Debarking is a veterinary surgical procedure. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has recently changed its position on this inhumane procedure and deems debarking unethical. It also opposes “convenience devocalization as a non-therapeutic procedure that negatively impacts the welfare of the dog.”
Debarking, or devocalization, is a surgical procedure performed on dogs where a surgeon removes tissue from a dog’s vocal cords to permanently reduce the volume of their vocalization. Debarking makes barking less noisy, but the dog tries to bark nonetheless. The sound from a debarked dog is a mutated, constricted, hoarse bark.
People debark dogs for these reasons:
- Parents can’t deal with a barking dog and never tried training properly, had failed training or had given up on other anti-barking training modalities.
- Neighbor complaints about a dog’s barking escalate, leading to local animal control or government involvement or legal action.
- People own too many dogs for a variety of spurious reasons and debark them to keep noise levels down, either for themselves or to avoid noise complaints.
My Debarked Dog
Debarking is a canine rights issue that has affected me since I was a vet student. Before vet school, I had never heard of debarking. Going into a dog’s throat and cutting out part of their laryngeal apparatus to stop barking? Nope. Never heard of it.
Then, in my second year of vet school, a debarked “laboratory animal” entered my life. Elvis was nothin’ but a hound dog in the wrong place at the wrong time. He landed in a vet school, already debarked by an animal supplier. Elvis was used for very tame and lame student blood sampling for a few months, then slated for euthanasia if a student did not adopt him. I adopted him.
Elvis lived to a very ripe old age with me, using his debarked hound howl until he died at 15 years of age. As a hound dog, his pitiful bark was particularly disconcerting to anyone who heard this coonhound try to raise a ruckus with a strangled voice box.
When he barked, people always asked me what was wrong with him. “Someone debarked him,” I answered. Here’s a sampling of the responses I received, always with fabulous regional outrage:
- South Philly: “Oh God, hon, kill the (expletive) people that did that to him. God bless that dog, hon. And you too, hon. Here’s a pretzel and a cheese steak for that wonderful dog.” Since Elvis suffered from stress colitis, I kept the fabulous Philadelphia street food and ate it myself.
- New York: “Who would do that to a dawg? How sick are people, right? Gawd bless you for adopting him. I mean, people are sick, right? Just sick.” No NY street food this time.
- Massachusetts: “Shameful.” A direct and to-the-point conversation in New England.
The verdict seems unanimous. Debarking is not something normal, thinking, feeling human beings understand as a solution for a barking dog — not on a Philly street corner, in Brooklyn or in any open field or town anywhere.
Requests to Perform Debarking Surgery
My first debarking request came when I was a young vet.
A woman had made an appointment with me for a “throat problem.” Turns out she bred some toy breed and lived in a fancy apartment building. She told me she had all her dogs debarked so she could keep 15 or so in her apartment at any given time, keep the noise down and continue breeding. I was now her vet, she said, and I would be debarking her dogs.
I told her I did not know how to do the procedure (true) and she should find another vet. My outrage was intense, internal and seething, but I felt debarked myself at the moment; I couldn’t find the voice to convey my disgust at her request. I never saw her again.
Years later, a client asked me to debark her dog. This time, I declined with intensity: “You purchased a purebred dog, a breed notorious for a barking issue. You failed to train it and refuse to seriously work on this barking disaster now. You are not taking my behavioral suggestions seriously. I refuse to surgically alter your dog’s barking apparatus.”
I never saw her again either.
Positive Changes from the AVMA
In a long statement from the AVMA about why debarking is unethical, here are some highlights:
- “Barking is a natural behavior and method of communication for dogs, and devocalization deprives the dog from performing this natural behavior.”
- “Devocalization is also frequently ineffective in preventing inappropriate or excessive debarking.”
This brings me back to my great old hound dog, the one and only Elvis. Elvis loved to bark his entire life, despite his mutilated vocal cords. His “devocalization” procedure was indeed ineffective.
Hopefully, Elvis had no idea he sounded different from the other hound dogs on the block. Or did he? Did Elvis know that his true and honest ability to express his dog voice had been taken from him?
Watch this recent discussion about the debate over dog debarking:
Never Debark Again
I’m envisioning a world where debarking never occurs in real life, only on Dogflix: So we know the scene is coming, right? The scalpel. The surgically prepped dog throat. We cover our muzzles with our paws and we bark out loud,“No! Don’t let that happen to that dog! I can’t watch!”
Saved by changing ethics! Uncover those beautiful, fluffy noses!
Debarking, I predict, is soon to be found only in dog horror flicks. And since those don’t exist, I hope debarking truly becomes a thing of the past.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed July 18, 2018.
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