Yes, it’s true, good people with good (albeit noisy) dogs use bark collars responsibly and safely and to good effect every day. Could this be you? Bark collar training is a realistic and modern solution for many people living with dogs in close proximity to one another in cities and suburbs all over the world.
Below you’ll find my seven easy steps for successfully bark collar training your dog. While these steps provide a lot of detail to give you confidence in working with your dog, ultimately, it should take you less than a week to fully acclimate your dog to the collar and start to enjoy the results. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Understand if your dog is a good candidate for bark collar training.
Good Bark Collar Candidates: Bark collars are very effective for dogs that are “alarm barkers,” reacting to noises or movement by barking an alert.
Alarm barking is pretty easy to recognize: your dog chuffs as he becomes suspicious that something is amiss and as his suspicion grows at an approaching sound or sight his barking escalates until the stimuli passes and his barking winds down. Alternately, if a dog is startled by a sudden noise he will release a loud bark or series of barks (similar to how a person might jump or scream when surprised).
Bark collars are also good for dogs that bark for fun or because they’re bored. Barking is a self-reinforcing/rewarding behavior for many dogs. If they’re not being corrected for the behavior, the behavior itself is inherently rewarding and will get stronger and stronger as it is practiced over time.
Other good pre-requisites for using a bark collar on your dog are:
- Dog has been through obedience training
- Dog gets enough daily physical and mental stimulation to offset boredom
- Dog is at least 6 months old and is otherwise in good physical health
Bad Bark Collar Candidates: Separation anxiety is a leading cause of excessive barking when owners are away. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it is unlikely that they will be truly helped by a bark collar, though the collar may help alleviate this one symptom of the anxiety.
A better approach to fixing separation anxiety is to address it through obedience training and confidence-building exercises and gradually desensitize your dog to your departure and absence. This can, in fact, be done very effectively with an e-collar under the supervision of a professional dog trainer, and the behavior can easily be transitioned to a bark collar afterwards for maintenance if necessary.
Separation anxiety barking has a notable sound of distress to it, with the pitch of the bark usually rising at the end as if to ask the question, “Where are you?!” It may also have a monotonous, repetitive quality, with the dog barking at the same cadence and intensity for several minutes at a time and then stopping briefly, almost as if to listen for a response. But the hallmark of separation anxiety barking is that it happens in the owner’s absence. You can confirm if this is happening by setting up a video camera to record your dog. Separation anxiety symptoms usually kick in within minutes of the owner leaving, although the dog’s anxiety is usually escalating long before that.
If your dog has a health problem that is stressful for them, a bark collar may not be advisable. In this case, it would be wise to speak with a professional trainer about whether or not to use a bark collar.
The same can be said for senior dogs. Often, senior dogs will demonstrate a degree of confusion or hearing loss that comes on with age, similar to what many humans experience as seniors. Uncharacteristic barking can be a symptom of old age, especially if the behavior comes on in a senior dog and there doesn’t appear to be any other obvious explanation. To place a bark collar on such a dog is definitely not fair and should not be done.
So you’ve identified that your dog is a good candidate, now what?
Step 2: Purchase a high quality, reliable bark collar.
Do me a favor and resist the urge to drive down to the local big box and buy your bark collar there. I know, Rex’s barking is driving you (or the neighbors) crazy (as you’ve been told in no uncertain terms). Purchase a high quality collar online and spring a little extra for the expedited shipping if you have to. You’ll be glad you did.
Check out my blog post on great bark collars for your buck and learn why it’s important to invest a little more. Sometimes bark collars are also referred to as “no bark collars” or “barkless collars.”
Step 3: Read the instructions that came with your collar front to back…
…in fact, read them a couple of times. Then read this blog post in its entirety a couple of times as well.
There’s really nothing to be afraid of when it comes to using a bark collar with your dog as long as you’ve prepared to introduce and use the tool safely and responsibly. Do your due diligence and become familiar with the device. They’re not all immediately intuitive, and it will make you a more confident handler when you are confident in the tool you’re using.
Step 4: Introduce the bark collar to your dog in a controlled setting.
In a quiet, calm setting in your home with no other dogs or kids present, attach your dog’s leash to their buckle collar and get a bunch of treats.
If your dog takes this new piece of equipment in stride and seems comfortable with it, go ahead and turn on the bark collar and place it on your dog, ensuring a proper (tight enough) fit. Remember, both contact points need to be touching the dog’s neck at all times. If it’s too loose, the dog will not reliably feel the stim., which will create anxiety. Move on to Step 5.
If your dog is more sensitive or appears fearful or apprehensive of this new device, leave the collar turned OFF and simply help your dog feel good about this new thing. Start wherever you can get a success with him. If he’ll allow you to place the collar loosely around his neck and will take a few treats, do that a few times, progressing until you can place the collar on and tighten it all the way.
If he can’t handle that, simply place the collar on the floor, encourage him to investigate it, and reward his willingness to do so. It may take longer to get the collar on this dog, but going slow will pay off. If you rush through it and the stim. frightens him, it will be far less effective as a tool since you’ll just be confirming all his worst fears rather than helping change his mind about the collar.
Move onto the next step when your dog accepts having the collar placed on him and tightened as if this is a normal, if not wonderful, thing (since it usually precedes some treats).
Step 5: Introduce the stim. and find the right level, if necessary.
Once your dog is comfortable wearing the collar (see Step 4), you will turn the collar on and have it set at the lowest possible setting. At this point, your setup is the same as step 4: dog is still on a leash in a low-distraction setting in your home and you still have a pocketful of treats.
You or a helper will do something relatively benign to attempt to elicit his barking. By “benign” I mean that if you rated different stimuli on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of how intensely your dog would react, start with a 1, something that barely registers to him. The goal here is a quick exposure to the barking and stim. and not a prolonged barking episode.
If your dog doesn’t bark but registers that he heard something, immediately praise his good decision to remain quiet and give him a treat to occupy his mouth. “Reset” him by walking him around for a minute or playing with a ball or tug briefly.
On the next exposure, increase the intensity of your distraction just a little, to a “level 2”. For example, if on the first exposure, your friend landed a single knock on your front door and your dog simply looked at the door, on the second try, have your friend knock 2 or 3 times to get your dog to bark at a relatively low intensity.
If your dog does briefly bark, the collar will activate. Note your dog’s reaction to the stim., including how quickly he stopped barking.
If you are using a bark collar model that automatically increases its intensity level based on prolonged barking, you don’t have to worry about increasing the level of your collar as it will do so automatically, and either re-set itself at the lowest setting again on the next exposure or maintain the level it was “successful at”. Proceed to Step 6, below.
If you are using a collar that has a manual adjustment for the intensity setting, you will need to understand how to find the right stim. level for your dog.
Finding the Right Intensity Level on a Manually-Adjusted Bark Collar
On any exposures that get your dog to bark, note his reaction to the collar, and particularly how quickly the barking de-escalates. His reaction will determine the correct level and how to proceed with the exposures during this and future training sessions. Note, on most bark collars, you have to remove the collar to change the intensity level.
A) Dog’s Reaction: He was stimmed but the intensity level was so low he never even felt it. He continued barking as he normally would at this level of stimuli. You may not notice any change in his body language as he hasn’t acknowledged the collar or stim. at all.
Your Response: Turn the collar up a level and repeat.
B) Dog’s Reaction: He was stimmed and he felt it but wasn’t sure what he was feeling or why. The level wasn’t high enough to startle him out of his barking and he continued to bark as he normally would at this level of stimuli even though he perceived something. He may have looked around after he began barking as he’s being stimmed, paused briefly only to continue barking, or have a look of confusion on his face. He feels the collar but isn’t sure why or what it means.
Your Response: Turn the collar up a level and repeat. Chances are the next level will be corrective in nature–meaning he’ll want to avoid the stimulation after that and you’ll likely be returning to this level after one or two exposures at the higher level.
C) Dog’s Reaction: He was stimmed and as a result he was mildly startled and quieted faster than usual. His eyes might have widened briefly, an ear flicked, or he may have impulsively snapped his head down (as if a bug bit him on his neck where the collar box sits). This is a success!
Your Response: Immediately distract him from the stim. and PRAISE and reward this response with a treat and movement (walk around a little bit) or toy. This is done so he doesn’t start up the barking again or bark out of confusion or frustration. It is done to reinforce that by stopping his barking, he has been successful. This is the correct level for your initial training unless he has a different reaction on this level at some point.
D) Dog’s Reaction: He was stimmed and as a result had a huge reaction to the stim., jumped, pitched a fit, squealed, etc. Ideally, this doesn’t happen on the lowest setting (if it does, this collar won’t work for you, you should try to exchange or return it).
Your Response: Remain calm until he quiets. If it helps to do so, physically interrupt him such as with a light leash tug and/or walking. Do not coddle him or in any other ways react to his distress, only reward his quieting and work to “snap him out of it” if he needs that type of help. Praise/reward him once he’s quieted down and act as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. carefully remove the collar and turn the collar DOWN to level 1 and start the “climb” again. He will most likely respond appropriately to the stim. at a much lower level after this type of experience.
It is important to immediately get another successful exposure after a situation like this. Don’t leave the training exercise on a “bad note” as it’s likely your dog will have negative associations with the collar. Always leave off on a positive success.
Common Reactions to Initial Training–Awakening to the Stim. Brings your Dog from Level 5 to Level 1
It is common to turn a collar up a few levels in the initial training session without seeing any obvious response, then observe a very big reaction on a subsequent level. Your dog appears to have gone from 0 to 10 in one stride. This is because this is a totally new sensation for most dogs; they have no context for which to register the feeling of the stim. at their neck, and often, they’ll just ignore it or brush it off at lower levels. However, once it’s on their radar they start “feeling for it” and what previously seemed to not register gets the dog’s attention easily.
As a result, if you’ve gone up several levels on your initial introduction and suddenly your dog has an “awakening” when he didn’t register a response at the previous level, dial it all the way back to 1 for your next exposure. Now that he’s “feeling for it” he’s more likely to have the correct response on a much lower level.
Once you’ve found the right level in your session, leave the collar at that level and start the next session at that level, only adjusting the collar up or down based on the dog’s reaction.
Step 6: Teach your dog how to avoid the stim. through a series of controlled exposures to bark-eliciting stimuli.
Repeat controlled exposures over the course of a few days in the same type of setup as described in Step 5, with treats (or toys) and dog on leash. Allow the collar to “correct” barking. When he stops barking, praise and re-set (don’t treat/reward him for stopping barking, otherwise you might teach him that to earn the treat he should bark and endure the stim. first).
Praise and reward him when he makes the right decision to not bark.
In your exposures, mix up the difficulty level. Provide your dog some easy “wins” where he earns rewards by doing a level 1 or 2 setup mixed in with the more difficult instances that are likely to get him to bark. These “wins” will help keep him feeling motivated and positive about the training and provide contrast to help him learn the expectations.
Only do a few exposures at a time, maybe 5 or 6, as most dogs get savvy to the fact that you’re “practicing”. That’s actually a good thing and means you can move on to the next step, but it makes for sessions without very much contrast.
At this point, other dogs and kids can be safely introduced into the equation, but remember, this might increase your dog’s propensity to bark, especially if you have other dogs that bark. Introduce the calmest kid/dog first, progressing to the most “difficult” as your dog gets contrast in those exposures.
Once you get to the point where your dog has you figured out after a few exposures and isn’t “fooled” into barking, move on to the next step.
Step 7: Transition Your Training to the Real World
In this step, we transition your exposures, which are clearly identified by your dog as training sessions, into real-life expectations, this includes your leaving him alone with the bark collar on.
Using the Bark Collar While You’re At Home
Leave the leash off your dog and act as if everything is normal, meaning act like you’re not training. Sit down on the couch, “work” in the kitchen, etc. You still might want to have a few treats in your pocket, but otherwise, carry on as if you don’t know that someone is about to ring the doorbell. In this unassuming setup, barking will probably be elicited at a much lower intensity stimulus simply because it doesn’t look like a training setup to your dog.
When that doorbell rings, simply conduct the moment like a training exposure. Go to your dog. If your dog barks then quiets, praise him and direct him away from the location of the stimulus (door, window) so he doesn’t re-engage (“C’mon Fido, let’s go!”). If he comes with you, you might offer a treat or toy for that.
If he makes a good decision to stay quiet, praise and reward him. Make sure your reward is well-timed. Then call him away from the location of the stimulus (door, window, etc.) so that he doesn’t engage in barking at that point.
Do this a few times. By this time, your dog should understand how the collar works, know the expectations and you should feel comfortable reinforcing his good behavior, allowing the collar to correct his bad decisions, and enjoying (nearly) bark-free living!
Using the Bark Collar While You’re Away from Home
Here, we’re trying to make sure the collar is as effective in your absence as it is in your presence. If your dog barks out of boredom when he’s left alone, start with a short exposure to your absence, staying close enough to the house that you can hear your dog. If your dog barks and then quiets as a response to the collar, great. The collar and his response are functioning properly. If he does not respond appropriately and barks excessively through the stim., return to him without any fanfare and turn up the stim. level. Try again. (If you have an auto-adjust collar, you don’t have to worry about this step.)
Remember, we’re assuming you’ve correctly diagnosed that your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety. If, when you return to him, his behavior is excessively panicky or anxious even after you’ve done all the desensitization and training described above, and/or there are other symptoms such as damage to your windows or doors or soiled carpeting, it’s possible your dog does have separation anxiety. In this case, it’s possible that the bark collar could increase his anxiety rather than simply stop barking, which is ultimately counter-productive in solving the barking problem. If you suspect this to be the case, contact us so we can help you get on the right track.
Dogs that are more vocal guardians of the home when they’re left alone can be tested by your acting as if you’re leaving, then staying nearby and having a friend walk past your house or approach your house. If your dog responds to the collar appropriately, great. He should be in good shape to respond appropriately in your absence at that level. If he does not respond appropriately and simply barks through the stim., return and turn up the collar.
It is possible that a dog becomes more agitated and has a lower threshold for barking when the owner is away. If you identify this to be the case and you have a manual collar, you may just need to identify the higher level and set the collar at that when you’re gone. You can leave the collar on the lower level when you’re home. If you have an auto-adjust collar, you don’t have to worry about this.
A video camera or an audio recording device can come in handy if you’d like to see how your dog responds over a longer period of time when left alone. Alternately, if you have a bark collar model with a bark odometer on it, you can see how many times your dog barked when you power down the collar. If the collar registered an excessive number of barks, consider increasing the stimulation level and performing a staged departure so you can hear how he reacts.
Be sure to tune in next time as I continue this series by covering the Common Mistakes People Make When Training Their Dog on a Bark Collar.