Debunking Debarking

We’ve noticed that some neighbors aren’t very happy about dogs that bark and disrupt their quiet bliss. In their frustration, they’ve taken to making threats and hurling insults. The problem is, these tactics don’t do much to solve the problem.

Dog owners know all too well that it’s a dog’s nature to bark. Consider this, from NoiseHelp:

When a dog’s barking has proven to be an intractable problem, one solution may be a surgical procedure to reduce the sharpness and loudness of the dog’s bark. For many owners this is a last resort, one they turn to with great reluctance, after all attempts at training have been unsuccessful. Often they are owners who have been served notice by code compliance that they must either get rid of the dog or move, because of the disturbance caused by the barking. In these cases, the surgery may be the only way to avoid either losing their home or giving up their beloved pet.

The surgical procedure is called vocal cordectomy, surgical debarking, or devocalization. Each of these terms is actually a misnomer, because vocal cords are not removed, and the dog is still able to bark and to vocalize after the procedure. “Bark softening” is another term used, which is more accurately descriptive.

In the procedure, the veterinarian removes a small bit of tissue from each side of the animal’s vocal folds, using scissors, a biopsy punch, a laser or other surgical tools. It is performed under general anesthesia. There are two techniques: the oral technique, which is a quick and simple procedure that is performed through the dog’s open mouth, and the laryngotomy technique, in which the area is approached through an incision in the neck.

A dog owner who hears about “devocalization” surgery might expect that the procedure will completely silence the dog, but this is not the case. The dog will still be able to howl, yip, whine and growl. The debarking procedure does not even take away the dog’s ability to bark. In fact, the dog will normally bark just as much as before the procedure. The difference is that the sound will be softer, typically about half as loud as before or less, and it is not as sharp or piercing. So while the procedure does not stop barking or silence the pet, it is effective at reducing the sound level and sharpness of the dog’s bark.

For those who opt for bark softening surgery who were otherwise facing the prospect of either giving up their dog or moving, they consider the main benefit for the dog to be that it is able to continue living with the same loving family in the same home. Without debarking, the dog might have been surrendered to a shelter, where it might eventually have been euthanized.

But there are often additional benefits for the dog’s well-being:

  • After the surgery, the dog is allowed to bark freely as much as it likes, which is its natural behavior.
  • The dog is no longer subject to constant disapproval (and sometimes scolding or yelling or worse) for its barking. Without this stress and confusion for the dog, the relationship with its owner can be much happier and healthier.
  • For some dogs that are successfully trained not to bark inappropriately, the price they pay for their obedient behavior is that they become depressed or neurotic. After debarking, these dogs can be allowed to resume their exuberant barking behavior, dispelling their depression or neuroticism.
  • After debarking, dogs that had to be kept locked indoors almost all the time to avoid antagonizing the neighbors can now be freed to enjoy playing outdoors.

A reader responds:

When politely asking multiple times does not alleviate the problem, there is no issue with raising your voice and letting someone else know that you mean business. I threatened to get the City involved and that seems to have been enough motivation to get the owner to take responsibility for a noisy pet. I know you are dog lovers, and you might be slightly biased, but please don’t forget those who are peace and quiet lovers who love this neighborhood too.

We suspect that the reader’s efforts will only result in a temporary solution. It will be interesting to know how the situation develops. We’ll keep you posted.