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Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM

Should My Dog Be Debarked?

By October 28, 2009

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Barking by Perfecto Insecto on FlickrFrom the VetMed Forum:
A veterinary Forum Guest asked about a vocal cordectomy (debarking surgery) for their dog.

"We've tried it all - from more toys, Kongs, puzzles, extra walks and exercise, doggie daycare and still, the few times we leave our dog alone, he barks and howls continuously. We've resorted to using a bark collar on him, but we hate it, and so does he.

We're considering vocal cordectomy (debarking) after our umpteenth complaint from an anonymous neighbor. Our biggest concern is whether the procedure will work on reducing the howling noise as well as barking noise. Anyone know?"

From your Guide:
Like all surgeries, the debarking surgery is not without potential complications, namely bleeding, infection and scarring. Also, dogs who are debarked may still have a hoarse "bark" or vocalize in other ways. I do not recommend this surgery.

My recommendation would be to work with a dog trainer or vet knowledgeable in behavior issues such as separation anxiety, and treat the underlying problem (stress / anxiety when you are away), not the sign (barking).

My own dog, Sophie, has had some mild issues with separation anxiety as well as noise phobias. We had great success with the DAP collar. It is a pheromone-impregnated collar that has a calming effect on most dogs. Each dog / problem is different, and individual results vary. I recommend using positive behavior modification in conjunction with the collar for best results. Some dogs may need veterinarian-prescribed medications as well.

Please speak with your veterinarian if anxieties or phobias are a problem for your dog. These are serious issues for both the dogs and their people. We have many options available now to help these dogs live comfortably and stress-free.

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Photo: Montara Barking by Perfecto Insecto on Flickr


October 28, 2009 at 3:28 pm
(1) Sasha5113 says:

“Anonymous” neighbor, eh? Why is that significant?

How long is the anxious dog left alone?

October 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm
(2) Tres says:

I have tried several means to curtail my dogs excessive barking over the course of a few years, from private trainers to shock and citronella collars. Nothing worked. She’s just a nervous dog and

she will bark no matter what.

I was initially very distressed thinking about debarking since I didn’t know

much about it. However the fact was my dog would end up in a shelter or I

would lose my home. What other choice did I have? I didn’t want to put my

dog through any unnecessary surgery either but this was the only way to keep


Now that it’s done, I can’t see how ANYONE can be against it if it’s done by a surgeon who is experienced in it. I drove 3 hrs from NYC to NY state to a vet who specializes in it.. It saves

lives, keeps ‘families’ together. Avoids tragedy and heartache. After, all

my dog IS one of the family.

She still barks but she’s not as loud as before so the neighbors no longer

have any complaints. The dog has not be affected negatively by it in anyway.

I don’t understand why anyone would be against this practice? No good can

come of stopping it. And it can help so many dogs keep their homes!

October 28, 2009 at 5:58 pm
(3) E. S. Worthington says:

The sentiment in this article is completely wrong. Vets seem to have no problem with major surgeries to remove testicles and ovaries that are invasive and require deep sedation! Why suddenly so squeamish about a very quick surgery with minimal anesthesia? The only reason this is opposed is the typical animal rights mantra of this being unnecessary surgery. Personally I think neutering/spaying is unnecessary in many cases–certainly not all! However, having had multiple dogs bark softened, it is a quick surgery done about 11:00 am for mine with pick-up at 3-4:00 in the afternoon. The dogs return home with a pain pill or two and eat their soft dinner that night after several hours. Does this sound catastrophic? No, because it isn’t. There are breeds that bark much more than others. All this nonsense about psychological training is just that. Dogs of certain breeds were barkers to ward off enemies of people and flocks. Some just enjoy hearing themselves vocalize (like some people we all know). If a simple surgery lets the dog be happy barking (and they still bark–just at a less annoying level), I think this decision is best left to the owner and their veterinarian. While some vets choose not to do this surgery, others are very willing to perform the minimal risk procedure–certainly less risk than invasive abdominal surgery. There are now animal rights vets organizations who spout the same lunacy as their wealthy sponsors–PETA and HSUS. Most people are beginning to see these groups for what they are–money collectors for political causes–not a benevolent charity. To any and all–give to your local shelters and avoid these highly paid organizations who do little or absolutely no good for animals. In fact, their euthanasia rates exceed most any other humane group. Make yourself aware of the effort on the part of these groups to END pet ownership, end productive farming methods, end hunting, end zoos and end circuses. They are vegans and want to push that lifestyle. I don’t object to it, but it does not suit me or my lifestyle & I do not want to be forced into their wishes.

October 28, 2009 at 7:53 pm
(4) Bonnie says:

What a shame that the columnist refused to answer the question, but gave an ideological monologue instead. The dog owner said she had already tried education, bark collars, doggie daycare, and everything else people try. Did you read the question at all? To tell her to try more education is a non-response.

Debarking is an important tool used to save pets’ lives when the owners are at their wits end. Most of the publicity about this issue is animal rights misinformation and sensationalism, since the whole point of the animal rights movement is to find every possible excuse to stop people from owning pets or eating meat. They take advantage of the fact that people know very little about the subject. I have firsthand knowledge: I have had two debarked dogs among my pets, and have met hundreds more at dog activities and events I attend, because my breed, the Shetland Sheepdog, is one of the all-time worst barkers in dogdom.

Here is the truth: Debarking (a more truthful name would be bark softening) is a rare procedure that affects few dogs and no cats at all, because cat voices are not loud enough to bother neighbors. Very few veterinarians, including only three or four in my state of Massachusetts, know how to debark dogs, because it is not needed often. Owners who need it seek out the few knowledgeable vets who have done enough of these procedures to become proficient.

The purpose of debarking is to save dog’s lives. The dogs that need it would otherwise end up euthanized, either immediately, or after a lot of punishment and unhappy changes of ownership. It is a last resort for owners who have exhausted all other options. Many of the smaller breeds, the ones best fitted for urban and suburban life, are very noisy. This is simply their nature, not the result of loneliness or boredom. Debarking done correctly under anaesthesia (and any other way is already grounds for criminal prosecution) is far less invasive and risky than the much more common neutering surgery.

The operation is extremely minor surgery, and complications are very rare, much less frequent than other types of surgery such as spaying and neutering. It does not involve cutting the throat, using stitches, or removing vocal chords; most vets simply reach down the throat and make a small nick in the vocal fold. It takes less than a minute, the anaesthesia prevents pain, and the dogs show no sign of pain when they wake up a few minutes later, but resume their normal activities (including barking) immediately. The dogs can still bark and communicate, just more quietly, and there is no psychological damage. In fact, they are usually much happier, freed of constant punishment for a perfectly natural behavior.

As a lifelong dog trainer myself, I assure you that many dogs cannot be trained not to bark even by professional trainers, so the average pet owner does not have a chance. I can tell you from my own experience that we who own debarked dogs agonize just like anyone else about changing our dogs’ voices even partially, but we have neighbors who complain constantly, often unreasonably, and Animal Control that responds to those complaints first with expensive fines and citations, and eventually with orders to get rid of the dog entirely. And people with small dogs in apartments are even worse off than suburbanites like me.

National animal rights organizations have written and are promoting bills to ban debarking in several states, using a number of specious arguments. First of all, the existence of a bungled operation is no reason to outlaw the correct operation. There are already very adequate laws against unqualified personnel operating and against operations that don’t follow established protocol. Anyone with medical experience can tell you that any kind of operation can be bungled by an incompetent or inexperienced surgeon. I have heard of many bungled spay and neuter cases, but the only bungled debarks I have ever heard of were the ones sensationalized by animal rights groups, from whom I have personally recognized so many other lies that I would never trust a word they say. Also, in both human and veterinary medicine any operation has a percentage of failures, even when done by good surgeons.

Another specious argument is that no surgery should be done for mere convenience. Yet the animal rights activists constantly advocate pet neutering, which is the most convenient surgery of all! Neutering is major surgery with a long recovery period, major negative health risks and only a few minor positive health effects, and done only because people are too lazy to keep their dog in for three weeks once or twice a year when she is in season. Why is that not convenience surgery, when keeping a noisy dog quiet in a city or suburb, indoors and outdoors, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is not? Why is a dangerous operation that merely neuters a dog preferable to a quick and easy procedure that saves it from euthanasia?

To understand the real purpose behind these laws, just ask yourself what would be the effect if laws like this were passed everywhere. The result would be that whole groups and breeds of dogs would suddenly become very unreliable as pets; no one would want to take the risk, and they would become extinct. And the breeds in question are the ones currently considered the most suited to our urban society.

The vegan activists have been trying to take away our big dogs by trying to make us think they are dangerous, and now they are trying to take away our little dogs because they bark. They constantly urge universal pet neutering. If current pets are all neutered, where are the next ones to come from? Do you see a pattern here? The real purpose of animal rights activism is a vegan society. The activists won’t tell you that, because they know that most people would oppose them, but all you have to do to get the answer is follow their theories to their logical end: no pets, no farms, no meat on the table. Thinking critically about the issue will show you that what these activists are really trying to do is outlaw pet ownership entirely. They are certainly not the authorities to listen to on the subject of what is best for animals!

October 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm
(5) Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM says:

The viewer asked if the procedure “will work on reducing the howling noise as well as barking noise. Anyone know”

People should know that debarking will not reduce the urge, breed inclination, or underlying reason for barking. Also, contrary to popular belief, debarking will not take away the bark to silence the dog.

It is, as Bonnie pointed out, more true to say “bark softening.” This may or may not matter to the owner, but they posed a question asking about noise. The softened bark may still be noticeable, depending on the neighbor’s location. (Upstairs apartment, across the street or down the road?)

You are welcome to post your views on debarking. Viewers can use the information as they see fit. Please refrain from name calling.

November 10, 2009 at 1:28 pm
(6) Karen says:

My dog was debarked by his breeder owner at 5 months. At 9 months, the surgeon had problems intubating him for his neutering procedure because of scar tissue. He was sent back to the original surgeon to fix the debarking. The breeder gave up on him and I went and got him. At 3 years old, he was wheezing and had exercise intolerance. I took him to a surgeon who did an endoscopy and at that time found that His airways were 45% blocked with scar tissue. The surgery to correct this was not minor. The surgeon removed the scar tissue, grafted skin over the incisions and stitched it back so that the tissue would not web in his airways again. His quality of life is much better now, he has more energy and he has a slight sound when he barks. This procedure cost $3,000 to help the poor guy. I would never, never recommend debarking as my dog suffered at the hands of the first owner and surgeon who did it to him at 5 months old. He had to be sedated for six weeks after his final surgery to correct all this. Hope this helps someone make the right decision.

December 16, 2013 at 10:45 pm
(7) Janice says:

Thanks so much for all the dog owner’s who took the time to respond. We have tried everything and spending big bucks on collars, sonic devices and training. Our dog is great when we are home but barks non stop when we are gone. We have great neighbors but they are getting irritated with her. She is on a acre of land with plenty of toys we just don’t know what to do and this seems like the best option for her and us.

March 26, 2014 at 12:34 am
(8) Get the Best Pet Care says:

My dog barks a lot every day. I am very frustrated with this problem. I want to make him obedient. Do you have any solution for it?

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