A dog barking excessively.

Canine Debarking Surgery: Is Debarking Cruel to Dogs?

Debarking, also known as devocalization, devoicing, or bark softening, is a surgical procedure that involves removing laryngeal tissue from a dog, which renders them unable to produce normal sounds when barking. This procedure has been met with much controversy and considered by many to be unethical or cruel. Certain U.S. counties and states have even gone so far as to ban the procedure entirely.

Facts about Barking

Barking is one method of dog communication. Barking serves many purposes, including:

Barking is a normal canine communication method, however, when barking is excessive, it is important to understand what your dog is trying to communicate and consider methods to reinforce their needs in more appropriate ways. Learn more about why dogs bark here and how to deal with excessive barking.

The Controversy Surrounding Debarking Procedures

There are a variety of opinions surrounding debarking surgery. Debarking is referred to by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as a “cruel surgery of convenience,” while other groups refer to debarking as an unnecessary “mutilation.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that “devocalization—or debarking—should be used only as an alternative to euthanasia, after efforts to change a dog’s behavior have failed.”

Here are some facts to consider:

There are both supporters and opponents of this procedure:

Supporters of Debarking Argue:

Opponents of Debarking Argue:

Steps Involved in Debarking Surgery

First of all, debarking is considered a last-resort procedure. All behavioral training methods should be exhausted prior to this surgery.

The debarking procedure consists of putting a dog under general anesthesia. Protocol may vary from vet to vet, but the sequence generally follows the following path:

What To Do if Your Dog Is Excessively Barking

  1. Act early. Don’t let this behavior get out of your control!
  2. Read about why dogs bark to identify the reason your dog is barking. What is their motivation? What is your response? Are you or your family unintentionally reinforcing this barking behavior? Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a well-known behaviorist, provides excellent tips here to help you identify why your dog is barking and suggestions for resolving the issue. Redirecting barking or rewarding your dog for quiet behavior is key.
  3. Ensure your dog’s needs are met. Provide your dog with plenty of time to play and exercise. At least 30 minutes minimum once or twice a day is needed for active, healthy breeds. In addition, ensure your dog is parasite-free (fleas, ticks) and on a high-quality diet. Provide toys or puzzles to stimulate your dog’s brain.
  4. See your veterinarian for an examination and to identify underlying treatable medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or pain.
  5. If necessary, see a veterinary behaviorist. They have additional knowledge that can help with the creation of a treatment or training plan.
  6. Avoid stimuli that leads to barking when possible. For example, if a stimulus is seeing people or other dogs outside, you should cover the windows. If storms are a trigger, you can mask lightning and thunder with a white noise machine or music. If your dog is barking when bored, hire a dog walker or consider doggy daycare.
  7. Once you identify the trigger, work with your veterinarian or behaviorist for ideas on how to desensitize your dog to that stimuli.
  8. Reward quiet behavior. Know what reward your dog loves most and give it to them. Some dogs prefer toys, treats, praise, or just your time and attention. Avoid punishment.

In general, pet owners should only consider debarking surgery at the suggestion of their veterinarian and after they’ve exhausted the above alternatives.