Dear Doctor: To Use An Ultrasonic Training Aid, or Not?


Ann Davenport’s black Scotty

Q. I have two Scottish Terriers, 4 months apart in age and both under 1 years old. The male Scotty wants to chase cars that make loud noises, whether he is in the back yard or when we are walking. He also goes into a barking or snapping frenzy when approached by any dog on a leash. I have tried a training aid that emits ultrasound when he pulls on the leash or a button is pushed, but it does not faze him. Any suggestions, please?! I am hesitant to take them walking, which is a shame because they both love to walk.

Ann Davenport

Kerrville, Texas

Dear Ms. Davenport,

A. Wouldn’t it be great if there were simple solutions to complicated problems, like a noise that could stop undesirable animal behavior? Alas, ultrasound, which we can’t hear but many animals can, doesn’t work to keep our four-legged friends from doing things we don’t want them to do — but not for a lack of trying. New Zealand-born animal behaviorist Emily Kane points out that ultrasound was used at one point to deter deer and wolves from eating crops and bothering livestock. But the deer and wolves couldn’t have cared less. Ultrasounds were also employed to get bats and pigeons out of rafters. The bats were a little confused at first but then learned to ignore them. The pigeons were never confused — they can’t hear in the ultrasound range.

Nor did ultrasound do any good when it was used to repel vermin and cockroaches. They heard it alright — and, like the bats, ignored it. Ditto for ultrasound’s effect on fleas. Ultrasound dog collars manufactured to keep fleas away proved useless.

So is it any surprise that your male Scottish terrier isn’t deterred from lunging on the leash to chase cars — or another dog on a leash — when you operate a gizmo that lets out some kind of ultrasound noise?

Think about it: dogs no doubt hear noises in the ultrasound range all the time even though those sounds are completely lost on us, so why would one more ultrasound in their lives deter them in the moment from a behavior that for whatever reason is very emotionally fraught for them? To put yourself in their paws, imagine if many people you came across did not leave you unnerved, but every time you saw someone wearing a belt (which occurs pretty much as often as a dog encounters another dog on a leash), you became very alarmed and agitated, to the point that you might even lash out to protect yourself. Do you think that if at those very moments of extreme fight-or-flight someone made a buzzer go off, it would stop the cascade of your emotional response toward the belt wearer coming toward you?

Well, that’s how it is for dogs. To our pet canines, an ultrasound is just a sound — nothing more. In fact, Amazon reviews of ultrasound devices refer to dogs who simply didn’t react, dogs who reacted but quickly learned to ignore the sound, and dogs who became frightened of the gizmos and the sounds they emitted, which, when you think about it, is heartbreaking. If your dog is socially maladjusted to the point that you need to do something about it, frightening him is a lousy (and cruel) way to do it. Says the head of our Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, “People are very good at inventing ways to punish dogs. It makes me sad sometimes.”

So how can you re-train your Scotty if slapping him on the wrist with a noise, so to speak, doesn’t work? “There’s no easy way,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. It’s a gradual process that takes time.

“I would recommend a harness or head halter and behavior modification,” the doctor comments. And reward the dog every time he does not lunge or try to chase a car, especially if he responds when you tell him to “leave it.” (You may have to help him to “leave it” at first by keeping the leash very short and turning him away from the car or the other dog, then, once he has calmed down, praising him and rewarding him, perhaps with a treat or some nice stroking.)

You can also work to desensitize your dog over time by taking him near a road with cars or on sidewalks where there are other dogs on leashes, yet keeping him at a safe enough distance from his “triggers” so that he doesn’t feel the need to react. Over multiple sessions, gradually move him closer and closer to the roadway or other leashed dogs. Every time he doesn’t overreact, reward him.


  1. I bought a BarxBuddy when my Mini Dachshund was younger and first started barking after a weekend we dog sat my son’s Havanese, a horrible barker! She immediately stopped barking because I think she was curious about the noise she heard. It worked great for almost two months until I took her to visit my daughter in Portland and left it there.
    I ordered a similar one off Amazon which did not even phase her. Her breed is known for barking, but she never did until being with the Havaneze, which barked non stop! So then I ordered another BarxBuddy, thinking it would work like it did before, and it had no effect on her at all?! For a while she responded to the word ‘quiet’, as I taught her the word and rewarded her with treats when she stopped barking. She knows what the word means, but now it seams she does not care and really enjoys barking! I have tried everything! Turning my back to her, leaving the room, even going into another room and shutting the door! Now I have lost it and yelled at her to shut up! She is driving me crazy and making me a bad dog mom. 🙁 But she never looses any love or affection for me. We both are very bonded. It’s not often that I loose it and tell her to shut up, after she just barks at me non stop. It’s crazy and I totally don’t understand what she wants or why she does this? I don’t think she actually wants anything, she just want to have a barking fit?! How can I control her barking? She has other unwanted habits like stealing things off my lap, off the coffee table, my shoes and socks out of the closet and she won’t ‘drop it’. I used to chase her, but realized that’s what she did it for. Now I ask her to drop it and she’ll get a treat, which works. Also she will get really playful when I am on the ground with her and she will bite my hand, run, and race around to come back and repeatedly do it again. Sometimes I am able to get my hand around her muzzle and hold it while I tell her “No biting!” But she still plays this game after we are doing something else and having a good time playing and bonding together. She has just turned a year old. My husband has anger issues and he has yelled at her. I’ve told him he’s not allowed to do this, she’s my dog, but he does when she steals a roll of toilet paper and spreads the whole thing when we leave a door open. I give her lots of attention and affection. She loves to lick my hands when I hold her in my lap and stroke her, rub her ears,
    and belly. She loves to jump up and lick my face and ears all the time. We go on walks and we’ve gone through training and she was the best walker in class, staying right at my side, ignoring all distractions. But she learned better at home because she was not distracted by all the other dogs in class. She LOVES other dogs and people! And she is the cutest dog ever, according to everyone we see. Strangers take pictures and videos of her all the time when I take her with me and rarely leave her home.
    But what can I do about these bad behaviors?!


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