A bark collar is a corrective device used to discourage a dog's excessive or inappropriate barking. The dog's owner places the bark collar around the animal's neck and activates a battery-powered unit containing a small microphone. As soon as the dog barks, the microphone activates one of several methods for correction. The goal is to condition the dog to equate excessive barking with immediate negative feedback. No bark collar should cause permanent pain or injury to a pet, and should never be used if the barking is a symptom of fear or separation anxiety.
Dogs bark for a number of reasons- fear, separation anxiety, territorial invasion, response to other dogs, etc. This behavior is instinctual and should rarely be 'trained out' to the point of silence. But many dog owners find themselves at odds with neighbors because of night-time barking or excessive barking during minor events. Keeping a dog's barking under control may require some stronger measures than a squirt gun or shouted commands.
The bark collar considered most humane contains a spray can filled with a citronella-based fluid. When the microphone detects both loud barking and vibration from the dog's throat, a battery-powered sprayer sends out a burst of citronella towards the dog's snout. Dogs find the scent of citronella to be very disagreeable, but the spray won't reach the eyes or burn the skin. Dogs wearing a citronella-based bark collar soon make the connection between loud barking and a dose of foul-smelling spray.
A second form of negative reinforcement is static electricity. This is perhaps the most controversial form of bark collar sold today. A pair of rechargeable 6 volt batteries lead to a set of metal probes on the collar itself. The owner can adjust the level of stimulus from 1 to 10, starting with the lowest setting which evokes a response from the dog. When the microphone detects barking and vibration, the dog receives a quick jolt of static electricity. This would be the equivalent of a human touching a doorknob after walking across a carpet. The static electricity stings momentarily, stopping the unwanted barking and conditioning the dog to modify his or her behavior.
The third most common form of correction on a bark collar is ultrasonic sound. Once a bark is detected, a transmitter on the collar sends out a loud noise in a range only dogs can hear. This would be the equivalent of an owner shouting at the dog for correction. Of the three most common bark collar methods, ultrasonic sound is considered to be the least effective. Dogs can become accustomed to extraneous sounds and not feel compelled to modify their behavior.
Bark collars should not be used on puppies or dogs lighter than two or three pounds. If the barking is triggered by genuine fear or anxiety, other corrective methods should be explored first. Dogs should learn to ignore routine territorial invasions and common noises. If a bark collar becomes necessary for the sake of other humans, it should never be used for more than eight hours. If the dog's owner is in the house, other corrective measures should be used first.