Debarking: Facts and myths

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Barking is one of the major ways your dog communicates, but excessive vocalization can lead to disputes with the neighbors and owners relinquishing their dogs to the shelter. While voicing his concerns is a natural part of your dog’s daily life, these issues lead some owners to consider surgery to “debark” their dogs.
 
Also known as voice softening, debarking is an elective surgical procedure that reduces tissue in a dog’s vocal chords. Some veterinarians use a punch to remove tissue while others make cuts of varying sizes or use a laser. The goal is not to totally silence your pet, but to lower the volume of his voice so it does not carry. While some describe the procedure as cruel, others describe debarking as a relatively simple procedure that saves the lives of many pets that would otherwise be surrendered to shelters due to their loud voices.
 
While debarking is a simpler procedure than spaying or neutering your pet, there may be less invasive options to address Fido’s excessive vocalizations. When he barks, your dog is trying to tell you something, so pay close attention to what he’s trying to say. Ask yourself whether your pet is getting enough exercise, spending too much time alone, or feels the stress of separation anxiety when left home alone. Other common causes behind excessive barking include responding to neighborhood noises or alerting you to other animals or people on the property. Once you’ve pinpointed the source behind your dog’s barking, you can address the root of the problem. If your pet barks at passersby or the neighbor’s dog, for example, you can set up a privacy fence that keeps them out of sight. Dogs that bark when their owners leave home often feel safer with a comfortable spot to rest, such as a crate outfitted with soft bedding and a cover. Or, if your pet gets stressed spending long hours home alone, consider taking him to a doggy day care where he will get physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. You can encourage your pet to stay quiet by rewarding the behavior with treats and even teaching him the “quiet” command. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and don’t leave him alone for long periods of time, which can exacerbate barking due to pent up energy or separation anxiety.
 
As with any surgery, debarking involves a risk of complications and you should seek a skilled veterinarian if you opt to debark your pet. Benefits of the elective procedure include a dog that can bark whenever he wants without disapproval or risking conflict with the neighbors or his family. Because barking is not a problem in and of itself, however, it is worth working to identify and address the underlying cause of your pet’s persistent bark before opting for surgery. If you cannot determine the reason for Fido’s boisterous behavior, you may want to work with a behaviorist to pinpoint and address the issue. Chances are, spending money on training will lead to a happier, healthier relationship as you better understand what your dog is trying to tell you.

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