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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  2. […] I wrote a guest post on Mary Haight’s website, Dancing Dog Blog about […]

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