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Debarking a Dog: What It Is, Legality & Ethics (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Karyn Kanowski, BVSc MRCVS (Vet)

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

siberian husky dog lying on balcony and barking

Debarking a Dog: What It Is, Legality & Ethics (Vet Answer)


Dr. Karyn Kanowski Photo


Dr. Karyn Kanowski

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It’s probably fair to say that anyone who has had a dog or lived next door to one has, at some point, wondered about debarking, even if it is just for one wishful moment. For most dogs, a bit of barking is to be expected, but there are some instances where the occasional “woof” becomes an eardrum-rattling assault, and you might be considering extreme measures.

If you want to know more about what debarking a dog really means, you’re in the right place. We’re going to take a closer look at what this procedure involves, what the law has to say about it, and discuss whether it is something we should even consider.

What Is Debarking?

Debarking or devocalization (also termed devoicing or bark softening) is a surgical procedure (ventriculocordectomy) performed under general anesthesia to pare back the vocal folds or cords.

dog barking
Image Credit: Tanya Kalian, Shutterstock

How Does Debarking Work?

Ventriculocordectomy is a procedure normally performed to treat conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and vocal cord masses, with the known side effect of a softening or silencing of the normal bark, depending on how much tissue is removed.

If only a narrow margin is taken, the bark normally returns after a few weeks or months, but if enough is removed, it results in a permanent reduction in the volume, pitch, and intensity of the bark. It does not, however, stop the dog from barking.

Is It Legal?

With the exception of only a few states, this procedure is still legal in the US, although opposition is increasing.

Many countries around the world, including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe have outlawed debarking, along with numerous other surgical procedures identified as interfering with the natural anatomy and function of an animal to meet the preference of humans, with no therapeutic benefit to the animal, similar to ear cropping, declawing, and tail docking.

close up photography of dog barking
Image Credit: Robert Gramner, Unsplash

What Are the Ethical Concerns Surrounding Debarking?

Put simply, debarking is using a surgical procedure to address a behavioral issue in a way that is infinitely more convenient to a dog owner than more rigorous methods of tackling the actual problem. Just as with ear cropping, declawing, and tail docking, we are making permanent, surgical changes to animals under our care to suit our preferences, rather than adjusting our needs and expectations.

It Only Sounds Like the Problem Is Fixed

Frustrating as it may be, dogs usually bark for a reason. The difficulty is in working out why and how to get them to stop. Dogs bark to communicate with each other, with other animals, and with us. Many dogs that bark constantly are in an almost permanent state of anxiety, frustration, or hyperstimulation, and removing the sound of their bark does nothing to address their emotional or behavioral concerns; it only mutes them.

The reality is that many dogs face punishment, relinquishment, or even death when owners are unable to cope with or correct excessive barking. In many cases, owners have tried to implement several methods and techniques before resorting to a surgical solution, and if debarking saves a dog from abandonment or euthanasia, there is an argument that it is the lesser of the evils.

For this reason, there are provisions in some countries where the surgery is banned to allow debarking when all other avenues have been exhausted. Arguably, this should be the only circumstance where such a procedure is performed. And we’re not just talking about an “oh yes, we tried that” scenario. Many believe there should be specific requirements to be followed over a minimum time frame before surgery is allowed.

doodle barking, dog, woof
Image Credit: dahancoo, Pixabay

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Advantages of Debarking

  • It may save dogs from being surrendered or euthanized.
  • It can reduce the risk of conflict and retaliation in neighborhood disputes.
  • It may contribute to a calmer home environment for the dog.

Disadvantages of Debarking

  • The inherent risks of a surgical procedure, particularly one that affects the airways.
  • The procedure only addresses the problem on a superficial level; it does not address why the dog is barking.
  • It may intensify a dog’s distress by limiting its ability to communicate and express itself.
  • It provides an “easy” alternative to training.

Should Debarking Be Allowed?

There are some situations where, in the absence of any other option and the dog is otherwise likely to be surrendered or euthanized, a debarking procedure may be considered. However, once the volume has been turned down, efforts to address the underlying issue should continue.

It is enough that intense selective breeding has given us dogs that are aesthetically pleasing without considering the health implications, but should we also be physically altering them to suit our needs? Rather than making surgical adjustments to these wonderful creatures, we should instead be making adjustments to our own expectations.

Dogs bark. They make a mess, they chew things, they shed, and they can cause chaos. However, they also make our lives better and happier, and they give us the most unconditional love in the world. All they ask in return is that we take care of them.

If you don’t think you could cope with a dog that barks a lot or if you don’t think you can commit to the amount of time and effort that may be involved with training a noisy dog, the solution shouldn’t be surgery. If you don’t want a pet that barks, the answer is simple: don’t get a dog.

Image Credit: Sanchoz, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What About Anti-Bark Collars?

There are different types of anti-bark collars, some that produce a buzz or vibration when your dog barks, some that squirt an unpleasant odor, and some that give an electric shock. The problem with all these methods is that they rely on punishment to stop a behavior without following it with any type of positive reinforcement.

Shock collars shouldn’t be used at all, as they rely on pain and fear to stop the barking, and spray-type collars carry a risk of causing irritation to your dog’s mouth, nose, and eyes.

The vibrating collars can be helpful when used along with a positive reinforcement method, such as treats or clicker training when the dog stops barking. This means that they should be used as a part of active training, not just left on all the time.

My Rescue Dog Was Debarked—Are They Suffering?

No. Once a dog recovers from the surgery, there is no ongoing pain or discomfort. You will likely notice that instead of a “woof,” your dog sounds like they have a touch of laryngitis! If they are barking a lot, albeit quietly, there is still an issue that should be addressed, so talk to your vet.

Angry Jack russell terrier
Image Credit: Bonsales, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts: How Can I Stop My Dog From Barking?

All dogs bark from time to time, but if your dog seems to bark all the time, there is going to be a reason. There are lots of options available to help you work out why your dog is barking so you can help them break the habit. Talk to your vet about training options, and there may even be supplements or medications that can help you on your journey, such as Trazodone.

Here are some resources that may help you understand your dog’s barking better:

Featured Image Credit: Dmitri T, Shutterstock

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