In the field of dog training, one of the most controversial subjects is debarking surgery. The procedure is designed to minimize the volume of your dog’s bark; it is generally a last resort of those who have dogs with a tendency to bark loud and incessantly. The general recipients of the surgery are naturally vocal breeds; a large percentage of subjects, for example, are Collies and Shelties.
During the procedure, the dog is put under general anesthesia. Punching and cutting is done to manipulate the tissues around the vocal chords to soften and significantly reduce the ability to bark. Access to the targeted areas of correction can be achieved through the dog’s mouth or via an incision on the neck.
In most cases, debarking does not completely eliminate the dog’s bark. The volume of the bark is merely decreased; there will still be somewhat of a bark remaining. Because the procedure doesn’t eradicate the bark, it is sometimes called bark softening.
What makes the subject so controversial is the fact that the expert opinions have split; their points are debated from 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.
Those who support the continuing use of debarking surgeries stand behind their belief, but agree that it should only be used in situations involving extreme circumstances; they have made it clear that it is not a luxury to pet owners. Only dogs that have been resistant to alternative methods of reducing their excessive barking should be subject to the procedure. The surgery is reserved for problematic pets when no workable alternative exists, and when the nature of the dog’s bark makes them a legitimate nuisance not simply an inconvenience.
It is also stated by these advocates that, if conducted properly by a trained veterinarian, the procedure can assist in creating a more pleasant life for the dog. Those in support of debarking believe that the dog’s quality of life is enhanced because they are no longer criticized or reprimanded for their consistent barking. Some have even gone as far to say that the procedure can save a dog’s life. This claim is backed by the fact that dogs with frequent or loud barking that are abandoned, given to shelters, or run away are often euthanized because of a negative behavior that could essentially be 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.
Those who oppose debarking operations often play the card of inhumanity and cruelty to animals. It is approached as a moral issue, saying that the dog in question has no way to consent to refuse the procedure. With any surgery, or any procedure involving the use of a general anesthetic for that matter, there is the possibility that something unforeseen may go wrong, leaving the dog open to health risks for the sake of convenience.
The procedure also does nothing to eliminate the dog’s reason to bark, so from this standpoint, it doesn’t actually correct any behavioral detriments. The surgery perpetuates the need to “bark” (even though it is silent, or the volume is greatly reduced) which may be rooted in the owner’s ignorance or neglect. 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 general reaction to explore what problems led to the behavior in the first place.
The Controversy Continues
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 and it is not likely that a consensus will soon emerge either for or against the procedure. There are reasons to support the practice often seemingly solvent act debarking, yet many reasons to be distrustful of the procedure, its true efficacy and moral justifications.