Ultrasonic bark control devices are intended to halt nuisance barking by emitting an annoying tone that only dogs can hear. Ideally, the dog will stop barking after noticing the irritating sound that follows immediately after each bark. The effectiveness of ultrasonic bark control is debatable. While some happy buyers insist that these devices work as advertised, others report no results or even an increase in barking. Most experts agree that ultrasonic bark control works only for some dogs and that it may be inhumane, depending upon the individual dog and the type of device used.
There are several types of ultrasonic bark control devices.
The most common and readily available is mounted on a collar and activates when it detects the sound and/or vibration caused by barking. Some ultrasonic bark collars offer a remote control option allowing the dog's owner or trainer to trigger a sound correction, rather than relying on the collar to determine whether or not the dog is barking excessively.
Indoor noise generation devices are also available. These provide ultrasonic bark control within a variable radius of the device. They may be automatically triggered by barking or remote-controlled by a human.
The third and final type of ultrasonic bark control device is designed for outdoor use. These are sometimes made to look like a birdhouse or other innocuous lawn ornament. Homeowners can aim these ultrasonic noise generators at a neighbour's yard in an attempt to stop the neighbour's dog(s) from barking.
All ultrasonic bark control devices function by emitting a high-pitched tone audible to dogs but inaudible to humans. This tone is intended to act as a deterrent. Ideally, the dog finds the tone unpleasant, associates barking with an unpleasant noise and stops barking. Some models also include an audible "warning tone" option intended to inform a barking dog that a high-pitched sound correction is imminent.
According to a 2001 presentation at the Western Veterinary Conference by Gary M. Landsberg, DVM, "Collars that emit an audible or ultrasonic tone with each bark are occasionally effective, but they are neither noxious nor consistent enough to be a reliable deterrent." Landsberg goes on to point out that reliability and consistency are the two most important attributes of any anti-barking device. A device that activates when the dog isn't barking is useless, as is one that does not activate when the dog is barking.
Professional dog trainer Nancy Freedman-Smith is also unimpressed with ultrasonic bark control devices. After studying a popular outdoor ultrasonic bark control device disguised as a birdhouse, Ms. Freedman-Smith wrote, "In the past three weeks, I have observed both the bird house and many different dogs' reactions to the bird house at length. Not once did I see a dog stop barking from the tones, and I can honestly say it had absolutely no effect on a variety of barking dogs that we brought into the yard to experiment with the product."
Most dog owners and behaviour experts agree that ultrasonic bark control is effective only for some dogs and only if a sound correction is administered promptly following every bark, but never administered when the dog is not barking.
The improper or inconsistent use of punishment is a risky proposition when training dogs. If an ultrasonic bark control device frightens a dog at the wrong moment, he could associate the tone and fear with something entirely unrelated to barking.
This phenomenon was observed by Ms. Freedman Smith when working with a client's dogs. She writes, "I concluded that the PetSafe Bird House did absolutely nothing for the old dog who couldn't even hear it, and the puppy actually barked at it several times. The puppy now avoids that corner of the yard and poops in the middle of the lawn."
Ultrasonic sounds designed to frighten and annoy dogs may have unintended effects ranging from fear and unwanted behaviour changes to an increase in the same barking behaviour that the ultrasonic device is intended to curb. These devices may also confuse and frighten other dogs in the area that are not barking.
The best alternative to ultrasonic bark control devices is training. A well-trained and exercised dog will rarely become a problem barker. The verbal cue, "Quiet," can be trained in order to settle the dog when she does bark. Avoid leaving dogs outdoors without supervision unless you are sure that no barking will occur.
If it is necessary to use a bark control device, several manufacturers offer citronella bark collars. These collars are more effective for most dogs than ultrasonic bark collars. Citronella collars detect barking and respond by releasing a small amount of strong-smelling citronella spray into the air. This distracts the dog from barking and punishes the barking with an uncomfortably strong scent sprayed near the dog's sensitive nose. While training and management are always preferable to a punitive solution, citronella collars can provide humane bark control that is more effective than ultrasonic devices.