How Would You Like To Be Debarked? A Vet Speaks Up

by Mary Haight on February 9, 2010

NEW YORK - JULY 23:  Copies of the New York Ti...
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New York Times recently published an article on debarking dogs.  To date, there are 433 online comments.  Clearly, this is not the issue of the past I assumed it was.

In debarking, the pet is anesthetized and both vocal cords are cut or cauterized, allowing the dog to make hoarse, squeaking sounds, but not outright loud barks.  The “back alley” version of the procedure involves blunt destruction of the vocal cords with a metal rod on a conscious pet. Possible complications of the procedure include anesthetic death, pain, reattachment of the vocal cords (allowing barking), and excessive scar tissue development, which can impede breathing.

Proponents of debarking cite worst-case-scenario options – euthanasia, forced pet abandonment, trouble with neighbors or the law.  In my opinion, options are much wider, and there is always a better solution than debarking.  The solution may not be obvious or easy, but it is achievable, if the people involved are willing to take two steps back and examine the big picture.

Dogs use barking to communicate. Barking is a problem when it is either inappropriate or too loud for others.  If barking is truly excessive, it is a sign that something is not balanced in the life of the dog. This is where training should enter the picture.  If someone with an excessive barker needs help, I have a list a mile long of excellent, positive reinforcement based trainers and behaviorists.

If a dog is barking appropriately, but too loudly for neighbors, there are still options.  Loud Dog’s family could bring the neighbor some cookies. They could get ordinances rewritten. They could move.  (Yes, I do think this is less extreme than debarking.)  Giving a pet away or considering euthanasia should not even be on the table.  People at least have a suspicion whether a pet will be a barker when they adopt a dog and decide to make a lifelong commitment anyway.

It makes me sad that the main character of the NYT story is a veterinarian.  For Dr. Marder’s newest puppy, I have found some resources on options to debarking on the website of Westside Veterinary Center where Dr. Marder practices.  Put “dogs” in the species box, and “debarking” in the search box, and you will be presented with three articles with a myriad of suggestions to try before debarking.  If anyone sees the irony to this, please…speak.

Thank you Dr. Finch for your timely, well-presented guest blog!

Shawn Finch, DVM practices at Banfield Pet Hospital, Papillion (Omaha), NE, and writes for Omaha.net and RileyandJames

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16 comments
verna hardesty
verna hardesty

what are people thinking ? a dog that cant bark has no way to defend its self, it cant send out a warning to its owner. which i guess a thief or someone braking into your home would like. beside the fact it is cruel and inhumane. it is stressful to the animal how would anyone humane like it if your voice was taken you couldn't say your were hungry, needed water, was cold, was tired of being by yourself. it would be easier to not have to take care of a dog that couldn't bark because it would almost be like he wasn't there. where is the aspca this is cruelty or the beginning of away to get away with cruelty because cases that are called in a lot of time are because the dog complained. if he cant bark then what ?

venesa winegardner
venesa winegardner

i think it's wrong to take they're voices away from them. what is the point in having a dog if he-she can't warn you of danger, can't yelp when hurt, or do those little noises that let you know i'm happy to see you, or just happy. if you can't handle the bark, you don't need a dog. if you don't find out what makes a dog tick, then why is this his-her fault. i've seen pictures of this, it's cruel. this needs to be stopped before it goes nation wide.

Amy@GoPetFriendly
Amy@GoPetFriendly

We dock tails. We clip ears. We amputate duclaws. We do these things for cosmetic reasons, an no other. We de-claw cats to protect our furniture. Let's put these mutilations on the list with debarking as being completely unacceptable.

Shawn Finch, DVM
Shawn Finch, DVM

Thanks all. And thanks Edie :) I am appalled debarking is still practiced as well and wince every time I hear a squeaking dog. (It has been a couple years now) In the original post, I had mentioned that NO vet schools today will teach the procedure. I graduated from Iowa State Veterinary School in 1998, and it was not taught. It was only briefly mentioned in ethics class-briefly I believe because we were all 100 horrified, and had nothing to debate!

Morgan
Morgan

I can't believe this is legal. Thanks for publishing an article about this and bringing awareness to such a horrifying practice. Is there any movement building to make this procedure illegal?

Edie
Edie

Thanks for this great response to the NYT article, Dr. Finch. I too was shocked that the main person interviewed in the NYT article was a vet and even more that he was contemplating getting his newest dog debarked too: "Dr. Marder said they will probably debark Truffle unless she quickly learns to play quietly" -- "quickly" being the operative word. No one in the article seems to want to take the time to try other things. As a victim of the NYC co-op system -- you can't do what you want with the apartment you buy, but have to conform to the will of the co-op board, which puts you at the mercy of all the other tenants in your building -- I could understand Dr. Marder's dilemma without in any way approving of his solution. But the guy in upstate New York who routinely debarks his sheepdogs?! Why get sheepdogs if you know the breed barks? Perhaps most of all, I loved Dr. Finch's suggestion of bringing cookies to the neighbor who has the problem with the barking dog. It probably wouldn't work in NYC -- What, not only do you have an annoying dog but you're trying to make me fat?! -- but it's a lovely idea from a vet with a generous heart. As an aside, a spate of articles in the NYT recently -- including one in which it was suggested that Cesar Millan's dog training methods might usefully be applied to children -- gives me pause. I always thought NYC was a great place to bring up kids, preparing them for everything, and I still believe that. But now I'm wondering if it's the best place to bring up dogs.

Jim (Doggybytes.ca)
Jim (Doggybytes.ca)

To quote Shaun Ellis (the Wolfman) from his book, The Man Who Lives with Wolves; "We have also with our desire for the cosmetically perfect animal, removed the features that in the wild these creatures use to communicate with each other." ....and now we want to take away their voices too?!!!! Signing on the @#$&'n dotted line means YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE, responsible for the care and guardianship of another life, this is a privilege, not a right ! People that aren't responsible enough to train their dog properly so that it doesn't bark incessantly, but opt instead to have it debarked, really have no business owning an animal in the first place! I better stop now!

Rod@GoPetFriendly
Rod@GoPetFriendly

Debarking is for people looking for an easy way out. Cruel and unusual ... yes. Am I surprised ... no. People hope a pill will make them lose weight, without exercise, etc. What a sad state of affairs when a procedure like this just can't be outlawed.

Michele C. Hollow
Michele C. Hollow

This is so disturbing. Why are people so lazy? We can train dogs not to bark. i had two dogs and both barked when someone was at the door. They never barked continuously because they got attention and were well behaved. This is as disturbing and declawing cats.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Verna, and welcome. It's good to stop, think and speak out about the ridiculous things that are done to animals. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Venesa and welcome. Puppy mills do this, a procedure that is not even taught in vet schools and I agree it is a disgrace. Thanks for stopping by.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Glad you like the info, and Dr. Finch did a great job pushing home her point. For a group working to stop this you could try HSUS.org and see if debarking is one of their targets. Or Google and see how many .orgs might be involved. The things we do to animals with a shrug of the shoulders can pretty much take your breath away, can't it?

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Yes, there's altogether too much cruelty in the world, to animals, to each other. I agree--don't know why it's legal.

venesa winegardner
venesa winegardner

what is the point of having a dog, they warn you of danger, they yelp when hurt or sick. you don't need a dog if you can't handle the barking. they passed a law in mass. where they're making people do this, whats next? i've seen the surgery scar, this is wrong. and i do agree with your thought. they're even fining people for the dog barking. next they'll try to take our voices.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Michele, it's pretty amazing to hear a story like this in the 21st century, isn't it? Just when you think this is probably not being done anymore--maybe Dr. Finch can tell us if this procedure is legitimized by vet school's surgical teaching classes. I'll double check the original article tomorrow to see if that was mentioned...may have been mentioned in the comments. Another one for the "where do you draw the line" file!

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