ShutzUp – Barking Shi Tzu

Mr. Wade

We have just acquired Petunia,a female Shih Tzu at 6 weeks of age and now is a couple of months older. This adorable puppy barks all the time. She barks when she sees me preparing her food and barks non-stop until her bowl reaches the floor, she barks non-stop when she’s playing with her toys. She barks at our other dog, now a senior citizen when she wants to play. If he doesn’t want to, he retaliates until she backs off. How do we get her to tone it down and get her out of the habit of always barking at the least provocation? Would a bark collar help? – Bridget, New Brunswick

Dear Bridget,

I read somewhere that Buddha never went anywhere without a little dog and that dog is thought to be an ancestor of the Shih Tzu which translates into Lion Dog. Legend has it the dog could transform itself into a lion whenever need be. They were prized for their looks by Asian royalty and led a palace life but were also useful as watch dogs and many years later it still doesn’t take much to get one to bark.

The thing about lions, is pretty much anybody can tick one off but it takes some skill to keep one calm. These are playful dogs but they are also very tough. They often become protective of one or more members of the household and aggressiveness is a common complaint. I regularly get calls from husbands not being able to get into the bedroom if the dog first gets in there with the wife. Oddly, I don’t get a lot of calls from the wives complaining about this breed trait.

There are three main sorts of anti-bark collars available. Some are promoted as being more humane then the others but humane seems to be conveniently quantified and defined from a human rather then a dog’s perspective. Regardless of manufacturer, veterinarian, dog trainer or dog owner’s claims, the truth is that in order to be effective either type have to provide, a significant unpleasant consequence brought on by barking. This is accomplished in one of three ways; ultrasonically, to irritate the ears , citronella sprays to aggravate the dog’s olfactory sense and a measured static stimulation providing a tactile deterrent.

In my experience the ultrasonics, if they work at all don’t seem to have long lasting effects and with some dogs make the barking worse. The citronella spray  collars work somewhat better, however the shock to the dog’s sensitive nose shouldn’t be underplayed, and the smell lingers in the air regardless of the cessation of the barking. As to the static collars, a while back I tried one on myself. At the lowest setting I wasn’t sure I’d turned it on. Keep in mind though  before you go strapping one on that this may vary from individual to individual. I adjusted the level gradually upwards until the second last level where the collar made its point sufficiently enough that silence became golden. I found it to be the same sort of sensation as a static shock from a carpet. The lower levels less so, the higher more so. Unpleasant but not overwhelmingly so, which I suspect is where the last setting would have taken me. So obviously you have to take it slow and find an appropriate level. Good quality static collars offer a range of levels with instructions to start low and go slow in order to give the dog time to connect the dots at lower levels.

Overall, I’m not sure any of these collars should be sold without some professional guidance. It’s too tempting to use them as a quick fix. A lot of dogs bark because they are anxious or their owners are putting them in an overly territorially stimulating environment or they are frustrated, the product of an unstimulating environment. Any anti-bark collar solves only the owner’s problem, not the dog’s. So I’d recommend an appointment with a professional before going any quick fix route.


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