We're at our wits end with our dog's barking – he barks aggressively (meaning that if I didn't know him I would feel like he might be a threat if he got out) at pretty much anyone who goes by. He really goes crazy if they are walking a dog.

So far we've tried:

  • Consulting with a dog behavioralist who suggested a positive reinforcement regime (see @Mario's answer below for a good description of the strategy). After months of trying we haven't seen any appreciable change in his behavior. I'd really like for this to work, it seems like the "right" approach – but we've had almost no success with this approach.
  • Using ultra-sonic "birdhouses" that are supposed to make an unpleasant sound in the area around a barking dog (the fence line in our case). It was really hard to tell, but the change, if any was very minor.
  • Using a collar with a citronella spray. He smelled lovely but it had zero impact, we could see it spraying as he went charging at the fence in full voice.
  • Using a Garmin Bark Limiter Deluxe shock collar (this model was recommended by a friend who found that it worked very well with her dogs). This works – he has stopped barking "cold turkey."

However, we've noticed other changes in our dog's behavior that make me think that the message he's getting from the collar isn't "stop barking" but something more like "stop getting excited about life." That's not what we want – he's a funny dog with a huge range of expressive vocalizations (a moan for when he sees something he wants but can't reach, whines, a very soft "just so you know" bark, growling when he plays, etc.), he used to get very excited when his people came home, he also seems less engaged and energetic when playing with dog friends.

This leads me to think that his barking at passers by was motivated by something in common with the other behaviors (e.g., not by defending his territory) and that he's suppressing all excitement (and thus not barking) rather than learning that extended barking is not a "socially acceptable" way to express his excitement.

So, I have two questions:

  1. Does anyone know of a bark collar that allows "fine grained" control of when it shocks? For example, I'd like to be able to:
    • Adjust triggering based on bark volume/attack.
    • Adjust triggering based on bark frequency.
    • Set a audible or tactile warning.
    • Be able to select the type/intensity of correction.
    • Have a correction "ramp" (increasing intensity of correction with frequency or volume of barking – decaying during silent intervals).
  2. Does anybody have ideas about how to help the dog understand that the behavior we are trying to correct is the barking (as opposed to suppressing excitement)?

I'd try to avoid collars in general. While negative enforcement can work, it's hard to transport the message. Does the dog really understand the shock is due to him barking (might improve behavior) or is it due to someone passing by (making it worse)?

I'd try the following:

  • Get some treats the dog really loves, maybe even stops anything else just to get it. Make it exclusive to these exercises for a while.
  • Get the help of a "stranger" for this. This can be a relative, a coworker, etc. Basically someone the dog would bark at.
  • Let them pass your yard, talk in a calm way to both the dog and the "stranger", while you try to get the barking to stop without using tools.
  • If you make advancements, the "stranger' might even bring some of the treats with them. In this case it would be ideal for the dog waiting for your approval, but for the given situation this might be secondary.
  • If you know the dog won't bite and just bark, the "stranger" could later on also enter the yard with you and try kneeling down or even sitting on the floor signaling no threat.
  • If you make advancements, try replacing the "stranger" to teach the dog this isn't exclusive to that one person.
  • Always keep in mind this will take some time and you won't fix the issue in a week or two.
  • The basic idea is to tell the dog using this positive reinforcement that strangers aren't necessarily bad and there might even be something good waiting for them.

What you should never do:

  • Get angry at the dog out and shout at them. They might actually think you are barking at the strangers as well, further supporting the behavior.
  • Give up. Always remember the dog most likely doesn't have any malicious intentions. They just want to protect both their pack and territory.
  • This was the first approach we tried (and keep coming back to), but we haven't been able to make it work. I'm also puzzled by how the dog sorts out the positive "corrections" if it can't sort out the negative ones. Does that make sense? – dlu Aug 5 at 7:21
  • Was few lessons with behaviorist who showed you how to act? I would say it's strange that nothing changed, so I would suspect you are doing something wrong/not being strict with what you want from dog. It can be something small. Could you elaborate how you train with positive reinforcement? Also any type of collar won't cure the reason why he's doing it. So even if it would work once you take it of, he will go back to what was before – Shirru Aug 6 at 12:22

Was there no remote control to the collar?

As you correctly guessed, the collar activates too often and punishes your dog for actions he should not be punished for like being excited when visitors come and playing with other dogs.

The description of the collar says something about measuring vibrations in the dogs throat and activating when these vibrations are too strong. But barking, yapping, growling, whining and all the many sounds a dog makes when playing all cause vibrations. You dog cannot comprehend that he is punished for making sounds, he thinks he is punished for having fun or for his usual vocalizations. I honestly think this is a dangerous thing and can lead to depression. Therefore:

Please don't use your current collar any more. It either doesn't detect "real barking" very well or just doesn't fit the personality of your dog. Maybe read the manual carefully to see if you can adjust the threshold of the shock activation.

If you use a device that punishes your dog for something, you should have more control about it. I saw the same kind of collars equipped with a remote. The collars either punish by vibrations or by electro shocks, both adjustable in intensity and only activated by pushing the remote button.

Intensify the effect of the punishment by blocking him from his barking spot (if he has such a spot and you can access it without problems):

  • Dog runs to the fence and barks
  • While he's still running, you loudly call a warning word like "Don't you dare"
  • If he doesn't stop, you activate the collar
  • At the same time, you walk swiftly, but without running, to the fence and stand in the place where your dog wants to stand and bark
  • Look at him and tell him "no", send him back to the house
  • If he tries to stand in his barking spot, push him away with your leg (please don't kick him, pushing is enough).
  • At no point is there any running or chasing around involved. Stay calm, strong and stubborn. If your dog runs around, stay in the most intense spot and don't budge.

That way you claim the barking spot for yourself and in a figurative sense the right to bark. You tell him "This is not your spot anymore and barking is not your job anymore".

Maybe you don't need a collar at all after the last "shocking" days for your dog?

  1. Does anyone know of a bark collar that allows "fine grained" control of when it shocks?

I would suggest a manual trigger (remote) instead of an automatic one. Find the right automatic trigger for your dog's particular volume is going to be tricky.

A friend of mine bought a collar on amazon with 3 settings: beeping, vibration, shock. It's not an automatic collar, you simply use a remote to give the appropriate response.

I've seen it used on 3 dogs, one of whom was willfully disobedient (as a matter of making a point to ignore its master). Vibration always worked as well as shocks, my friend never needed to resort to shocks for any of the dogs.

  1. Does anybody have ideas about how to help the dog understand that the behavior we are trying to correct is the barking (as opposed to suppressing excitement)?

Your dog identifies the collar as a punishment. He's actually taking it too far, considering that he's being punished for being who he is, rather than what he does.

So you need to reframe the message. Don't make him wear the collar non-stop. Take it off, and only put it on directly after a barking incident that crosses the line.
Eventually, your dog will put two and two together and realize that the collar goes on after he barks.

However, I would suggest the remote-controlled collar. It retains the possibility to give instant feedback (when he charges the fence), as opposed to you having to run after him to put the collar on.
It also allows you to selectively punish him. For example, if he barks (once) because you stepped on his tail, you shouldn't punish him. However, an automatic collar would not be able to distinguish context and would unfairly punish the dog for something it didn't cause.

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