Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Your Opinion Please: The Debate Over Debarking

It seems like the debate over whether debarking a dog is cruel often comes down to this:
“You may think it’s horrible,” she said. “But if I had to give up my dog or get the surgery, I would choose the surgery.”
It's a hard point to fault. Most owners are aware when they get a dog that the dog will bark. But some dogs turn out to be really, really good at it. And while the owner cycles through various remedies, the dog just keeps barking. Eventually someone complains and the owner must make a decision: Give up the dog or give up the dog's vocal cords.

What do you think? If the owner has made meaningful efforts to curb the barking and it comes down to a choice, would you rather see the dog rehomed/surrendered to a shelter or have debark surgery?


Brent said...

I so don't favor debarking. And I completly think that a lot of people use it as the "easy" way out because they lack any ability/desire to work on training.

This is probably a really similar argument with declawing cats -- it's cruel, yes. I don't favor it at all. But if all other options have truly been exhausted, and the options are relinquish the pet (where it will likely be killed), or perform the surgery, then it is hard for me to say no to the surgery.

The caveat is that in each case the animal would have to be an inside animal that was completely safe, because in each case a major defense mechanism has been removed.

But I, like you, am not super-firm on my stance.

selkie said...

Actually, you hit on the only reason I could condone it. I knew someone who adopted a VERY abused GSD - for THREE YEARS she worked with him, with trainers, with everything but his barking was so out of control that it was either get rid of the dog or the debarking (due to complaints from neighbours - and as she said, she didn't blame them). She had most definitely tried EVERY other alternative; she had also, in that time period, racked up some pretty steep fines, several warnings and a final one that suggested Animal Control was going to seize her dog.

Her dog was debarked.

He is totally FINE - did she want to do it? No. She tried everything else but. But her dog, after years of abuse by otehr hands, has a stable, loving home that will be his until he dies.

Jen said...

I had this discussion not too long ago with a neighbor.
We live in your typical suburbia. Houses close, yards small and fenced, sidewalks filled with neighbors and their dogs on leashes. She had purchased a typical Shetland Sheepdog as a puppy who grew to be a typical bored housedog who used barking to remedy the boredom.

She hired a trainer, she took up agility, she walks the dog regularly. And still it barked. She tried melatonin, she hired a behaviorist. And still the dog barks.

Her neighbors had complained and she was told to curb the barking or face fines and possible loss of the dog. So her vet suggested vocal-cordectomy (debarking). She paid a fine for the barking dog, then decided to go with surgery.

Can I fault her for trying? No. Can I fault her for loving her dog? No. Can I fault her for choosing a difficult path over giving up her dog? Certainly not. Too many dogs in shelters, not enough people to give a damn.

Would I do it? I'd like to say absolutely, unequivocally NO.. but in reality I have no idea what it would be like to be in her shoes.

Maybe her problem started when she chose the sheltie. I can't be the judge of that.

Same with friends of mine who chose to de-claw their cat. I suggested different methods of scratch happiness for the cats. Card board posts. Couch base covers. Suggested plastic caps. But that wasn't safe for their two year old daughter to accidentally find and swallow. So instead of giving up the cat, they de-clawed her.

Would I? Again... I'd like to say no, but not being in the position I really can't say. But I do believe it to a cruel means to an end. But I understand why probably 1% of the responsible population opt for surgical 'solutions'.

Luisa said...

I can hear the California legislators now:
"Declawing = terrible! We must ban it!

Debarking = terrible! We must ban it!

Spay/neuter = awesome sauce! Let's make it mandatory!"

[beats head on rocks]

Topic: If the owner has made meaningful efforts to curb the barking and it comes down to a choice, I would rather see the dog have debark surgery than be rehomed/surrendered to a shelter, unless the shelter has an excellent track record of rehabbing barkers. Because the odds of a nonstop barker being adopted are not good, and how would it help a dog like the formerly-abused GSD in selkie's comment to be relegated to a kennel run for the rest of his life?

Also: if the shelter does have a good track record with barker rehab, maybe they can help the owner keep the dog with resorting to this surgery.

Rinalia said...

“You may think it’s horrible,” she said. “But if I had to give up my dog or get the surgery, I would choose the surgery.”"

That's such a silly and fallacious argument!

Perhaps the person who said the statement had a caveat like you did - IF the owner has made meaningful efforts...

I don't have statistics, so this is my anecdotal evidence. The people I have known to debark have never tried anything other than surgery to fix the problem. In one case, a young Dalmatian was de-barked and, for whatever reason, the regrowth of the scar tissue caused him to make an even louder sound! The dog DID behave differently - he "barked" a heck of a lot more!

It's my guess, just knowing how inept or unwilling people are when it comes to training BASIC BEHAVIOR that people aren't going to put a lot of effort into those meaningful efforts. Which sucks, mainly for the dog.

I can't say I know The Answer. Dogs bark to communicate and because, hey, it's something fun to do when bored or excited or aggressive or whatever. Most dogs can, in fact, be trained to bark on command and thus be taught silence is golden.

Would *I* ever debark? No. I'll sound proof a room for the dog before I do that. And since sound proofing a room would solve the problem, no way in hell am I going to sedate a dog just to sever one of their most meaningful forms of communication. And yeah, selfishly, I think that's what everyone should do as a last resort!

And the Ohio law they mention? It's only illegal to de-bark pit bulls and "dangerous dogs". :) You can thank Tom Skeldon for that little gem of an inane law.

selkie said...

actually, just wanted to add - I have 3 dogs myself - 2 of whom DO have barking issues (all 3 are rescues). My one GSD who is a barker has improved in the 2 years that we've had him - but not to the point where it is completely under control. My latest rescue, a hyperactive, horribly abused terrier cross barks (as my mother would say) at the grass growing... and yes, one sets the other off so BOTH are at it.

I'm working as best as I can with behaviour mod; we've seen, as I said, some improvement in Llyr (GSD) and even Darcy has definitely improved (he is anxiety ridden and suffers MASSIVE separation anxiety).

It's a work in progress ... we are vigilent about keeping on top of the barking (as much as we can) and thank god for good neighbours...

It would be an absolute end of the road, last, nothing left or they are going to take my dog resort to get him debarked ... but then I'm optimistic about getting on top of this and I am NOT about to criticize someone else until I've walked in THEIR shoes.

I would add as some have indicated here - it is NOT a FIRST or quick decision but something ONLY to be contemplated as a VERY last resort.

Rinalia said...

Here's my own caveat - I really meant "most" or "many" people as opposed to the rather broad-brush stroke of just plain 'ol "people".

Anonymous said...

I don't think that cropping, docking, declawing or debarking should be illegal and I don't think that spaying or neutering should be mandated by law.

My choice is not to do any of them to my dogs unless needed. Your choice should be - well - yours.

EmilyS said...

well, as I understand it, it can't be compared to declawing which does seem to be truly horrific and painful for a cat. The debarked dogs I know still bark.. they just can't bark loudly. I don't like altering dogs like this (I agree that most people probably haven't tried to train their dogs NOT to bark), but I dunno.... if I was cursed to own a Sheltie (or a beagle), someone would end up dead if not debarked...

Liz said...

I don't condone debarking, or declawing. It's called training. It's called "not leaving your dog outside".

I don't condone shock collars either, but I have heard about "vibrating" collars, which, I'm not sure if they're even different, but that would be the most extreme measure, second to actually debarking.

I am PRO Spay/Neuter, however. I know off topic, but some here have mentioned "it's your choice". Well, not really when we're talking about millions of animals being killed because people who think like that. Just my 2 cents.

I've taught my dog TO bark, so I can easily teach her when to stop. Great topic!

CyborgSuzy said...

Debarking isn't the "easy" way out. It's an expensive surgery. The easy thing to do would be to get rid of the animal for free at the pound.

My former neighbors had a small white mutt of some kind, who they eventually had debarked - after multiple complaints from other neighbors, threatened eviction, and trying multiple solutions. I don't know the details of their solutions, but why do I need to? The better to judge them? They were just a normal, lower-middle-class family who loved their dog and were earnestly trying their best.

If debarking hadn't been an option, that's at least one dog that would have ended up in the shelter, I'm certain of it.

I'd like to say that I'll never personally get a dog debarked, but I don't know in what situation I'll find myself.

YesBiscuit! said...

Liz - mandatory spay-neuter has not helped in areas where it's been enacted. Some examples:

YesBiscuit! said...

FWIW, I had a dog debarked some years back. I never regretted it except the few times I felt someone was judging me as "cruel" when they did not know the whole story. But as far as the dog goes - no, I never regretted it. I haven't been in a similar set of circumstances since that time so the issue has never come up again. Hopefully it never will.

What amazes me is how many Vets refuse to perform the surgery on ethical grounds. Yet these same Vets would likely chop off puppy tails, cut off dewclaws, and perform spay-neuter on puppies & kittens. The same "ethical" argument could be made against any of these procedures and yet debarking has been singled out as taboo for whatever reasons.

btw Brent, your comment reminds me why I could never be a journo - I wear my heart on my sleeve. Although I never directly stated my view on debarking in the post, you interpreted it, correctly, straight away. I lawled.

Nathan J. Winograd said...

As with everyone else, I have to state up front that I am opposed to debarking. Otherwise, the crazies out there will twist my words for their own untoward ends.

That disclaimer aside, this debate is not clean because of too many variables (rehoming vs. bond with family), truly working with the dog (is the dog barking because of boredom? watchdog? spooky? attention?) to resolve the actual problem vs. the inaccurate overly generalized platitudes about barking that you are likely to get from rushed, untrained, and often uncaring shelter staff a person would normally turn to (IF you can even get them to answer the phone), living circumstances (if you live in a house and are at work, can the dog bark in a back bedroom where he is less likely to disturb neighbors?, etc.) Is doggy daycare an option while you are at work?

I have to believe that in many (most?) circumstances, there is a third way, which should be taken and so the debate may come down to conveniences.

I am not trying to avoid answering the question. So given all these caveats, here are my thoughts:

Giving up a dog to a shelter should mean finding the dog finds a home where he can bark to his heart's content. It doesn't mean that tragically, because we live in a nation of regressive, kill-oriented shelters.

Once again, the debate comes down to the fact that shelters have violated their trust to give dogs a second chance.

If this was Reno, where the dog would go to the Nevada Humane Society and be guaranteed a home, that has to figure into the debate. And I would posit that it is more ethical to find the dog a home where he can bark.

But most places aren't like Reno. And it is never acceptable to have a dog killed by some pound/shelter shirker, when debarking will end the problem.

It sucks. It shouldn't be done without a consideration of all of the above, and more than I can fit into a pithy comment. But, the bottom line is that debarking is not a fate worse than death.

Heather Houlahan said...

But, the bottom line is that debarking is not a fate worse than death.

Neither is wearing a bark-control collar -- IF the collar is effective.

In those cases where the collar (a quality product, not a Walmart speshul) is introduced correctly and the dog is cognitively able to get it, there are very few corrections involved before relative quiet reigns.

With some dogs, the collar becomes a long-term management strategy. With others, a short-term training tool. I always prefer the latter, but I think the former is preferable to surgery for ethical and practical reasons.

This is not to excuse people who don't address the root cause of excessive barking -- boredom, loneliness, overstimulation/barrier frustration. Debarking or slapping a collar on a dog who is yapping for twelve hours in a crate while his owner is at work, and who gets a ten minute potty break when Momma comes home is not appropriate. Nor is it appropriate when the dog is running the fence line screaming at skateboarders that are driving him insane all day.

But some industrial barkers are best served by having the barking stopped with a correction, because only by quieting the mouth can you have an entre to quiet the mind and teach the dog to create his own order. Surgery doesn't do that -- the dog's mind is still spinning out of control.

Those who abhor corrections in training are free to explain why a small number (one to several dozen, perhaps) of impersonal corrections that will range from mildly surprising to moderately painful, delivered in such a way that the dog can easily learn how to avoid them, are more distressing to the dog than a lifetime of disordered hysteria, and/or invasive throat surgery, and/or the loss of his home and the stress of being kenneled in a shelter for days to months.

Susan said...

Did anyone see Dolittler's blog on this yesterday?

She makes some thoughtful points but also raises the concern that it is done so seldom that vets aren't very well trained in the procedure.

My brother's dog is a barker. He has tried training him and ultimately a bark control collar was of some help. It was their last resort because their neighbors were going to have them thrown out. Now they live in a detached house so it is less of an issue, but it IS a challenging training problem, not to be underestimated.

mb. said...

my sister was a dog trainer for many years & had nothing but bad things to say about bark collars! Turns out ANY sharp noise near the collar can make it zap. Like say, your neighbor knocking on your door or a truck hitting that speed bump a bit fast. Not really the topic at hand, but maybe not an alternative either.

Chelsey said...

About collars- I've been training under an animal behaviorist for the past year and a half, and one method I've seen work well (without pain) is the citronella spray collar - the combination of the smell and the tactile sensation of being spritzed usually stops the normal sort of barking.
As for debarking - I believe that it should be by prescription only - by this I mean that a Veterinary Behaviorist (not just the regular vet) needs to say that there is no other alternative (aside from relinquishing the dog) to cease the barking, I don't like black and white legislation making it illegal, even though I can't imagine ever doing it to my dog!

katie said...

I don't like debarking one bit, but if the only real options (for REAL) are debarked, dumped, or dead, then debarked should be an option.

But in truth, the only debarked dogs I've ever met have been show/sport Shelties who were debarked because that's what you do with Shelties.

EmilyS said...

hey, bark collars are FUN!

The Dog House said...

Personally, I don't think I could de-bark a dog.

Had to make a few notes though...

Heather - spot on. By failing to address the psychological turmoil that is causing this behaviour in the first place, the owner is failing the dog.

To the "unaltered dogs contribute to the overpopulation problem" argument... well, it's been handled pretty well already, but I'll throw in that the four intact dogs in my home (ages 7mos to 6 years) have NEVER reproduced. Oh, and we run a rescue, too. Not only are we NOT a part of the problem, we're a part of the solution.

To the bark collars = evil argument, I should mention that there are several collars out there, and not all are created equal. We've recently had luck with a sonic bark collar, and have used citronella, vibrating and shock collars with varying degrees of success. NEVER have I had an outside noise set off the collar. The only issue arises when the dog leans down, causing his/her metal tags to bang against the receiver. This can cause the collar to set off.

Sophie said...

I am a vet in the UK, debarking is illegal here and it works.

Out of the dogs relinquished for behavioural reasons alone less than 7% of dogs are relinquished to shelters for excessive barking, the majority of these dogs have other behavioural problems also as a result of poor previous husbandry and knowledge.

I would also like to point out that laryngeal surgery has a high incidence of complications. Studies show that mortality rate can be over 15%. Can the dog survive the surgery or the pound?

I have worked with hounds for many years and if you have the time, knowledge and facilities for the breed you choose to have as a pet the dog will not nuisence bark.
A sheltie with no sheep will bark so get a different breed.