Debarking: Benefits, Ethicality and Alternatives for Reducing Dog Noise

Whether you are already a dog owner or you are considering getting one, you have probably thought of the problem of the dog's barking at some point.

Is it something that would bother you as an owner, or are you thinking about your neighborhood?

If you are thinking about getting a dog, think about the breeds that are less likely to bark since some are more vocal than the others, and you are half way from not having a problem at all.

On the other hand, if you already have a dog and are pressured by the neighbors to keep it quiet there are some options available.

alternatives-to-debarking

Why do dogs bark?

In addition to body language, barking is dogs' way of communication. They communicate with other dogs as well as with their owners.

They bark when they are anxious or afraid, when they want to warn you of something, when they are happy or even bored.

What is debarking? 

Debarking, or Ventriculocordectomy is a surgical procedure which removes a part of the dog's vocal cords tissue. It is also called bark softening or devocalization.

The most precise term should be bark softening since the dog does not lose its ability to bark or vocalize in any way (howl, growl, whine,..).

The result of the debarking procedure is a softer bark that is usually similar to a hoarse cough.

The procedure is done in one of two ways: either laparoscopically, through a small neck incision (the laryngotomy technique), or through the dog's open mouth (oral technique)-a fairly minor procedure. ​

In both cases, your pet is under general anesthesia.

When considering debarking several concerns come up. Some are of ethical and some of medical nature.

Does debarking work? 

The answer is ambiguous since the outcome of the surgery is not always as the owner expected it.

The procedure is expected to diminish the volume of the bark, and it usually does that, but some owners have reported that their dog's new bark can be as irritating as before the operation, just not as loud.

make-dogs-tired

When is it done?

Loving pet owners decide to take this step usually as their last option, in order not to consider euthanasing or abandoning their dog.

It happens in situations when the neighborhood or the family is interrupted daily by the dog's relentless barking at inappropriate times (most often at night).

Is your pet in danger?

The risks are the same as with any other surgery. There can be possible complications like an allergic reaction to the anesthetic, swelling or inflammation, and so on.

A certain amount of pain is also expected during the recovery period.

The pain will eventually stop, but what are some of the long-term consequences?

Since the body's characteristic is to heal and renew itself, over time a significant amount of scar tissue may develop in the treated region.

That can cause some difficulty breathing or even swallowing which in turn results in more possible surgeries done on your pet.

debarking

Note that finding your dog the best possible surgical care can help in decreasing the risks of the surgery, but it does not necessarily mean that there will not be any consequences to the health of your pet.

What are some benefits of Debarking?

It is not all black as there are some benefits to the surgery as well.

The most obvious advantage for both you and your dog is that it stays in its caring family.

You are free of the neighbors' repeatedly ringing at your doorbell asking you to 'take care of the dog' and on the other hand, your pet can freely bark how much it wants.

As barking is the dog's natural behavior there will not be any conflict with training and nature, and the dog will not be confused when scorned for "talking" to you.

Some dog trainers say that dogs who are trained not to bark excessively can become nervous and even depressed, so debarking fixes that problem, and we all want our pets healthy and happy.

What are some ethical issues? 

The question you have probably asked yourself is: "is it humane?". You've probably heard many times that people equate their dogs with the members of their families, which they essentially are.

So would you subject a member of your family to a similar procedure? It is a question to think about. Finally, it is your decision.

People ask themselves if it is okay to subject their pet to the dangers of surgery, long recovery time, pain and discomfort for the purposes of their own convenience - more silent environment, no neighbors or police at the doors, and so on.

If you are one of those pet owners who will not neuter or spay their pet because it inhibits their nature to procreate, you will probably be against debarking simply on the belief that it is against the animal's nature.

dog-with-earmuffs

On the other hand, if you have no problem with spaying and neutering you probably won't have a problem with debarking either, since it is a less invasive surgery.

You will take some risks, and create a possibly more convenient environment for you and your dog.

Maybe there is no right answer since not even all veterinarians see eye to eye on this account.

Some will perform the surgery no questions asked, some will try to dissuade you from it an some will refuse to do it all together. 

The procedure is even illegal in some states in USA and countries in Europe.

My opinion is that you should act on your gut feeling about what is best for your dog and weigh the pros and cons.

But if you do decide to opt for the surgery, make sure that you have exhausted all the other options for solving your problem so that your pet would not be under unnecessary pain, and that the procedure is legal where you live.

Are there alternatives to debarking?

There are things that you can try before choosing to debark your dog:

how to soundproof a dog crate
  • Consult a dog behaviorist or a specialized dog trainer- some breeds are less keen on training so, it might be helpful to ask a professional for help. Many of the issues with inappropriate barking can be solved with proper training.
  • Consider the breed- If you live on a farm and you need a dog for tending sheep, it does not matter if the dog barks, but if you live in a small apartment it is advisable to think of the breeds that are less vocal by nature.
  • Hire a dog sitter- If your dog barks because it misses you when you go to work, it is okay to hire somebody to keep it company. And if you need a cheaper version, ask a neighbor or a friend to occasionally check on the dog. It will help with socializing and with decreasing feelings of abandonment.
  • Engage with your dog- Exercise, toys and playing with your dog can help as well. It will get tired from exercise, amused by the toys and feel loved when you play with it that it will not have the energy or the need to bark in order to get your attention. Play some music designed to help dogs stay calm.

Another very useful alternative is a soundproof dog crate. It is a simple DIY project that can help your dog in many ways than just being quieter. Read about it here.

Final Word on Debarking

As useful as it can prove, debarking is not fixing the root cause of your pet's problem. It can be afraid pored or protective, and that problem will remain even if you devocalize it for your comfort.

Having our pet's wellbeing on our minds, you should exhaust all the other options before deciding to resort to debarking your dog. 

Hopefully, this text provided you with enough information to go about and make the best possible decision for you and your beloved pet.

Nothing but the best for our four-legged friends and family!