Unethical Dog Ownership: Citronella Spray Bark-Control Collars

dog collar

My sister just called me to recount a disturbing story. She is a dog lover, and knows all of the many dogs in her neighborhood. Passing by the yard belonging to another dog-owning friend, she was greeted by the animal, who obviously recognized her, and was attempting to welcome her with what anyone familiar with dogs would immediately recognize as a happy bark. Every time the dog barked, however, his “bark-control” collar sprayed citronella in his face. My sister said it was obviously frustrating for the dog, who kept barking and wincing. Eventually the owner came out and took the collar off so it could interact with his two-legged friend.

I had never heard of this kind of bark-control collar. The Humane Society disapproves of them as ineffective, but that’s a non-ethical consideration. The devices are cruel, not to mention proof-positive, if you use one, that you should get one of those Japanese robotic dogs instead of the real thing. Never mind that the barking of other dogs can set them off—“Heh, heh! Watch this, Bruno, every time I bark, Lassie’s collar sprays her right in her smug Collie puss!”—it’s frustrating to a canine’s natural desire to communicate, and dogs communicate a lot, and well.

Our Jack Russell Terrier Rugby has  more than twenty distinct barks and even more grunts, whimpers, sighs, and quacks to signify everything from “I want a biscuit!” to “What the hell is that? to “Take me with you!” to “It’s my dog-pal Elphie!” to ” I hate you, you stupid Belgian Shepherds!“and much, much more. Rugby would do very well with one of those dog-translator collars from “Up.” (The Japanese have also invented a dog translator, but your dog has to speak Japanese.)

Learning what your dog is saying with his or her various barks is part of the experience of sharing your life with these amazing animals, and rigging up a device to punish a dog for barking is pet owner malpractice, irresponsible, and wrong.

36 thoughts on “Unethical Dog Ownership: Citronella Spray Bark-Control Collars

  1. My little Pomeranians are yappy, all right. They’re also the happiest and most loving little critters you ever saw. I’d never consider using something like that on them for a moment. I’d just as soon use it on a 2 year old toddler!

  2. We own a Samoyed, a breed whose main disposition is “darned happy to be alive!” For those who don’t know, they are a northern breed related to huskies and malamutes, but actually the closest genetically to the original wolf DNA. Like huskies and other herding/sled-pulling dogs, Samoyeds are extremely vocal, with lots of barking but noted for their Woo-Woos. (We can even get our dog to sing in extended woo-wooing and wolf-like howling. Adorable.) Anyway, their excessive barking, often a sign of excitement and/or happy eagerness, can become very tiresome in the dog show world. Some Samoyed owners who “show” their dogs, and some breeders who have multiple Samoyeds and their offspring, have them surgically de-barked. This is widely accepted in the show dog world, but I find it to be a mutilation, not just a physical one but a psychological one as well. We love our dog too much to do something like that to him. We love his natural high spirits and if barking comes along with that, then so be it.

    Are there times when our dog’s incessant barking begins to hurt our ears? Yes. That’s what earplugs are for.

    • Samoyed talking is one of my favorite things, and their humman-sounding vocalizaions were the source of a TV moment that makes me laugh every time I think of it. Johnny Carson had some nut on who claimed his dog—a Samoyed—could talk. He had translated some extended dog noises into English jibberish, announce what the dog would “say,” and the dog’s whine/screech/ hoot really did sound kind of like the phrase, which was always nonsense. So the dog’s owner would say, “Buck will now say “Watermelon on the fire escape”! Buck would then earnestly intone, “WARRRMERONNAWWWAH EYEEAWAPE,” the guy would say, “You hear that? Watermelon on the fire escape!” And the audience cheered, and Carson just lost it, as did I. Makes me laugh every time I think of it.

  3. They’re recommended here in Japan for constant purposeless barking, only to be put on during the time period you want to train them for (to not bark a lot at 5 am, for instance). They’ve been available for about 5 years. Here you are only required to have something like 1.2 meters between your house and lot line, so in a lot of neighborhoods there’s 7 feet between houses and that’s it…constant barking can get really annoying really fast.

    We had bigger lots in our previous place, and so more distance between houses, but we had 7 Yorkies and 3 chihuahuas altogether in the houses to our side and back. They barked 20 hours a day, while our own dog was the type that if he barked, you’d better go see what was wrong. While I would have loved those 10 dogs to be quiet even half a day, I wouldn’t have wanted them to have devices like this put on them. It’s punishing the dogs for behavior the owner can’t be bothered to retrain.

    At one point we did have a barking problem after a crazy guy threw some stuff at our dog, but it was solved by my going to the dog and stopping him when he barked inappropriately, not by zapping or spraying him. It takes effort, which too many dog owners don’t want to expend.

  4. Your thesis makes me think of the following possible ethics examination question (no, this is not a snark, nor does it mean I am trying to smuggle something in by means of a false comparison, it is me genuinely trying to get the crucial points brought out):-

    Learning what your dog is saying with his or her various territorial markings is part of the experience of sharing your life with these amazing animals, and punishing a dog for urinating is pet owner malpractice, irresponsible, and wrong.

    Discuss, without introducing any “ick factor”.

    • I agree. Of course. Punishing a dog for urinating would be horrible. Teaching a dog where to urinate is simply the eqivilent of child-raising. We also teach children where to urinate.

      • But wouldn’t the collar wielder also claim that the intent was to teach, and that punishing was not an intent but only incidental and collateral? And, if you are only going by the painful effect rather than the intent, what means of house training a dog are there that do not at the least cause the dog psychic harm by repressing its ability to call its home its own (the thrust of the first part I adapted), and very possibly cause the dog distress (even the sound of a rolled up newspaper hitting the ground is painfully loud to a dog’s sensitive hearing, even if the dog is not actually hit with it)? Intent is not the relevant criterion here, I would suggest, and I do not see that your distinction rests on anything else.

        I would hope you begin to explore your position in greater depth. Later, I may break this down in detail myself, but for now I don’t want you to look elsewhere than into your own thinking on all this.

        • 1) The automatic and impersonal dog collar is in one category.

          2) Potty training a dog and potty training a child through personally applied admonitions and punishments are in another.

          I made the distinction easy to see. Though I’m sure you’ll pretend there is no difference in the methods of training…

  5. If your dog is not going to bark, as a warning, sign of affection, just to talk to you, etc., then why did you get the dog in the first place?

    • A lot of people get dogs to provide security and as home accessories. I see it all the time. In movies, the dogs you see in families are seldom acknowledged…watch the dog in “The Firm,” for instance. The pounds are full of dogs that people got for the wrong reasons.

        • Getting a dog and not treating it humanely because you just see it as a breathing burglar alarm is wrong. We got an English Mastiff in part for security, and in part because they are the most soulful loving, gentle dogs in existence. Slept on our bed every night, and scared the crap out of strangers.

          • Necessary caveat I’d say. Because there isn’t anything wrong with security being the *primary* reason. Just so long as treating the dog like a dog needs to be treated is still a success criteria.

          • Burglars tend to get shaken up when they’re greeted by the Hound of the Baskervilles! BTW: Yesterday was Basil Rathbone’s birthday. Born in 1892. Just thought I’d throw that in!!

              • If memory serves, he gave Errol Flynn fencing lessons so he wouldn’t be totally outclassed in a movie they made together. Robin Hood, maybe. Don’t really remember.

                  • You got that right. And Errol’s idea of fencing was sort of like Antonio Banderas’s in ‘Mask Of Zorro’, 1998. Anthony Hopkins offers to teach him to fence, and Banderas says ‘I know how to fence. The pointy end goes in the other guy.’

                    • And Flynn’s starmaker was “Captain Blood”, where he skewers Basil in a beachside duel… presumably to put an end to his godawful French accent! Then Flynn guts Basil again on the steps of Nottingham Castle. What knothead thought that you could fence with broadswords?? Then, to add insult to injury, Rathbone gets run through yet AGAIN; by Tyrone Power. this time in “The Mark of Zorro”! You’d think they would have let him win just once.

              • Rathbone might not have been allowed to win physical fencing duels onscreen, but they gave him Sherlock Holmes — a good trade IMHO.

                • The amateur dueler who scared him was Danny Kaye, who was so aggressively wild in “The Court Jester”‘s climactic duel-off (in which Kaye alternately became a master duelist and a total, panicked, flailing boob every time someone snapped their fingers) that Rathbone eventually refused to do it, forcing the director to use a double.

                  • That showed good sense on Rathbone’s part. Unless those things are very carefully choreographed, someone’s going to get hurt big time. Even when culled and blunted, a sword is a deadly weapon. I sometimes wonder who put together that fantastic duel that had Robert Taylor and his opponent slashing away at each other while swinging from church bell ropes. (Damn- I can’t remember the name of that movie offhand!)

          • Have an acquaintance who had what he called a Bull Mastiff. Used a 34″ belt as it’s collar, and needed it. Gentlest, friendliest dog I ever met. It’s like he knew his own strength and wanted to make sure he didn’t hurt anybody. Unfortunately, dogs that size are not long-lived, and he passed away peacefully, in his sleep when he was eight.

            • Yup. Patience didn’t quite make it to seven, which is why we switched breeds to Jack Russells. Bull Mastiffs are a cross between bulldogs and English mastiffs—they are thicker and not as tall, but still huge and sweet dogs. “See Spot Run” is a Bull Mastiff-Jack Russell movie.

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