Should I Debark My Dog? Pros and Cons

by Team eLocal
Labrador retriever close portrait

Many people consider their dogs as family members, but excessive barking can fray the nerves of even the most patient owner. If your neighbors are hammering on the door, begging you to stop your dog from barking in the small hours, you might even consider surgical debarking to make the noise stop.

Debarking can be a suitable solution for stopping problem barking in some circumstances, but it's not without risk. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of debarking surgery can help you make the best choice for your four-legged friend.

What Is Dog Devocalization or Debarking?

Debarking, also known as devocalization, is a surgery performed on dogs to address the problem of barking. Vets usually place the dog under general anesthesia to carry out the procedure, which involves removing part of the vocal folds through the mouth using a scalpel, laser or punch. Occasionally, the vet may recommend performing the surgery through a neck incision, which is more invasive.

Debarking a dog won't stop it from barking altogether. However, it will prevent it from barking as loudly and make the sound less piercing. If you decide to debark your dog, you should always choose a licensed veterinarian with experience in surgical devocalization.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Debarking a Dog?

Pros

The primary advantage of debarking a dog is that it can make it more pleasant to live with. Sometimes, dog owners consider rehoming their pets because they can't stand the constant barking. Debarking may be the best option for both the dog and its owner in this situation.

Some dog trainers say that training a dog to stop barking can cause stress because barking is a natural communication behavior. Therefore, debarking may be less stressful than minimizing barking through training because it allows the dog to continue its usual vocalizations at a lower volume.

Cons

Like all surgeries, debarking carries a risk of infection and bleeding, and it may not be a safe option for elderly or sick dogs. Your dog may also feel pain during the recovery period, and it's important to tell your vet if your dog appears uncomfortable. They can prescribe medication to manage your dog's pain until the vocal folds heal.

The most significant medical risk associated with debarking is a condition called webbing. Webbing, which is the result of scar tissue formation, happens in approximately 14% of dogs that undergo the surgery. It can cause breathing issues and make it harder for your dog to clear mucus from its throat. It's essential to consult your vet immediately if you notice your dog struggling to breathe following debarking surgery.

Furthermore, vocal fold regrowth could cause your dog's bark to return to its natural volume, so you may have to consider repeating the surgery. Occasionally, your dog's bark might even be louder or more high-pitched than before.

Debarking is usually medically unnecessary. It's actually illegal to debark a dog in Massachusetts and New Jersey unless your vet recommends it for medical reasons. Critics of the practice say that debarking causes unnecessary discomfort and risk and ignores welfare concerns that can be the root cause of problem barking. The American Veterinary Medical Association's position is that debarking should be a last resort as an alternative to euthanasia if behavioral techniques to manage problem barking fail.

What Are Some Alternatives to Devocalization?

Excessive barking is often a sign of stress, frustration or boredom. For example, many dogs bark due to loud noises, strangers or being left alone with little stimulation. Sometimes, dogs will bark when they are sick, in pain or suffering from canine dementia. Addressing the underlying causes of problem barking can help you avoid unnecessary surgery and make your dog happier and healthier.

Rule Out Medical Causes

It's wise to get your veterinarian to examine your dog before considering debarking surgery. Your vet can check to see if your dog has a painful condition that's causing it to bark excessively and provide treatment. Sometimes, anti-anxiety medication can help reduce barking caused by stress.

Provide Plenty of Stimulation

Avoid leaving your dog alone for long periods and ensure that it gets the right amount of exercise and mental stimulation for its needs. Combating boredom with toys can also help stop barking due to frustration, so consider making more time to play with and train your dog.

Avoid Triggers

If you know the triggers that cause your dog to bark, you could try minimizing them to see if it helps. For example, you could cover the windows if your dog barks in reaction to strangers approaching the house. You can also purchase dog ear defenders to block out the sounds of thunderstorms or high winds.

Reward Quiet Behavior

Rewarding your dog for staying calm and quiet can help reinforce good behavior. Food treats, toys and positive attention can all be highly motivating for dogs.

Get Specialist Help

Sometimes, it's unclear why a dog barks excessively and how to solve the problem. A veterinary behaviorist with experience in resolving problem barking can help you identify triggers and find ways to manage your dog's barking.

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