Does your dog wear a bark collar? If so, it would make my day if you removed that collar right now and threw it into the trash can. It’s not necessary, may be harmful behaviorally and physically, and the behavior it is “correcting” has not been changed. The dog is still a problem barker. He or she may be a problem barker who is so harshly punished for barking that the behavior has been suspended, but if the punishment stops, the barking will start again. In other words, electric bark collars enable owners to fail to train their dogs, instead covering up the problem with harsh punishment.
Side Effects of Positive Punishment
Positive punishment is the addition of an unpleasant stimulus in order to decrease or eliminate a behavior. If you spank your child for crying, you are positively punishing the child. Similarly, by forcing your dog to wear a collar that shocks him if he barks, you are positively punishing the dog. Punishment, particularly positive punishment (as opposed to negative punishment by removing a desired stimulus), has behavioral side effects.
These side effects can include aggression, fear, withdrawal, unpredictability and even a near-catatonic state that occurs in some dogs when overwhelmed with punishing stimuli. Bark collars deliver positive punishment when a dog barks. Sometimes this works very well in terms of decreasing the unwanted behavior–the dog understands that barking will be punished by pain. But sometimes, even in dogs that have worn bark collars for years, it doesn’t work as well. A dog that is shocked by his collar for barking at a neighbor may associate the pain with the neighbor instead of with barking, and attack the neighbor next time he sees her. That’s just one of the many ways a bark collar can cause an unwanted behavioral side effect.
Physical Danger of Shock Collars
Would you wear an electroshock device around your throat if you had no hands to remove it, should it malfunction? When I worked at a chain pet store, I processed several returns of bark collars that had stopped functioning properly. Some of these ceased to shock the dog at all. Far more dangerously, others began constantly shocking the dog. Most bark collars adjust their intensity automatically, and when I tested the collars at a higher intensity, the shock was enough to nearly knock me off my feet. A broken collar can set itself to the highest intensity and shock a dog constantly. This could cause severe burns or, if the dog has a heart problem or seizure disorder, might even cause death.
What’s that you say? There’s no danger if you don’t leave a dog unattended with a bark collar on? But if the dog isn’t unattended, why aren’t you training it instead of letting a harsh physical punishment do the “training” for you? Bark collars encourage owners to ignore the root cause of problem barking, rather than correcting the problem through training. A shock collar is a lazy owner’s best friend… until it either injures the dog, causes a behavioral problem, or simply stops working, at which point the owner will undoubtedly realize that no training has been performed.
Instead of shocking your dog, find out what is causing it to bark and deal with the root cause. In most cases, progressive desensitization, adequate exercise and proper socialization will correct problem barking.