barbaric yawps, all the livelong day
March 10, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

How can we keep our dogs from barking at everything they see beyond our fence? Getting an opaque fence will surely help, at least in the short term, but we really need to address the root behavior. Are anti-bark collars an effective, humane option?

We have some serious barky dogs (a Basset and a mutt, aged 4 and 3) that we have got to teach to be quiet.

What was once an annoyance has become an imperative as the new neighbor runs an in-home daycare for developmentally disabled adults and our dogs are traumatizing the crap out of them. (It wasn't a problem this winter, because nobody was outside much, but now that the weather it's better, it's pandemonium.) The dogs bark at EVERYTHING--other dogs, birds, woodland critters, people across the creek, the stray cats in the woods, plastic bags dancing in the breeze. Not only does it scare the neighbors, it's pretty annoying for us, too, because we don't get any peace, either.

I'm sure a big part of the problem is that they feed off of each other--one starts barking, then the other one goes, and it just escalates. Spray bottles work okay in the house, but it's not always practical to supervise them outside. I like the principle of the anti-bark collar--it will reinforce good behavior/correct bad behavior when we're not around--but I don't know how effective or humane they are.

Does anyone have any ideas? We would love to be able to leave the dogs outside while we're at work so they can run around (our house is TINY) but obviously the barking has got to stop before we can do that.
posted by thinkingwoman to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is obedience training out of the question?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:35 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our citronella collar was very effective. After two sprays, my dog stopped barking in the house entirely. It seemed like the most humane solution to me.
posted by pineappleheart at 12:41 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes, pineappleheart has it. Those citronella collars are great for our barky dogs- totally humane also.
posted by TheBones at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My parents used the anti bark collars many years ago, and they really did work great. The vet said that it doesn't hurt them as much as it surprises them... but I think I'd chech with a few more vets before I'd stick them on my puppies now.

I second for obedience training. Barky dogs tend to be insecure dogs, and a qualified trainer would have a better chance at settling what ever is going on in their little doggy brains.
posted by Blisterlips at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2011

Do you have time to run them like with a bike, or at the dog park, or whatever? The more tired my dog is (and others in the past) the less barky she is. As they say, a tired dog is a good dog.
posted by rockindata at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2011

Best answer: As a Basset owner who has spent a LOT of time researching how to put a cork in it - as far as that breed goes, it is really really really hard to stop them from barking when something triggers it, and I'd suggest going straight to the Citronella collar and spare yourself the hours of iffy positive-reinforcement training that doesn't work for a breed that's usually food- and rarely praise-motivated, and not even trying to train what they were born and bred to do out of them. And don't be surprised if it doesn't work, because mine would, no doubt, just bark more at the surprising thing around her neck.
posted by peagood at 1:08 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We have trained them. They know about four or five basic commands, although they are not as good with distractions (outside). They are good with other dogs up close, I think it's just a "Hey, there's a dog! Come play!" kind of bark, not an aggressive bark.

We do try to keep them tired but a health problem has kept me home and inside most of the time. Part of the problem is definitely that we are probably too busy to be the world's best dog owners, although they are pretty good about tiring themselves out in the yard chasing each other.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:11 PM on March 10, 2011

Best answer: The Automatic No-Bark Collar from Innotek is amazingly effective. When our now 13 month old German Shepherd was about 7 months old - she started barking at everything - just a phase but neighbours starting complaining. We consulted our breeder (who is also our trainer) and she suggested this collar and it has completed stopped her barking when she has the collar on when she is in the backyard (its all about context). The collar only goes on when she is in the yard - it comes off as soon as she is in the house. I was somewhat concerned that she would stop barking altogether, but she still barks when someone comes to the front door and when we are doing protection work with her - we want her to bark under these circumstances and she is rewarded accordingly.

I was worried about the intensity of the "shock" so I actually tried it on myself - the shock was not painful - it was more startling than anything. I would not hesitate to try it on any dog that barks incessantly.
posted by Minos888 at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Like Minos888, my parents got a No-Bark Collar for their Brit who barked incessantly when they left. It worked beautifully, and she just got to the point where she wouldn't start to bark when the collar was on.

I've heard mixed reviews of the cintronella - works well for some, gives others an overwhelmingly lemon-fresh barky dog.
posted by ldthomps at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yup, citronella. Works like a charm, although it eats batteries. I did have one small dog who learned to move her head when she barked so the spray wouldn't get her. But for not so clever or persistent dogs, it's great.
posted by walla at 3:26 PM on March 10, 2011

They are good with other dogs up close, I think it's just a "Hey, there's a dog! Come play!" kind of bark, not an aggressive bark.

Not an answer to your original Q, thinkingwoman, but for the record: watching how other dogs react to the bark will confirm this. Dogs can read barks; we are mostly illiterate to the language. If a dog that is already aware of your dog's presence approaches, wags a tail, or even turns to face with ears *up*, it's a friendly bark. Ears drop, tail drops, shoulders square - not so much.

I think our barking-illiteracy is one of the major problems that rottweilers and pit bulls face. Their entire vocabulary sounds to us like "GODDAMMITI'MGOINGTOEATYOURFACEYOULITTLEPUKE", even when they often are saying "Hey! I'm Friendly! Please Scritch! Please!", or just "Hi".
posted by IAmBroom at 3:49 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Back to the OP: it may not help at all with born-to-bark bassetts, but a great piece of advice I got from my fave dog book was to praise my dog for barking, then shush him. The praise seems to assure him that I heard his message. Contrarily, yelling at him to shush never, ever silences his "Someone's coming!" bark.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:52 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would not use a shock collar for this - they can have unintended consequences, including having the dogs associate the people with the shock, instead of the barking (and the dogs may even become aggressive towards each other because of redirected aggression). Citronella is not painful, just distracting, and works better. But no bark collar really works without backing up the interruption of the barking with reinforcement (and the paperwork that comes with them tells you this specifically). Is there some reason the dogs have to be outside so much? I do not think that the solution here is really related to controlling the barking, I think it is related to controlling the environment.
posted by biscotti at 5:01 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your dogs are remotely intelligent, it is ABSOLUTELY mandatory that you let them wear the collar for DAYS before you put any citronella into it. They must not learn to associate the collar with the response, or they will have to wear the collar 24x7.
posted by TomMelee at 5:04 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

We taught our Basset Hound to howl on command (unfortunately the "command" is us howling but still) and rewarded him each time with a piece of bacon or cheese or something else awesomely delicious to him. In true basset fashion he now can not be bothered to bark or howl unless someone is standing next to him, showing him a treat. It was cheaper than a citronella collar.
posted by Saminal at 5:26 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @biscotti - yeah, the dogs need outside time for a lot of reasons...our house is very small, the big dog loves to run (faster than either one of us--she can walk nicely at our pace, but man, all she wants to do is run), we rarely get home from work in time to take them to the dog park before it closes, and they like being outside (when they're not begging the disabled people to come over to play--oh, god, i am the worst neighbor ever.) we are hoping to move to a better place, where we plan to put in privacy fencing, but we can't do that in this house (long story) and anyway, it's behavior we'd like to curb anyway.

over the past couple of years, we've learned that when we leave them out while we're at work, we come home to tired, happy, hungry dogs who can mellow out with us in the evening. it's a great solution if we can just address the barking. i'm sure they barked a lot before, but the old neighbors were at work during the day and it didn't bother anyone at the time--but now that it does, we have to do something about it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:13 PM on March 10, 2011

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