The Truth About Debarking a Dog (Venticulocordectomy)

Barking and other vocalizations are how dogs communicate with their environment, along with body language. Removing this important communication ability is not much different to removing a person’s ability to speak.

Many people who are pro-debark like to compare it to spay and neuter, saying that those procedures are more invasive and are also done for the convenience of the owner.

This is quite clearly wrong: desexing a dog is for the welfare of the animal and future animals by preventing more births in an overpopulated world where many pups suffer due to lack of homes and a bursting-at-the-seams shelter system.

Debarking on the other hand, is done for the sole benefit and convenience of the dog’s owner and has no benefit for the dog at all; quite the opposite, with high potential risk of post-surgery complications, and physical and psychological discomfort and distress caused to the animal for the rest of its life.

What Is Debarking?

Venticulocordectomy, the veterinary procedure of debarking a dog, involves removing some of the vocal cord tissue during an operation which is done either through the mouth or by cutting directly into the larynx.

It does not actually result in totally removing the dog’s ability to bark, but rather brings about a reduction in volume and intensity. The result is a more muffled, less noticeable bark. The reality is not usually so straight forward though.

Most dogs will end up with a hoarse, often wheezy sound when they try to bark, as well as be at risk of many potential short and long term complications that can cause much distress and even require more surgery in future.

This procedure is controversial amongst veterinarians, with many refusing to do it at all. In some locations around the world devocalization is illegal or highly regulated, but laws and regulations differ throughout states and countries depending where you live.

On top of that, veterinary bodies and animal welfare organizations also put forward their own policies on debarking – and the majority are either totally against it, or do not approve of it unless under extreme medical circumstances.

Why do people consider debarking their dog?

Why do dog owners think about doing vocal cord surgery on their dog despite the known risks?

There are a few reasons why people end up in this position. Some are legitimate, while others are quite sad to say the least.

Dog owners who are thinking about debarking surgery might believe that it is their only option to avoid:

  • Having the dog removed by authorities due to noise complaints from neighbors
  • Rehoming the dog to a shelter or privately
  • Euthanasia

In other words, many people who have a dog that barks excessively truly believe that bark reduction surgery is the only option left if they are to be able to keep their pet. A last resort. Some may have been issued warning notices or even court notices regarding their dogs noise levels.

This can of course leave you in a very difficult situation. But even in the most trying circumstances, bark reduction surgery is an extreme option that does not need to be resorted to if someone is truly committed to keeping and caring for their dog for its entire life.

The big question is though: how much effort has been put into trying to change the CAUSE of the barking? After all, debarking does not address the cause (the stimulation or issues resulting in excessive barking), it just tries to cover the symptom (the barking).

Sadly in too many cases, very little effort has been put into bark control behavior modification training and therapy. In these cases, debarking can be seen as an easy way out to solve the problem for the human owners, without any benefits for the dog (quite the opposite).

For this reason, debarking is often labeled as a “convenience surgery”. Working to identify and address the underlying reasons (e.g. boredom, being left alone, anxiety etc) for the barking takes a lot more time and effort – something that some dog owners unfortunately would rather not do and as a result, they can see debarking as a quick fix to a problem.

Positions and Laws About Dog Debarking Surgery Around the World

Different countries, states and even individual counties have varying laws and policies relating to this sort of procedure on dogs. Some how outlawed it altogether, others do not allow it unless under specific circumstances. Then there are the policies and positions of various groups like veterinary associations and animal welfare organizations which all usually have an official policy on the issue.

It would be too long and tedious to list the positions, policies and laws of every single state, country, industry group and welfare organization here. So I’ve chosen some examples that cover a broad range of views. Wherever you might live, it’s wise to look up your local laws and the policies of organizations around you. What do they think of debarking? Is it illegal, not recommended, or are there no laws or recommendations at all? Even if you’re not considering devocalization for your dog, being aware of the policies and positions where you live is a good idea, particularly if you might have concerns about a neighbor’s dog, or another dog you’ve seen.

You will often come across people stating that debarking is “banned” in a particular country or location. Unfortunately in almost all cases, while it might be generally prohibited to debark a dog, there is almost always a list of exceptions where the procedure will be allowed. This can range from the very weak, such as allowing the procedure to go ahead on the advice of a veterinarian or if other methods have failed (even if these cant be proven), to more stronger exceptions such as that given out by the Council of Europe, including where the surgery might be required for medical reasons only.

United States

Regulations and policies differ between the states in the USA.

In their policy and position statement on Surgical Procedures for Resolving Undesirable Behavior, the ASPCA says that they do not support debarking.

Their position is that barking is a normal behavior, and if it becomes a nuisance behavior then they state that “a combination of training and environmental management is the appropriate way to resolve”. The ASPCA “does not support the use of surgical procedures that attempt to circumvent the behavioral issue”.

It is clear then that the ASPCA does not support any sort of devocalization surgery.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is strongly against devocalization and considers it “mutilation” of the animal, as well as discouraging responsible pet ownership by giving people the mistaken view that they can take an easy way out of solving a barking problem, when this could not be further from the truth when it comes to the downsides, risks and problems associated with debarking procedures.

United Kingdom

Debarking surgery is illegal in the UK.

Australia

In Australia it’s the individual states and territories that create laws and guidelines about debarking and other pet welfare issues.

In Victoria, debarking is listed as a prohibited procedure in the state of Victoria which can only be undertaken in accordance with the Code of Practice for Debarking of Dogs.

This code outlines circumstances in which a dog is allowed to be legally debarked by a vet. This includes situations where the owner has received at least two written complaints from neighbors, and the owner must complete a Statutory Declaration stating that the dog is “a public nuisance” due to its excessive barking.

Additionally, the dog’s owner must obtain a letter from their local council authority regarding the dog’s barking and history of neighbourhood complaints. This does mean that a person can not simply walk into a vet practice and request their dog to have this surgery. The extra work and effort required to meet the necessary criteria to have a dog debarked in Victoria is time consuming enough that people are likely to look more thoroughly at behavioral modification and training options instead.

It should be noted that this Code states that it “does not approve of debarking as a substitute for proper care, management and training of a dog.”

So despite debarking being written into law and a code of practice, the onus is still left to the owner (who must jump several hoops as outlined above), and the veterinarian as to whether the surgery will be carried out in the state of Victoria.

One vet in Australia makes his case and opinion very clear in this post about debarking, calling it a mutilation. He states that, in particular, the state of South Australia “has a real problem with ‘convenience’ debarking.” when it comes to dog breeders, and that people who breed dogs and debark them should not be breeding at all.

Europe

Although it is often repeated on various websites, blogs, forums and the like that debarking is banned across Europe, I was unable to actually find any documentation supporting this. I am not aware of an EU wide ban on dog devocalization. If it doesn’t exist, I assume that small pieces of information have been taken, over time, and morphed into an assumption that there’s an all encompassing law across Europe covering debarking of dogs. As far as I know, this does not exist (I will keep looking though).

It is likely that people have become confused and referred to the policies of the Council of Europe regarding debarking, when thinking about EU wide laws. The Council is a separate body from the European Union so should not be confused with the EU.

The Council of Europe is unable to making binding laws like the EU, but it is able to enforce agreements that have been made by European states. The Council has a convention called the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals which recommends against canine devocalization.

These are not laws, but rather legal standards which have been set for any states who are a member of the Council. Even non-European countries are able to sign on to Council of Europe conventions.

Almost all European states are members of the Council of Europe, with the exception of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Vatican City. It is then up to each state whether they want to sign the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals which is where the prohibition of devocalisation is listed.

As of October 2016, the following countries had signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals:
Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

Now, this doesn’t mean that dog debarking surgery isn’t permitted (like I said, these are not laws but policies for signatories to this animal welfare treaty).

The Council of Europe states that “surgical operations for the purpose of modifying the appearance of a pet animal or for other non-curative purposes shall be prohibited and, in particular.. devocalisation.”

With an exception being whether a veterinarian thinks it’s a necessary medical procedure that benefits the dog. This again leaves it up to individual vets to decide whether devocalization surgery should be carried out.

The UK is not a signatory to the convention. Its noted that a number of countries including France and the UK did not sign the animal welfare treaty due to pressure from the dog breeding industry about the ban on ear cropping and tail docking in the regulations.

However, France and several others later signed after modifications were made to allow exemptions to certain aspects of the convention – such as tail docking. (but not debarking it says – keep reading above link)

It’s interesting to note that the European Parliament in 2010 was presented with a question from member Christel Schaldemose from the Denmark Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, noting that “Several European countries have banned the procedure unless it is required on specific veterinary grounds”. This indicates that there is not an EU wide ban, but rather it is left up to individual countries. Sadly, she also pointed out that ” the rules are being circumvented in that dog breeders can have the procedure performed outside Europe (typically in Canada) or dogs are imported which have already been debarked.”

New Zealand

New Zealand legislation classes debarking surgery as a Restricted Surgical Procedure, which is then covered by a number of rules. The main clause states that it can only be carried out if the veterinarian can “first satisfy himself or herself that the performance of that procedure is in the interests of the animal.”
This does provide quite a vague definition of need, and means that debarking is not particularly restricted in New Zealand. It is left up to individual vets to determine whether they want to carry out devocalisation surgery on a dog, and up to dog owners to be honest or not about the efforts they’ve put in to try and change the dog’s behavior before requesting the surgery.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) http://www.nzva.org.nz/?page=policysurgicalalt has a position on debarking which notes that it is “normally unacceptable” and that it should only be done in certain conditions for “therapeutic reasons” and as a “last resort” when all other options such as training have shown not to work, after advice from a vet.

The New Zealand Companion Animal Council does not oppose debarking. They simply state what they call a minimum standard around this issue, which is: “Dogs must only be taken to a veterinarian for debarking after other suitable means of treating inappropriate barking have been attempted and have failed.”

So while there dog vocal cord surgery is noted in New Zealand law, it is not restricted or tightly enforced. In fact, some vets in New Zealand (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2779799/Surgery-barking-up-the-wrong-tree-says-vet) claim that it is alarming how often debarking surgery is taking place and that debarking is often used as a lazy way to try and quieten a dog, rather than owners bothering to change behaviors and improve the environment for the dog to treat the cause of excessive barking.

What are the risks during and after devocalization surgery?

Risks include the normal anesthetic risks that come with any surgical procedure, as well as some serious short and long term risks relating to the procedure itself.

This can include bleeding, swelling, obstruction of air flow when breathing, and infections. Complications like scarring of the larynx can be an issue for some dogs after this surgery, and this is where the risk of air flow restriction can arise. When this happens, yet another operation has to be done on the dog to remove any scar tissue that has grown so that the dog is able to breathe. It is these distressing complications that lead so many veterinarians and experts to warn against, and refuse to undertake debarking on dogs.

And it;s not only the physical complications that cause distress; the psychological and behavioral issues that come along with debarking are something that people often don’t think about.

Because debarking only removes the symptom – the unwanted excessive barking – the underlying cause of the barking still remains. The surgery does absolutely nothing to address any causes or triggers for a dog’s barking problem. Whether it’s stress, boredom, anxiety, excitement or otherwise causing a dog to bark excessively: these issues won’t go away after debarking surgery. On the contrary, it can cause a dog to lash out in other ways such as physical aggression and biting.

Humane options for controlling excessive barking

Dog debarking surgery is extreme and in the vast majority of cases, a convenience option for a dog owner rather than a benefit for the dog.

There are so many humane, safe and ethical options for addressing an excessive barking problem.

Yes, it often takes time and patience to improve the behavior of a dog that likes to bark a lot, but if one doesn’t want to put in the time for a beloved pet to make life better for everyone, it’s time to question whether that dog would be better off being placed with a new loving family instead.

Let’s look at the options available to loving dog owners who simply want to halt or drastically reduce the frequency, intensity and timing of inappropriate dog barking.

Identify The Causes of Barking

Identify the causes of the barking including visit to vet to rule out any physical problems. The most common causes of excessive dog barking include:

  • Stress
  • Separation anxiety
  • Lack of stimulation or boredom
  • Lack of exercise
  • Over-stimulation (e.g. having a constant view of a neighbor’s dog or other animals)

Make Environmental and Lifestyle Changes

Make any changes to environment/lifestyle depending on potential cause of barking – e.g. removing visual access to neighbors, giving dog more exercise
This is sadly where people start to look at debarking as an easy way out, rather than making small changes to accommodate the needs of the dog. However, those dog owners with their pet’s welfare as a priority will see the clear benefits in making even the smallest changes, and what sort of positive impacts it can have on a dog’s behavior in general, including barking.

Behavioural Training

Behavioral training is vital to commit to if you want to stop your dog barking excessively. Exactly what type of training you undertake will depend on factors like your dog’s lifestyle, what’s causing the barking, and how severe the problem is.

Anti-bark Citronella Collars

Citronella anti-barking collars are humane, and serve as a tool to help train your dog not to bark excessively or at inappropriate times. The best ones are comfortable to wear, affordable, and easy to operate.

Like any training tool, you’ll still need to combine behavioral training with your use of these collars and with patience and commitment, many people have found this to be an effective way of reducing or eliminating excessive barking in dogs.

Ultrasonic Bark Control Devices

Ultrasonic anti-barking devices use a very high pitched sound, usually not at all able to be heard by humans, to interrupt a dog’s bark and to divert his attention elsewhere (the same way that a spray collar does).

Ultrasonic devices come in different types, such as handheld units, collars and external devices that you can mount either indoors or outdoors. Some work automatically to detect a dog’s bark, while others are manually activated by you so you can use it as a proactive tool for training. Many have both options, allowing you to let it operate automatically while you’re not home if need be.

Debarking a dog is not the answer to solving excessive barking problems. Behavioral training, positive reinforcement, identification of triggers and causes, and gentle bark training devices like spray collars are what’s required to solve this common, yet very distressing problem.

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