Friday, February 5, 2010

New York Times says some dogs surgically "debarked."

The old, golden dog heard footsteps on the porch...the door handle turned. Her person was home! She tried to bark a greeting. But all that came out was a raspy squeak. Later, she tried to bark at a squirrel but again, only a squeak. What was wrong?

The dog had been debarked. A surgical procedure where the vocal chords are cut.

The New York Times reports
that this surgery, also called devocalization, is performed by some veterinarians, but has been falling out of favor. According to the article "Critics of the debarking procedure say it is outdated and inhumane, one that destroys an animal’s central means of communication merely for the owner’s convenience."

The article also cites other veterinarians who claim that the procedure, when performed properly and for the right reasons, is a viable option, and may even save some dogs from euthanasia. They say that the dogs recover well and "don't seem ever to notice any difference."

The procedure is sometimes performed on show dogs and drug dealers' dogs.

Let's say a city apartment-dweller has so many complaints about his dog barking that he is faced with getting rid of the dog or eviction. So he decides the surgery is the best solution.

My question is, had the owner tried training? behavior modification? I'm not saying I'm happy with those collars that zap a dog when they bark, but if the situation were extreme, I would prefer that to surgery. What about bringing a pet sitter in during the day to walk the dog and give it some company? Most dogs don't bark constantly for no reason. Could the dog have been bored, lonely, stressed, frightened, or even had some other medical conditions that could attribute to the barking? Perhaps the city apartment wasn't the best home for the dog?

I know that we can't state for sure that a dog is unhappy or traumatized without its bark. But to me it seems sad, putting an animal through a surgical procedure (not without risks) because someone chose to take away the animal's natural ability to communicate in the way intended.


  1. Obviously you do not understand that the procedure, which should be called "bark softening" does not take the dog's ability to bark away or make it silent or cause it any emotional trauma. What this simple correctly performed surgery does is lower the volume of the dog's bark. This is often enough to keep a well loved by noisy dog in its home when neighbors are complaining. It is a myth to say the dog becomes silent or cannot communicate! Having worked in rescue, I know that this procedure can save dog's lives since a huge number of dogs get dumped for barking. Many dogs cannot be trained not to bark. Isn't it better to do this than take the dog from a home where it is loved. Why on earth would you say drug dealers and dog show people are the people doing the procedure? Do you spend time with drug dealers? Most dogs I know of that have had barks softened are people's pets and the people spend a lot of money with trainers and then realize it doesn't always work. If they are desperate to keep their dog, this procedure is the last resort and it can be very effective in such cases.

  2. I always welcome differing points of view, and knew that some people would disagree. That is fine. I presented opinions on both sides of the issue and then a personal opinion. I also did not say these dogs were silent, or that only drug dealers and show handlers used this method...just that sometimes they did, as reported in the New York Times article. I concluded that it is difficult to know for sure that this causes trauma or unhappiness for the dog...just as it is difficult to know for sure that it causes no emotional ill-effects.


Kelly and Ike say thank you for your comments!