Citronella is the extract from just your average lemongrass plant. The plant itself gets its name from the potent aroma it emits. This strong lemon scented oil can be extracted, brought home, and used to make your dog very unhappy.
The rather pleasant scent to humans just scares the crap out of your canine friend, and it is hard to understand why. To a human, it is the delicious smell of fresh-squeezed lemon. The smell of something clean. Citronella is used in so many different cleaning solutions that the smell has become closely associated with the act itself. Yet, every time you use it, your dog runs the opposite direction. They must not be a fan of delicious flavor.
The Root of the Behavior
Citronella is a known repellant. It is used as a pesticide. For this reason, citronella collars have come to be. The collars themselves will detect the audio levels of your dog and then spray them with citronella if they bark or yelp. They advertise as an all-natural cure to barking, but that is misleading. They are all natural, but that does not mean they are safe. Citronella in large quantities can kill humans, and in relatively smaller quantities it is dangerous to animals of all types. The lemongrass plant itself produces this to act as a deterrent to potential attackers.
That being said, a citronella collar uses very little. Just enough to make your dog unhappy. The potential side effects of such a small amount vary greatly. If they are high-strung or anxious dogs, it is important to note that these collars do not address the root cause of the stress and they will likely take their stress out in other ways. Medically, there may be some concerns as well, though typically in such small amounts they will be fine.
Other uses for citronella are equally as effective. Many use citronella oil in the garden and areas your dog likes to dig to prevent this behavior. It works well, but really it doesn't prevent digging as much as it just keeps your dog away from certain areas. They will not likely travel into the smell field of citronella. This, however, is not harmful to your plants and may actually aide them and help them to flourish.
Again, this is not addressing the root cause of your dogs digging, but it will help to save your garden while you address the other concerns. Citronella is a better alternative than a shock collar for sure. Shock collars can be dangerous and have pretty intense psychological effects. Both of these collars will scare them though.
Encouraging the Behavior
This fear is considered cruel by some, and using either collar could be frowned upon by certain people. However, usually they will understand what the collar is for, and if you bring it to them they will yelp and run. This fear is useful as they will stop the intended behavior, usually meaning you would not even need to put it on them after the first few times.
That being said, dogs do bark. That is a natural function, and they should be able to retain that function. Often times it is for your own good. If they are barking excessively then you should address the stress or anxiety they may have. But when a stranger approaches your house, you probably want them to let out a bark. They use it as a form of communication, and often an important form of it.
The problem with citronella collars is that some dogs will bark excessively even with the odor emitted. They will go through the citronella stores quickly and excessive amounts sprayed in your dogs face could be harmful medically to your four-legged friend. Be sure you pay attention and if they are not scared of it and don't stop barking, cut your losses. Attempting to continue with the collar spraying them constantly is a dangerous approach.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Diluted citronella applied to the collar or on the fur can have marked impacts on ticks and fleas. Using this to get rid of ticks and fleas will not work, but preventing them works wonderfully. The same solution can be applied to mosquitos for humans!
That being said, the odor is still something fierce. Your dog will not like it, at least not at first. However, if you are having issues with fleas and ticks, it just may be worth it. Applied to the fur in a diluted form it is pretty safe and is not going to cause any medical issues with your dog, even if they lick it.