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To Bark or Debark: Vocal Cordectomy Surgery

Updated on November 15, 2009

To Bark or Not To Bark

Dogs bark because they are lonely, in pain, feel threatened, are bored, or happy. Dogs, like Shelties, are one of the more boisterous breeds. They love to chat, and can irritate neighbors and owners, alike. Their barks tend to be sharp and high-pitched, and the sound travels great distances.

Many dogs end up in shelters, or on the street because of their barking habits. Most cities have ordinances to provide avenues for people seeking relief from the noise of barking dogs. A visit from an animal control officer or a court appearance should not be needed to address a barking problem.

Debarking is a surgical procedure, also called vocal cordectomy, to decrease excessive barking. The procedure involves cutting away tissue from the dog's vocal cords. The goal of this surgery is to turn down the volume of the bark and stop the sound from traveling so far.

Debarking does not eliminate the animal's ability to bark, and your dog will continue to bark after the procedure. But, the bark will be more muted, softer and lower in pitch. The bark will be muffled and more tolerable. However, some owners still complain about the new bark. Perhaps they wanted the dog to stop barking entirely, but dogs bark, that's just the way it is. If people do not want to be subjected to barking, they should not get a dog!

Before placing your best friend in the hands of a surgeon, be sure the veterinarian is competent and has experience in this type of surgery. Be advised, some veterinarians will not perform the procedure, and cordectomy is not permitted in everywhere in the United States. To learn the laws of debarking in your area contact your State Veterinary Association.

Misinformation about this procedure abounds, and has sparked movements by animal rights interest groups to outlaw debarking procedures. Breeders, such as Charlotte McGowan, dog show judge with the American Kennel Club, and author of “The Shetland Sheep Dog in America,” profess dogs suffer no ill effects through the cordectomy procedure.

Ms. McGowan suggests debarking (making a small hole in each vocal chord) is a simple procedure when done by a skilled surgeon. The procedure is virtually bloodless, the dog is not stressed by the surgery, and recovers quickly. The procedure will not render a silent dog, but reduction in the barking pitch and volume will be achieved.

The debarking procedure has been a valuable tool against euthanasia, for many pets. Dogs can be subjected to abusive treatment, by their owners, because they bark. Shelties, in particular, can be irritating and vocal. They bark at squirrels, birds, passing people, lawn care equipment, and the sound of a started engine. They are inquisitive and extremely alert to their surroundings.

The debarking procedure is relatively simple. Actually, the surgery is less traumatic than the removal of the uterus in spaying, or testicles in neutering surgeries. Many dogs bark a lot, such as herding dogs, small dogs, and mixed breed dogs. In heavily populated neighborhoods, barking can cause problems between neighbors. Quarrels have become intense between neighbors, and dogs have been subjected to needless suffering or death. Some pets were fed poison or other life-threatening substances by a disgruntled neighbor.

Some suggest that debarking is emotionally damaging to dogs. Debarked dogs can bark, and even though the sound is reduced, they don't seem to notice any difference in their barks. In fact, debarked dogs are not constantly yelled at or disciplined for their barking habits; instead they appear to be happier and more relaxed.

The key lies within the veterinary skill.


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      Bonnie 6 years ago

      I debarked (laser surgery) my Beaglier last month after a couple months of research including this article, which gave me some GREAT questions for the vet! I would have been totally against it before I adopted this particular dog, but I feel like we're both happier now. It was a last resort kind of thing for me, but I doubt I really could have taken him back to the shelter. I love him so much. Haters are everywhere, though, be warned if you're considering the surgery. There's tons of negativity online. I heard more than one comment in the vet's office. Even friends who have heard my dog bark at his finest look at me like a criminal when I tell them. All I can say is, walk a mile (or 3 years and umpteen more) in my shoes. Also, he had some complications including air sacs that made his face and neck swell the day he had it done, and then a seroma, so I did feel like a criminal while those things were happening. The dog, on the other hand, didn't miss a beat. He looked at me funny (tail wagging but a little confused) the first few times he barked afterward, that's it. He was still drugged for the air sacs, and the seroma didn't bother him at all. He was much more upset about losing his couch priveleges (which he regained as a result of my guilt) than losing his big loud obnoxious bark. He never put his tail between his legs or acted sad (which he did for weeks when I kicked him off the couch) or hurt or anything. His growls and whines sound exactly the same, but his barks don't hurt my head anymore. Also, I don't have to waste more time trying to train him against his nature, or torture him with the spray collar he HATED every time I go out, or worry about the neighbors getting us kicked out, or yell at him to be quiet all the time anymore. I feel like his barking was probably a big part of what landed him in the pound in the first place, he's such a sweet dog. He does still quite happily bark, as you mentioned. Thank you, Ivori, for your informative and unbiased article! I hope anyone considering this surgery will discuss your article with their prospective vet.

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      Barbara Eisenberg 7 years ago from Titusville

      Deborah - thank you for your comment. I am not promoting debarking surgery, however, if barking is a problem and efforts to stop the barking have been exhausted, the owner might want to discuss the procedure with their veternarian. Perhaps it can be a good alternative to hitting or punishing the dog for barking. Some people abandon the dog or turn it into a kill-shelter - and this is not fair! Before getting a dog, consider the environment that it will be living in, and if that environment (space and people) can tolerate barking. Dogs bark - and if that is not acceptable people should use common sense and not subject a dog to their ideals. So many animals are abused and they do not deserve cruel treatment (just my opinion).

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      Deborah 7 years ago

      I own and show Collies I have 5 at this time and we are building up our kennel none of my dogs are debarked but i will tell you that they will bark at everything and we have had others tell us we should debark them I know lots of breeders who have all their collies debarked for me i will not do it at least not yet Since my husband and i are moving to a large property of 70 acres i feel its should be fine

      but we're we live now if i was staying i might have no choice but to think about it bacuse the males act as guard dogs and everytime someone walks by or a dog is out there go my collies barking like crazy

      but i don't agree that everyone should do this

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      Super Barky Dog Owner 7 years ago

      I've been working with our mini-schnauzer to control barking for several years. She has always been very vocal and has a shrill, high pitched and loud bark. We've been to several trainers, starting with those who used soley positive reinforcement, which was not effective and moved to other techniques such as using a citronella collar and most recently to a shock collar. She barks through everything. She barks when happy, when people walk by the house. She barks at other people and dogs when we go for our daily walk. She is a very lively, energetic dog and our most recent class was one for "the over exuberant greeter". She is now 3 years old and I think she understands that excessive barking is bad as she will go and get a toy to put in her mouth when I tell her too when I can catch her early enough in the frenzy. When she has the toy in her mouth she whines and moans and sounds like she is going to explode because her natural inclination is to bark. We walk her daily for at least 1/2 hour per day and many times take her out twice a day. We do training exercises daily and she does tasks on command beautifully - except she cannot contain herself when it comes to barking. I started to take her to "small dog socials" at the local humane society to desensitize her to other other dogs and had to remove her because her barking was getting the other pups worked up. Our vet has put her on a calming medication which subdues her a bit most of the time --- except when something triggers her to bark. I don't care for the medication as I miss her spunky personality. Our kids are gone, we are downsizing and will be moving to a townhouse or apartment as it is getting difficult to maintain our home. I would not debark indiscriminately, but after 3 years, I'm not seeing any viable options and I don't think I could ever give her up. My issue will be to find a reputable and experienced vet. As for those who criticize the procedure, I read an article in the NY Times recently about a vet who debarked his very barky dog and had no misgivings about doing it. I tend to agree that having our dog bark naturally when she needs to, but in a manner that doesn't shatter our eardrums would be preferable to most of the alternatives. As mentioned previously, the procedure is certainly less invasive and complex then a spay or a neuter and we perform those all the time to reach better outcomes.

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      N Stacey 8 years ago

      I have a 5 year old dachshound...for the last years we have put up with his barking with the idea that dogs bark....that's what they do, but the barking is just getting progressively worse. What once was just barking at people coming to our door is now barking at the wind. I am home all day, I play and pay attention to my dog so boredom is unlikely especially since we got a 2nd dog to keep the first one company. Someone had mentioned that a 2nd dog might calm the first one. Not happening. We tought him to bark on command, someone had told us that teaching him to bark on command would stop the barking as the dog would only bark when commmanded....FALSE! We bought a bark collar which shocks when the dog barks. That didn't work either as the dog barked anyway and wore out the batteries of the collar. I am at my witts end. I love my dog! But the barking is interfering with our lives. We could put up with some barking but this is out of control. The only option left is the operation for the vocal cords. I really don't want to do that but I don't know what else to do other than getting my dog put to sleep. I take offence to someone saying that I should put up with it because I wanted a dog. I have put up with it but it is interfering with our lives and our neighbours lives.

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      William Lawrance 8 years ago

      I'm 25 and just got my first puppy on my own. He has what seems to be severe seperation anxiety and whines even if i take a shower with him in the bathroom. I've gone as far as to bring him in with me once to show him it's ok. Yet he still whines. I can not leave the room unless I get him to sleep first then creep around as if hes a real child. i havnt been able to really go anywhere or do anything because im worried about leaving him in the car thinking someone may take him or think hes being abusd and call the police. his whine sounds as if hes dying. its a problem that i cant go anywhere because i have a bad shopping problem, i know its rediculious...but its killed my social life as well. i cant leave him at home to try and curve the anxitey by just making it a habit of being alone because i live in an apartment building.did debarking cross my mind, of course, but i wont have it done for 3 reasons. 1-i dont know if it will affect the ability to whine or not. 2-my father once bought 2 yorkies and the male was already debarked and it seemed to be very timid and have very low confidence. lastly 3-would you want someone to just go in and put holes in your vocal cords because u never stopped talking. i thought we were supposed to treat our pets as family members and give them the same rights we would want for ourselves...would you take ur infant and have the procedure done if it cried all the time, so it would cry at a lower volume. no, thats your child, and if your anything like me and most pet owners, your dog is your child as well. so no it may not hurt...its just f**ked up and a lazy way out. also if anyone has any suggestions that may help with the anxiety problem all are welcome and very much apreciated, hes a mini pin by the way, 10 weeks on easter

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      Barbara Eisenberg 8 years ago from Titusville

      I agree, Corrine, debarking should only be done as a last resort. Thank you for your comment.

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      corinne 8 years ago

      With all due respect, I feel that anyone who has not had this problem in the extreme really should not comment. It is much easier to say "work with them and train them not to bark". I am an animal rights activist as well as a vegan. We have worked with pet rescues as fosters over the years and have successfully found homes for many unwanted dogs on death row. I had been very conflicted about this procedure for the past 4 years. We had rescued a Jack Russell mix at 5 months old who had been deeply traumatized - she is now 6 years old and has become a permanent family member. We have tried every humane way to try to curb her extreme and excessive barking. It is natural for her and helps her to express herself so I did not want to take away her ability to bark completely. It is just a serious problem here and with some of the fosters and our other dogs, she teaches them to go nuts now too - she is the ring leader. Anyway, through much research we have decided to go ahead with the surgery with her. She will still be able to express herself - just not as loudly and intensely. I do feel it is only acceptable for extreme cases and only after every other humane avenue has been explored and really tried and as an alternative to those who would surrender their dog to a pound. Definitely, if you do not want a dog to bark AT ALL, don't have a dog!

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      Barbara Eisenberg 8 years ago from Titusville

      I adopted my Shelties from a show/breeder-person; they had been debarked. But, they still bark (a lot), just not as loud and the sound doesn't carry like my neighbor's dogs. Personally, I think debarking should be done as a last resort, after unsuccessful attempts to stop barking habits.

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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      You can train the dog not to bark and to be quite. But, to me cutting the vocal cords is a short cut that isn't right. Dogs use their voice for many thing, and if a dog can bark at you, he can't give you a warning signal that he doesn't like what you're doing or what's going on, and he may skip straight to biting instead. That's a big downfall. Dogs use their voice to protect and without a vocal cord to bark at an intruder, how will you know that you're being broke into in time if your dog isn't barking and you don't necessarily hear the intruder breaking in.

      I just think there are more disadvantages to this procedure than benefits.

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      ivori 8 years ago

      Many people feel as you do. A local dog show/breeder says it cuts down the noise in the show ring. That would be true, but I'm not sure I agree with it either.

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      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      definitely a bad idea. let dogs be dogs. Figure out why the dog is barking and correct that. there's no reason to cut the vocal cords. I heard about this years ago and was disgusted.