If your dog's barking seems out of control and is so consistent and loud that you are getting complaints from the neighbors, you may have given serious consideration to an anti-bark collar. Just because it is sold in stores doesn't mean it is a safe or recommended product. Even what is marketed as the best citronella bark collar has negative effects to consider, and there are safer, more positive alternatives you can use with your pup.
Citronella plants and oils
Citronella is an oil that is derived from the citronella plant, which is related to the lemongrass plant. Citronella is most known for its ability to repel mosquitoes. The oil is commonly found in insect repellents, tiki torch oil, and wax candles. It is also found in some skin moisturizers, perfumes, and soaps.
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Unfortunately, the citronella plant is not one of the dog-friendly mosquito repellent plants that you can include in your landscape. In fact, it is toxic to dogs, and if your pup ingests a large amount of the plant, he may experience side effects, such as depression, hypothermia, vomiting, and weakness.
Citronella oil is not a recommended mosquito repellent for dogs because just as the citronella plant is toxic, so is the essential oil. Toxicity symptoms of citronella bug spray for dogs may include a rash from topical exposure. Ingesting the oil can cause similar symptoms to ingesting the plant.
Citronella dog collars and side effects
Anti-bark collars use a microphone to detect when your dog is barking. Once the collar senses a bark, it emits a spray of citronella oil toward your pet's muzzle. In some cases, the odor of the citronella may work to stop a dog from barking.
Citronella anti-bark collars are marketed as a safe way to control your dog's barking. They contain only small amounts of citronella, so unless your pup chews the collar and ingests the oil, he is unlikely to experience symptoms of toxicity. However, if you opt to use this method, monitor your pet closely for skin irritation and rashes and be sure to clean the oils from your dog's fur at least once a week.
Discuss the safety of citronella oil with your veterinarian before you begin using the collar, especially if you have a pup with medical conditions, such as breathing difficulties.
Other concerns with citronella collars
Keep in mind that you should never use bark collars if you have more than one dog in the house or if there are other dogs in the vicinity. The collar may pick up another dog's bark, creating the possibility of a dog being sprayed with citronella even when she didn't make a sound, which can cause a lot of confusion for your pup.
Another issue is that the microphone generally doesn't pick up high-pitched barks, so it doesn't work on all dogs and may teach your dog to simply change the tone of her bark. Bark collars may stop barking by applying a negative stimulus, but they don't address the cause of the barking, which means the behavior may return when your dog isn't wearing the collar, or the citronella runs out.
Positive reinforcement to manage barking
Understanding why your dog barks can help you develop a plan to address the behavior using positive reinforcement. Some possible types of barks include territorial barking, alarm barking, attention-seeking barking, frustration barking, separation anxiety, or compulsive barking.
Start by setting up your dog for success. If he barks in a car, transport him in a crate. If he barks at the neighbor jogging, consider a plastic film on the window to limit your dog's view. Use positive rewards, like treats, and introduce commands, such as "quiet" or "go to your spot." This allows you to stop the barking on command.
Teaching a dog to stop barking requires a lot of time and patience, especially if you have an adult dog with a long-standing habit of excessive barking. Don't hesitate to consult a professional dog trainer to assist you if needed.