Shock. Just the word sounds awfully nasty. Even nastier, the thought of putting a shock collar on your beloved canine companion. I didn’t like the idea, but something had to be done.
I have four dogs. Two are officially mine, while the other two were inherited when my then-husband and I combined families. My dogs are a Redbone coonhound cross (if you don’t know what that is, watch Where the Red Fern Grows) and a Walker Coonhound/Pitbull cross.
The Walker/Pit came to live with me in the very beginning of 2004, a rescue from the local shelter. The Redbone has been with me since he was two days old and I at the tender age of nine. Yep, I bottle-fed that pup and we were raised more like siblings than a master/pet thing. That particular Redbone used to go with me everywhere and get 24/7 attention, and I never heard him bark until he was three years old and a squirrel ran up a tree right in front of him. The Walker/Pit is quiet and very laid-back, so between the two I rarely had trouble with barking.
Add a snotty little Aussie and a hyper Chesapeake Bay retriever into the mix, along with long hours away from home in which the dogs are alone outside in the kennel, a significant other to take my attention away from my beloved pets that are used to my undivided attention, and more recently a son and a home business, and you get some very neglected-feeling dogs.
At first it wasn’t bad. My then-husband’s aussie barked when she felt like it, but generally hushed when we told her to.
Then it got worse.
Our next door neighbor disliked dogs and called animal control on every dog on the block with barking complaints. Animal control doesn’t care if they bark once or constantly, if someone complains you get a warning. Normally this wouldn’t be bad, we know the animal control officer well (it’s a small town) and she knows we take good care of our pets, which is the main reason she chose to overlook the fact that with the combining of our families we were now over the ordinance-decreed limit of two dogs per household. The ordinance, in my opinion, is stupid and out-of-line and most people in the town ignore it – law enforcement included – but if there are complaints they can’t turn a blind eye.
We were facing a citation and possibly having to give up two of our dogs who are like family members, I was eight months pregnant when this all started, our sewer line had just collapsed, and it was November. Not a good time to be facing fines. So we talked to animal control and she cut us some slack, one last chance.
We invested in these bark collars. They cost $40 apiece, so we ended up buying two for the two noisiest dogs and switched them around as needed.
The principle of the shock collar is that it gives immediate correction for barking. It should not be used if there is no supervision, as the dog could get caught on something or have some other incident that causes the collar to function improperly. It looks like just a normal collar with a black battery box attached and two nasty-looking posts (or probes) sticking out on the inside.
The collar is to be fitted snugly around the dog’s neck with all other collars and tags removed so that they do not hit against the bark collar and make it go off. The collar is activated by a certain level of vibration in the dog’s throat consistent with barking. It first gives off a warning chirp and a very very light buzz. If the dog continues to bark, which they will until they get the hang of it, the shock gets stronger progressively up five more levels.
I brought these collars home and fitted one to the aussie as she is the most vocal of the group. Not three minutes later she heard people walking by on the sidewalk outside and started to bark…that is, she barked twice then yipped in fright and stopped.
The yip disturbed me, so I took the collar off her and fitted it around my own neck. Yes I know, I’m strange, but I’m not going to make her wear something I’m afraid to try for myself. The first buzz tickled a little, just enough to let you know it’s there. On the sixth and strongest step it gives you a pretty good buzz, but still about half or less the intensity of a regular electric fence (yeah I’ve gotten shocked by those too, they disturb me a little). None of the steps were painful to me, and with her fur protecting her bare skin she probably felt it even less. I concluded that the mild shock had merely startled her and put the collar back on.
The Redbone and the Chesapeake reacted similarly to the collar, startled on the first try but paid attention to it after that. It never seemed to cause them any undue discomfort but it did keep them quiet. The Walker/Pit, on the other hand, got quite scared by it. I don’t know her history except that she was abandoned in the middle of nowhere with no food or water prior to going to the shelter and had been adopted and returned four times since then. Any one of those people could have abused her, and I certainly wasn’t going to make her think I was anything like that, and since she only ever barked when the others did I never used the collar on her again.
For the others I shuffled the collars to the two noisiest over the next couple of months whenever they needed it and it has always been effective…just putting it on makes them behave immediately. At about a month and a half the batteries ran down, but they are easily replaced via a screw-on cover on the back of the battery box.
I know there are other forms of bark control out there including citronella spray collars, but the shock collar was the only one available locally. Left to my own devices I probably would not have bought one for my dogs because they sound horrible, but in a desperate time I tried them and found them to be effective and not at all as “shocking” (mild pun intended) as they sound. My dogs only need occasional re-enforcement on the no-barking policy now, and we don’t have animal control showing up threatening to fine us if we don’t get rid of them, that’s definitely worth the money!