This was a question I received this morning and a fab idea for a blog post so here we are.
Anti-barking devices for dogs can be worn as collars or left in the environment that a dog frequently occupies or barks in. The collars might shock the dog or spray air or citronella under their chin. The collars and environmental devices can work via a high pitched sound that makes the dog uncomfortable when they bark.
Canine anti-barking collars are part of a vast range of “anti-something” creations which are designed to stop behaviour, often completely natural behaviour and communication. Acts like barking, pulling on the lead or jumping up all have their own “anti” responses, but are they humane – fundamentally not. Here’s why…
Behaviour is communication and our way of telling how a dog feels. If your dog is barking at other dogs on walks, he has a specific feeling about those other dogs and he’s showing us – most of the time it’s fear (even when it doesn’t look that way). If we were to just shut him up with an anti-barking collar not only would we be disregarding his feelings, we would also be pushing them back inside him. Yes he might stop barking, but now not only is he worried about the other dogs, he’s also scared of us – because he will associate us with the device. And these things have to be unpleasant to the dog or they wouldn’t work.
When any of us push our feelings back inside (suppress them) we become unwell. People get stomach ulcers and heart disease through stress. We can hide our feelings so much that it changes our internal chemistry and we get ill. Our dogs are no different a change in their internal chemistry comes from suppression of their own feelings, because if they bark they are sprayed or their ears hurt. So what can we do instead?
Instead of “anti” tools we can investigate why our dogs are being a certain way, what they are trying to communicate and why they make the choices they do. Only the worst kind of dog trainers focus on stopping a behaviour without looking at why it’s occurring (the real reasons – here’s a big clue it’s probably not dominance). The best dog people ask the dog what they needs and how they can feel better then plan their training around that. It’s all about Learning from the dog why they make the choices they do, then teaching them to successfully make others instead.
So do I think the anti-barking devices are humane – the answer to that is a resounding no. They are quick fix solutions that upset dogs and force them to suppress how they feel. Anti-everything devices tend to do that. And with kindness, science, empathy and education we have the tools to know and do better.