for a directive from me. This allows safe and fair use the tool when the dog is left alone and we need to ensure quiet surroundings when we can't actively supervise.
In the case of a non-e-collar trained dog, the steps are a bit different, but there are still steps to go through. The dog must be taught how to understand and respond to the sensation of a no-bark collar. It is not only a mistake to think you can simply put the collar on and walk away, but is it totally unfair to the dog.
First off, the collar must fit properly. Any collar that has contact points must fit snug enough that the points are in continual contact with the skin. If the collar is too loose it simply will not work consistently and the results will be poor.
It is important to read the owner's manual to make sure you understand the best placement for the collar. Some collars are activated by sound, some by vibration of the vocal cords. For this reason placement on the neck may be influenced by the location of the sensors in order to get optimal results.
You also want to have a clear understanding of the various functions. Many no-bark collars have options for vibration only, vibration followed by stimulation, varying levels of stimulation to choose from, and auto-advancing levels based on the dog's barking pattern. Read the manual so you fully understand how your equipment operates.
When you are ready to start teaching the dog how to understand and respond properly to the bark collar, start at the lowest level of stimulation available. It is fairer to the dog to take the time to move through the levels systematically and determine the proper setting rather than make assumptions based on breed, size, or temperament of the dog. Each dog's sensitivity is different and the goal is to find a level that effectively interrupts the barking without causing an overreaction.
With the collar set to the lowest level, expose the dog to a stimulus that causes them to bark. Knocking at the door or ringing the doorbell works for most dogs. Use distractions that ensure the dog is excited enough to bark in succession a few times. If the dog only barks one time you may not get an adequate read on whether the collar is working or not. This is because some collars allow for an isolated bark and won't activate until it is repetitive enough to be considered a nuisance.
Watch the dog for any reaction. Look for any indication of the dog momentarily pausing because the sensation interrupted their focus. If so, praise/reward the dog during the silence. If there is no noticeable reaction and the dog continues to bark and bark, turn the collar up one level and repeat the process. Continue this process until you are confident that the dog is noticing the sensation enough to be temporarily distracted from the barking. A pause, a slight startle, or twitch are adequate responses to indicate your dog has felt the sensation.
Once an effective level has been determined, find a few situations to "practice" using the bark collar in supervised situations. Having the dog wear the bark collar while periodically presenting him with situations of potential barking over a series of days helps to make sure he truly understands how to "turn off" the sensation or avoid it altogether by self-monitoring his behavior. Once the dog has demonstrated he can self-monitor without your influence, you can feel confident he is ready to be alone while wearing the bark collar and will behave appropriately.
This training is the best way that I know to prevent the dog from getting into a situation where they get stuck in the stim activation cycle. I've seen this happen when a bark collar is placed on the dog with no prior training, the level is turned too high so when the dog barks he gets a strong correction that causes a yelp, the yelp then causes a reactivation of the bark collar and the cycle of repetitive yelp/correction causes a panic situation for the dog.
This is NOT pretty and NOT what you want to happen with your dog. It can be entirely avoided and the dog can learn to calmly accept wearing a bark collar with a full understanding of how to monitor their barking if you take the time to do the proper training first.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.