Are barking collars safe for dogs?

SafeWise experts have years of firsthand experience testing the products we recommend. Learn how we test and review

Anti-barking collars are an aversive behaviour modification tool used to combat problematic barking in dogs. The collar automatically detects barking and shocks, vibrates, beeps, or emits an unpleasant scent to discourage your dog from barking. Many owners use them in conjunction with training, where the dog is praised for not barking.

There are several different types of collars on the market. Even though not all of them are illegal, these collars rely on negative or aversive techniques that instil discomfort and distress, and oftentimes do not address the underlying cause of the barking. They can even make your pup’s issues worse.  

Are they safe?

Anti-bark collars were created in the 1960s as an intentionally painful way to correct the behaviour of hunting dogs. The electric stimulation from shock collars was administered upon barking to discourage negative behaviour and establish control. 

Even though anti-barking collars have evolved, there’s still heated debate around whether they’re considered inhumane. The RSPCA and Australian Veterinary Association denounce them, and in many Australian states, it’s illegal to own a shock collar.

Dogs bark for a specific purpose. Whether they're bored, anxious, frustrated, or just want attention. If you can get to the cause of the barking, you can determine how to resolve it without resorting to an anti-bark collar.

The psychological dangers and negative implications of anti-bark collars are well documented. While anti-bark collars do work, they do not address the root of the problem. As a result, your dog could be worse off than when they started. They could develop fear, anxiety, aggression, and further behavioural issues.

Barking is annoying. There's no doubt about it. But the Australian Veterinary Association urges owners to exhaust positive reinforcement first. Contact a few dog trainers in your area to survey your options, and express your interest in positive reinforcement training to start. 

It’s been heavily shown in scientific literature that positive reinforcement is just as, if not more effective, especially when conducted by professional trainers. If your dog’s behaviour doesn't improve from positive reinforcement training, they should be assessed by a veterinarian. 

Types of anti-barking collars

Electric

Electric collars, or shock collars are now illegal in many countries, like Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Denmark, and parts of Australia. 

They detect the vibration of your dog’s vocal cords when they bark, and send a vibration, shock, or static pulse in response. While electric shock collars appear to bring immediate results, they are not just unpleasant but painful and frightening to your dog.

There are also major safety concerns, especially if they fall into the hands of an inexperienced trainer. Even if shock collars do work for your dog, you need to be aware of the long-lasting psychological and physical repercussions. They can occasionally cause thermal burns, especially if the collar has been left on for too long or has not been fitted properly. You can also expect your dog to develop long-term stress, fear, anxiety, and increased aggression, even if they did not previously show such behaviour.

A study conducted by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine showed that four of the eight dogs that tested an electric bark collar just kept on barking. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific research that proves shock collars jeopardize the physical and mental health of dogs that use them. Panic, fear, aggression, and stress are common outcomes when compared to those achieved through positive reinforcement

Dr Ann-Margarent Withers is a veterinarian and the Senior Manager of RSPCA NSW’s Outreach Programs. She says, “These collars also cause psychological damage as they punish an anxious animal and make them more anxious. The dog’s fear of whatever is causing it to bark is often so great they will continue to bark despite the pain caused by the electric shock – this just feeds back and makes the fear and anxiety worse for the dog, causing real psychological damage”.  

It can be tempting to reach for the shock collar, especially if you aren't aware of the psychological and mental toll it can take on your dog. For many owners, shock collars are a last resort. However, there’s ample research to show that using shock collars on previously unaggressive dogs can lead them to present aggressive behaviours. If you’ve tried positive reinforcement training, chat with your vet. There are an overwhelming amount of treatment options for hard-headed dogs without having to resort to a shock collar.

Citronella

Citronella collars emit a plant-based oil to distract dogs while they bark. This anti-bark collar uses a small microphone to detect when they bark and automatically releases the scent as needed. The same study conducted by Cornell University found that all dog owners who used citronella collars found them to be effective at reducing nuisance barking. 

However, this microphone can be pretty sensitive. If you have multiple dogs at home or neighbours with loud dogs, the collar could trigger when your dog isn’t barking, punishing them for something they didn't do. 

Ultrasonic

Ultrasonic collars can work for pets in a multi-dog household. These collars use a high-pitched sound instead of a vibration or smell to distract your dog from barking. Before using ultrasonic or citronella collars consult your vet or a qualified dog trainer. We’d highly recommend exhausting all positive reinforcement training methods before resorting to an anti-bark collar. 

Humane ways to stop excessive barking

There is no conclusive evidence to illustrate that punishment-based methods are more effective than positive reinforcement-based methods of training. Try the following before purchasing an anti-bark collar. 

Prioritise training. Get your pup enrolled in the local puppy school, or enlist the help of a dog trainer if your pooch is particularly stubborn. Keep training sessions short, positive, and upbeat. If your dog barks while in their crate, wait until they’ve stopped barking, even just for a second, then reward them. Eventually, they’ll catch on that being quiet in the crate = treat time. 

Do your research. Some breeds are more energetic and vocal than others (if you have a husky, this might ring true). While nurture can prevail over nature, sometimes its just in your dog's blood. For example, its not uncommon for German Shepherds to have problems with excessive barking. They were bred to protect livestock, so their natural instinct is to bark to protect their territory. 

Keep them tired. Make sure your dog is getting enough physical and mental exercise each day. Walks and enrichment activities can help tire your dog out, and a tired dog is less likely to bark from boredom or frustration. 

Consider behaviour counselling. If your dog has generalised or separation anxiety using an anti-bark collar could make them more anxious and stressed. Consult a dog behaviour specialist to get to the root of the problem and devise a treatment plan.

Final word

No matter how annoying it is, barking is a normal dog behaviour. There are instances where barking is expected. If you have someone new in the house, or there’s a wild animal in the yard outside, for example. But anti-barking collars should not be your first port of call. Prioritise positive reinforcement training or enlist the expertise of a qualified dog trainer before you start entertaining aversive training methods. 

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

Recent Articles