Fear & Correctional Collars
This tip specifically addresses a citronella spray collar, but the information applies to all "correctional" collars such as, pinch, prong, choke, or shock. (For more information on the use of electric shock collars in training, click here.)
I have a new poochie that I love and adore who I just adopted almost 2 months ago now. His name is Duncan, he is probably around 2 or 3 years old. He's a Shepherd Mix (German Shepherd, Beagle, Pit Bull, Hound, etc...).
Our biggest challenge that we are facing right now is that he barks at the neighbors and won't chill out when I ask him to (or come back in the house when I call him). I've tried to introduce him a few times, but he just doesn't seem to trust that the neighbors aren't going to hurt him... making me think he may have been abused in the past(?). It gets embarrassing when they are outside trying to enjoy the weather and have company over and my Duncan just constantly barks at them. I try to keep him inside until the coast is clear & then I let him out to do his business, but as the weather warms up, people are staying outside longer & Duncan won't go potty if he's busy barking at people.
My question is basically for any advice or input on this particular challenge that we are facing. Also, I recently saw a product on the market that is a collar to prevent barking, by some sort of spray that comes out. I thought it was a Citronella spray, which leads me to ask if that is a BAD thing, since I saw Citronella candles on your POISON list!
Duncan's Mommy :)
The problem as you describe it indicates that Duncan is indeed concerned about the neighbors.
Helping a dog overcome social fears like Duncan's requires lots of patience and carefully controlled exposure - always keeping him below the point where he becomes worried enough to bark, while pairing the experience with his favorite food treats.
For instance, if you take him on leash out into the yard as far away from the fence line as possible, and he is still upset and barking when he sees the neighbors in their yard, you'd need to first ask your neighbors to also go as far away from the fence line as possible, take Duncan back into the house, then bring him back outside to the furthest point away in your own yard. The point is to start the process with the dog calm, but still exposed to whatever it is that worries him, and to pair that experience with something he absolutely LOVES, gradually taking him closer as he becomes comfortable at the previous distance. Over time he should begin to associate their presence with yummy things and feel better about them. In other words, instead of their presence worrying him, he'll be excited about it because he's learned to associate them with his favorite yummies that are only available when he sees them!
It is important to note that this is a grossly simplified example of the behavior modification techniques known as systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning. You will need the help of a qualified and experienced behavior consultant who can guide you and Duncan through the process. While these techniques are highly effective and widely used to modify fearful behaviors, the challenge and key to swift success is in their proper application and execution.
Now, let's discuss your question regarding citronella collars. As we've already learned, Duncan is concerned about your neighbors and is reacting fearfully toward them. We've also established that in order to help him feel better (and ultimately impact his "I'm concerned" barking behavior) is to associate their presence with good things for Duncan. You can probably see where this is going. If we put a collar on him that squirts a foul-smelling liquid in his face and eyes when he barks at them, he is going to associate (even more than he already does!) unpleasant things with your neighbors. He may or may not bark at them anymore, but one thing is for sure... he will not feel any better about them....in fact he'll feel even worse! A worst case scenario would be that instead of just barking, he begins to growl, lunge or snap at them - yikes! You see, when we are using equipment like spray collars, pinch collars, electronic collars, etc., there is no way to isolate and impact only a dogs behavior - they will also form associations between the environment and whatever is happening to them; the good and the not-so-good. Their behavior becomes an expression of how they feel, based on these associations.
I strongly suggest that you call us directly at 248.588.3222 to speak to a behavior consultant to further discuss Duncan, and map out a plan as soon as possible. If you do not live in the Metro Detroit area, please give us a call so that we can refer you to a qualified professional in your area.
Best of Luck to Both of You, and thanks for writing!
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT