Dog Bark Collar Basics
Dog Bark Collar Basics
Dog bark collars work by detecting your dog's bark and responding with a correction (aka stimulation). The correction communicates to the dog that barking is undesirable, and will be punished. By providing an immediate negative consequence, an effective collar should quickly teach a dog to stop barking.
To be effective, a suitable bark collar should be chosen. The two most important factors for anti-bark collars are the type of correction (electric, citronella, or ultrasonic) and the type of bark sensor (sound, vibration, or dual).
The correction provides negative feedback to deter future barking. An effective correction must be strong enough to deter future barking, but should not be so intense that it overwhelms the dog and leads to nervous behavior. The primary objective is to find the minimum stimulation level to stop problem barking. The three most common types of correction are electric (generally most effective), citronella, and ultrasonic (generally least effective).
Electric Bark Collars
Electric bark collars give the dog a static shock when they bark. The shock is a startling sensation that feels similar to the shock humans receive when touching a door knob after walking on carpet.
Many electric dog collars have multiple correction levels that are either manually set, or automatically set by the collar. Basic progressive collars simply start at the lowest level and progress up one level each time the dog barks within 30 seconds. The better collars actively learn what level is necessary to stop the dog barking and will automatically go to the correct level - raising or lowering the correction level as they get more experience with the dog.
We strongly prefer electric bark collars for most problem barkers. We find that while the milder corrections like citronella and ultrasonic may seem more humane they aren't strong enough to have in impact on most dogs. We find it preferable to use a stronger correction a couple of times and have the dog immediately modify the behavior, than to have a weaker correction that the dog will spend months fighting and getting repeatedly corrected by a milder citronella or ultrasonic correction.
The primary disadvantage of electric bark collars is that they must be well fitted for the dog to receive the correction. The collar probes must touch the dog's skin in order for the dog to get the correction. For dogs with thick and/or long hair, you may need to thin out the dog's hair with some scissors in order to ensure a proper fit. It is also a good idea to keep the area clean and clear to monitor for any irritation. If irritation on the dog's skin is visible, remove the bark collar. Bark collars are not intended to be worn for extended periods.
To learn more, check out our Electric Dog Bark Collar Reviews
Citronella Bark Collars
Citronella bark collars (spray collars), squirt a mist of citronella at the dog's nose ever time they bark. The unpleasant smell of the citronella and the sensation of getting wet is meant to deter the dog from barking.
The advantage of citronella collars is that they emit a mild intervention that is unlikely to create fearfulness in a dog. The mildness of the correction is also one of their biggest disadvantages. Many dogs aren't affected by the citronella spray and realize that if they bark 20-30 times in succession they will empty the collar and can then bark unhindered. The collars also become less effective over time as the dogs get used to the smell and sensation of being sprayed and start to find it less unpleasant. The refills for citronella spray collars cost around $10 and the ongoing expense and inconvenience of refilling the collars also counts against this type of collar.
Citronella collars, with their mild correction, are most useful with timid dogs or very light barkers where a very gentle correction will be enough to stop their barking. A good test is to use a squirt bottle and squirt water on the dog when they bark to see their reaction. If this method remains effective for a couple of weeks, then a spray collar may be worth trying. If it seems to be ineffective or gets less effective over time then a Citronella collar is unlikely to work and you should consider an electric bark collar.
To learn more, check out our Citronella Bark Collar Reviews
Ultrasonic Bark Collars
Ultrasonic dog bark collars use a high pitched tone to deter barking. The tone, audible to dogs but not humans, is meant to be unpleasant to dogs. However, in practice it rarely works. When an ultrasonic deterrent works, it is typically on the most submissive of dogs.
We generally find ultrasonic devices to be the least effective. The tone is too mild a correction to be create a real deterrent. And the collars are indiscriminate, punishing all dogs nearby not just the dog that barked. The one scenario we find ultrasonic correction to be useful is where you are trying to deter a neighbor's dog from barking. Since the ultrasonic devices don't actually need to be fitted on to the dog's neck and can be placed anywhere nearby, they are worth a try when all else fails.
To learn more, check out our Ultrasonic Dog Bark Collar Reviews
The bark sensor informs the collar when the dog is barking. A sensor is the most important part of the collar. A good sensor makes sure the dog receives the correction consistently every time they bark. Just as importantly, the sensor's job is to eliminate false corrections (i.e., correct the dog when they did not bark).
There are three types of commonly used sensors: sound sensor (generally worst), vibration sensor, and dual sensor (generally best).
The sound sensor uses a microphone to detect barking. This is the oldest and cheapest type of bark sensor and these bark collars are generally less desirable because they are prone to false alarms. The sound sensor can be triggered by any nearby dog barking or other loud noises. They are particularly ill suited to situations where you have multiple dogs or where you have a barking dog next door as the other dogs can set off the sound sensor with their barking, resulting in your dog getting inappropriate corrections.
Vibration Sensors detect movement to determine if your dog is barking. The vibration sensors touch the dog's throat and detect vibrations of the vocal chords when the dog is barking. The primary advantage of this sensor is that it eliminates false alarms from other dogs or loud noises. Consequently, vibration-sensor collars can be used in multi-dog households or where there is a neighboring dog that barks. For this reason vibration collars have become common in mid-range bark collars. The vibration collar must be well fitted on the dog to ensure the vibration detector is contacting the dog's throat. The primary disadvantage of the vibration collar is the occasional false alarm caused by the dog bumping the collar on a hard surface. (e.g. laying down on a hard ceramic floor)
Dual Sensors combine both sound and vibration sensors. Using two independent detection methods, both sensors need to agree in order for the collar to be triggered. Dual-sensor collars typically have a very low rate of false alarms. For this reason, topo of the line collars utilize dual-sensor technology. One minor disadvantage of dual sensors is that the collar may occassionally miss a bark because both sensors were not triggered. Although the dual sensor collars are not perfect, we prefer a collar that may periodically miss a bark to a collar that emits a false correction.
Bark collars come in a variety of sizes ranging from very large to the very small. When intended for use with a dog weighing 12 lbs or less, you need to use a collar specifically designed for little dogs. These collars are smaller, lighter, and utilize a reduced correction level suitable for smaller dogs. Regular sized collars tend to be too heavy for smaller dogs. Our favorite small dog collar is the PetSafe Little Dog Bark Collar.
We don't find the opposite to be true. Large dog collars are no better than regular collars for use with larger dogs. We find you get just as good results using a regular sized bark collar with large dogs and usually for a lower price.
Bark collars use three different types of battery:
- Rechargeable - rechargeable collars let you plug the collar into a wall outlet and recharge the battery. We generally prefer rechargeable collars due to the lower cost and the convenience. However, it pays to make sure the collar has a long battery life and a fast recharge time.
- Generic Disposable - collars using regular disposable batteries (batteries available at any grocery store) are the next most preferable. While there is still an expense associated with buying new batteries, the cost is usually significantly less than collars that use a proprietary battery. These collars are generally less expensive than the rechargeable collars, so often the total cost is comparable to a rechargeable collar.
- Proprietary Disposable - a few collars use proprietary disposable batteries (throw-away batteries made by the collar manufacturer). These batteries are much more expensive than regular disposable batteries, typically costing between $5 - $10. Proprietary batteries are also more difficult to find, which means you need to keep a few extra batteries on hand. We generally advise against using collars with proprietary disposable batteries when you have are good alternative.