One of the most controversial subjects in the field veterinary medicine is debarking surgery. Debarking surgery is a procedure designed to lower the volume of a dog’s bark. It is generally used by those with dogs who have both a loud bark and a tendency to bark incessantly. The procedure is most commonly used on very loud larger dog breeds. Shetlands and collies, for instance, make up a large percentage of those dogs subjected to the surgery. The procedure generally requires the use of a general anesthesia and involves punching, cutting or otherwise manipulating the tissue around a dog’s vocal chords to soften or significantly reduce his ability to bark. Access the areas targeted during the surgery can come either through the dog’s mouth or by an incision on the dog’s neck.
Debarking does not, usually, complete eliminate dog’s bark. The volume of the bark is decreased substantially by the surgery, but most dogs will still have some bit of “bark” left subsequent to surgery. It is sometimes referred to a bark softening for this reason.
Not surprisingly, debarking is a very contentious issue, with experts having lined up on each side of the argument. Some advocate debarking as a helpful last-resort for incessant barkers while others maintain the process is cruel and unnecessary.
The Debarking Advocates
Those who support the continued use of debarking procedures argue that it is generally pursued only in egregious circumstances. Only dogs who have been resistant to alternative methods of reducing their excessive barking tend to be subject to the procedure. The surgery is reserved, they say, for problematic pets where no workable alternative exists and when the nature of the dog’s bark makes them a legitimate nuisance—not merely an inconvenience.
These advocates argue that the debarking surgery, if conducted by a properly trained veterinarian creates a more pleasant life for the dog. No longer subject to constant criticism and correction for his barking, the dog’s quality of life is enhanced is the claim put forth.
Some have even maintained that the debarking process saves dogs’ lives. They state that dogs with constant barking issues are often abandoned by owners or given to shelters and eventually euthanized as result of a barking problem that can be surgically corrected. Proponents of debarking see the surgery as a form of behavior modification can be a great benefit to frustrated humans as well as the dogs themselves.
The Debarking Detractors
Those who oppose debarking operations often do so on the grounds of inhumanity. They object to the surgery on principle, noting the dog has no ability to consent to the action and that since it is not a health-related matter, the elimination of a dog’s bark via surgery is simply morally wrong. They argue that there is no justification to expose the dog to the risk of surgery for the mere sake of convenience.
Additionally, they note that the surgery does nothing to eliminate the underlying reasons for the dog’s constant barking. The dog is likely to continue to silently “bark” or at a lower volume because root causes of the unappreciated behavior are not addressed. This cuts against the potential benefits of the surgery as the real nature of the dog’s life is not changed—they still suffer from the same issues as before. Post-surgery, however, they suffer in relative silence, which decreases the owner’s impetus to explore what problems led to the errant behavior in the first place.
Those who reject the procedure also note the medical risk inherent in any major surgery and any procedure requiring use of a general anesthetic. This line of thought purports that the risks associated with the procedure outweigh the minor benefits that may it may possibly produce.
The question of whether or not a dog should be considered a prospect for a debarking procedure remains a highly personal one. There are many who would argue that, under the right circumstances, a dog and owner can both benefit from the procedure. There are just as many who reject the procedure out of hand as a wasteful act of inhumanity.
Debarking surgery remains a controversial and divisive issue within the dog community. No consensus is in sight.