September 23, 2010
Silencing Your Gun Dog With Today's Anti-Bark Collars
Almost everyone with a gun dog probably has had that midnight phone call from one of the neighbors complaining about your barking pooch out in its backyard kennel. Or maybe there has been a knock on your motel room door from some fellow traveling hunter asking if you could control your dog's sleep-disturbing barking out in the back of your truck or in the confines of your dog trailer.
Or perhaps at home your dog wildly barks whenever the doorbell rings or the kids next door run through your backyard. In other words, if you own a gun dog, you probably have had, do have or will have some sort of a problem with barking.
Good Barking (the Alarm Type) Vs. Bad Barking (the Annoying Kind Caused by Anxiety)
Anyone with a gun dog in the house or outside kennel knows about barking. But not everyone knows why dogs bark or that there are specific types or kinds of barking, some of which are good while others are bad.
Good barking usually is the alarm type or a dog's natural instinct to warn everyone of something out of the ordinary that may be threatening to the status quo--a strange person walking past or into a dog owner's property, a loose dog wandering into a resident dog's territory, or some other possible danger created by changes in the immediate environment. Any of these can trigger a bout of practical barking designed to alert anyone who is listening to pay attention to a change in the ordinary that could be important.
Bad barking, on the other hand, is often created by avoidable canine anxiety, such as a dog made distraught by unrelieved confinement, loneliness, boredom, lack of exercise, or some other form of frustration that is signaled by barking.
These vocalizations of the bad kind can become habitual, excessive, and socially disturbing whether the dog lives in town or way out in the country.
In many cases, any uncontrolled barking can lead to problems in the family, in the neighborhood, or in the general community around home as well as on any trips to training grounds or to hunting sites.
Both good and bad barking need to be managed by shaping and controlling canine barking behavior through standard training methods reinforced with modern e-collars and by today's high tech bark collars.
Teaching Your Dog To Be Quiet On Command
Telling a barking dog to be "quiet" goes against a canine's natural instincts to announce a cause for concern that any dog may feel is necessary to share with its owner. Nowadays, however, most dog owners do not always share that concern and so prefer to control canine barking in a variety of circumstances.
Teaching a dog to be quiet when told is an important part of any dog's learning process and an important facet of its lifelong behavior pattern. A canine that won't be quiet on command can create a lifetime of trouble for itself and its owner.
Methods For Teaching "Quiet"
With five 70-pound-plus Spinone Italianos in the house, Lena Amirian needs to have control over their barking. "When my dogs are still puppies, I use a gentle hands-on method to get each pup to understand that barking is okay in some circumstances but not tolerated in others. By grasping a barking dog's muzzle, giving it a firm but not painful squeeze, and repeating the 'quiet' command, I can establish a clear connection between the bark and the correction," Amirian says.
Timing is essential in Amirian's method of "quiet" training, with the squeezed muzzle correction applied at the same moment or within a few seconds of the dog's spontaneous barking. "To most efficiently make the bark control lessons work, I have someone sneak up to the house door and knock loudly while one of the pups is sitting right in front of me. On the third bark, I'll apply hand pressure to the muzzle and at the same moment give the 'quiet' command. Within a few of these training episodes, most all dogs start to associate the firm but gentle muzzle squeeze with the word 'quiet'," Amirian has found.
Changing the places for the lessons in teaching compliance to the "quiet" command is important so that the dog in training connects the learning experience with a variety of locations, "including the outside kennels, in vehicles, in dog trailers, in motel rooms, or in the houses of other people," Amirian advises.
"Once a dog regularly obeys the 'quiet' command in many places, then an e-collar and a bark collar can be used to reinforce the learned behavior."
Using An E-Collar
Once a dog has been taught the "quiet" command with the hands-on muzzle squeeze and other follow-up methods, the standard e-collar can be used to reinforce these traditional lessons in controlled bark behavior. "After I'm sure a dog knows the meaning of 'quiet' and will comply with the word up close, I'll increase the distance of the dog from me and use a low-level nick on the e-collar to ensure obedience," says Ed Erickson from Autumn Breeze Kennel in Isle, Minnesota.
This long distance e-collar reinforcement is useful, for example, in the middle of the night when a dog out in the kennel starts to bark for no clear reason. "If the barking is caused by loneliness, boredom, or some other form of canine anxiety, I just turn on the light in my kitchen, open the door and tell the dog 'quiet' followed by a low impulse nick that reinforces the 'stop barking' message," Erickson says.
"In most cases the dog will cut the noise, go back into its house, and stay there all night without any further disturbance. Eventually most dogs will quit unnecessary barking when they see the lights in the house go on, which is a convenient way to control the barking syndrome," Erickson adds.
By combining the use of the e-collar with the bark collar, Erickson feels he can condition any dog to avoid nuisance barking caused by normal anxiety and to do alarm barking only when necessary. "This training program has worked for many of my clients who bring dogs here with serious barking problems. If they understand this collar conditioning program and consistently apply it back home, their family, neighbors and dog will be a lot happier," Erickson says.
"If a nicked dog keeps on barking, I will go out to see if something really disturbing or threatening is happening. On a couple of these occasions, I've found wolf tracks in the winter snow and bear tracks in spring mud," Erickson remembers. "In other instances, I've found nothing except a dog that barks for attention. That's when I'll start to use a bark collar to break the anxiety caused barking habit," Erickson points out.
Ways To Use a Bark Collar
When Judy Nel
son came home at 1:00 a.m. last July, her unhappy next door neighbor called to say that Jack, Judy's two-year-old vizsla, had been barking on and off for the last three hours. Though he had been taught to be quiet on command when barking, this time when the neighbor shouted "quiet" from his kitchen window, Jack would not stop his noise making.
So Nelson went out to her kennel with a bark collar but noticed that her dog's attention was focused on the neighbor's property. That is when Nelson saw a thin stream of smoke leaking out of a partially opened garage window. A quick phone call alerted the neighbor to a pile of oily rags in a garbage can, rags that apparently had started to burn by spontaneous combustion.
The next morning the grateful neighbor was given Jack's bark collar along with permission to put it on the dog whenever he felt a barking problem had developed.
"Would you like to use my bark collar on your golden retriever so we all could get some sleep?" the golden's owner was asked at a motel in South Dakota last year on the night before the opening day of the pheasant season. Because one of the hunters sharing the motel room was allergic to canine dander, the otherwise quite-at-home house dog was stuck in the back of the Suburban where, in a fit of separation anxiety, he was barking his head off and his lungs out. The bark collar provided a quick but temporary fix for the problem.
Home alone with Kate, the family's five-year-old springer spaniel, late last winter at midnight, Linda Schmidt glimpsed a man's face peeking into her kitchen window. A moment later, a knock at the back door set Kate into a barking frenzy which caused the knocking to stop and the person at the door to apparently disappear.
When the police arrived and looked around the perimeter of the house, they found in the new snow footprints of someone who had gone to every door and window, probably looking for easy open access into the house. Though Kate has a bark collar she wears in the kennel to curtail anxiety-based barking, she has been taught to be quiet in the house--unless some prowler is lurking outside and peeking in the windows.
How Bark Collars Work
The standard bark collar has a pair of probes that come into contact with a dog's skin to deliver a mild electrical stimulation activated by the sound and/or the vibration of a canine's bark. Most dogs, when they feel the short burst of painless but unpleasant electrical impulse, will stop barking. The power levels of the stimulation are adjustable either manually or automatically on the collar's built-in transmitter, which also contains the batteries that may be replaceable or rechargeable.
For most dogs, a bark collar is an effective and efficient deterrent to barking (and howling) because the vocalization creates the correction, which can be avoided by simply being quiet. Some modern collars have a feature that will allow a dog a couple of barks with a grace period of a few seconds before the electrical stimulation kicks in. This way a short-term practical good "alarm" bark can be given and prolonged socially annoying and bad "anxiety" barking can be discouraged.
Some collars also have an automatic power increase triggered by continual barking which escalates to a level with enough intensity to make the dog too uncomfortable to continue with vocalization.
The canine wearing a bark collar, therefore, teaches itself not to bark with a training system that is consistent and humane. Though all brands of bark collars operate on these simple principles, every brand has special features that the buyer needs to consider.
A gun dog barking out of control because of "anxiety" can create turmoil in your family, hard feelings with your neighbors, and big problems for you on a hunting trip. "Alarm" barking, however, can be a big benefit that can serve to protect your family, guard your neighborhood, and alert you to dangers when on the road away from home. All barking, whether bad or good, needs somehow to be managed by a dog's owner.
By choosing the right bark collar and knowing how to best use these training devices, any gun dog owner can have a canine that will be able to bark when necessary and to be quiet when quiet is required.