Debarking dogs – also known as devocalization or bark softening – is a touchy subject that garners fierce debate among proponents and opponents of the practice.
The sides appear to agree on two things:
- debarking to reduce the volume, intensity, pitch, or to cease barking is an elective procedure; and,
- a normal bark could still resume in a few months
Currently, six U.S. states have laws restricting the practice under certain circumstances.
Since this topic raises the ire of companion pet parents, we will present both sides of the argument and encourage you to read the entire post.
Devocalization Surgical Procedure
Two debarking surgical procedures are available: laryngotomy and ventriculocordectomy (oral technique).
Some proponents of devocalization do not recommend the laryngotomy procedure.
Potential Surgical Risks of Devocalization
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) put together an objective report about devocalization and listed the risk factors involved with surgery:
- Anesthesia has inherent risks and associated mortality
- Post-operative discomfort — As with any surgical procedure, pain and discomfort can occur during healing
- Acute airway swelling
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Exercise intolerance
- Respiratory distress
- Noisy breathing
- Heat intolerance
The AVMA’s position on the procedure is:
In addition to the AVMA, many veterinary organizations including the American Animal Hospital Association and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association oppose non-therapeutic devocalization of dogs except after behavioral modifications and management methods have failed and as a final alternative to relinquishment or euthanasia.
Proponents of Debarking
Proponents say that complaints from neighbors about excessive barking may lead to owner relinquishment or even euthanasia. They believe that devocalization reduces the chances of that outcome. Bear in mind we could not find data to support this theory.
Opponents of Debarking
Opponents not only point to the surgical complications cited by the AVMA, but also the potential behavioral and psychological side effects from the devocalization procedure:
- Decreased ability to communicate intentions to other animals and people, leading to possible misinterpretation and harm by others or danger to self and/or others
- Increased level of frustration, leading to possible redirected behaviors such as destructive behavior toward property or aggression toward animals or people
- Ongoing stress may lead to other inappropriate attention‐seeking and/or destructive behaviors
We could not find a study that conclusively confirmed the post-operative behavioral and psychological outcomes.
The surgical risks, the possibly long-term psychological effects, and the mostly short-term desired effects of devocalization do not warrant this elective procedure.
Companion pet parents first need to wonder, “Why is my dog barking? How are my actions potentially making my dog bark? Is there something in his environment that I need to change?”
We would suggest calling an animal behaviorist who has an MS, MA or Ph.D. in animal behavior or a veterinary behaviorist who is certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (or similar organization in your country). Make sure they can teach you positive reinforcement techniques.