Debarking and De-vocalization Myths and Facts

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Steward.

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Debarking has always been a controversial topic. There is a movement all over the country headed by animal rights advocates to outlaw the practice of debarking dogs. That’s why I will explain some of the debarking and de-vocalization myths and facts. 

Debarking and De-vocalization Myths and Facts

To start off, I don’t see the issue in black and white. There’s always a grey area in which both sides can come into agreement. Like all things, debarking and de-vocalization have their own merits and also downsides. 

Hence, we’ll weigh in on the pros and cons and the myths and facts. At the end of the day, we’ll learn something new and maybe broaden our perspective. 

What is Debarking?

Debarking or Bark Softening is a surgical procedure that aims to reduce the tissue in the vocal cords.

While the procedure can vary in the way it’s being carried out, the main objective is the same; to lower the volume of the dog’s bark and reduce the reach of the bark over a wide area.

Dog with harness barking beside man

How Is Debarking Performed?

Debarking or de-vocalization is performed using one of the two surgical approaches: 

  • Oral Approach
  • Laryngotomy Approach 

Oral Approach

In the oral approach, the patient is positioned on his/her stomach. The surgery is performed with instruments inserted through the oral cavity and into the vocal cord region.

This approach is less expensive because it’s less invasive. However, it has a lower success rate compared to a laryngotomy approach. 

Laryngotomy Approach

The laryngotomy approach lets the patient position on his/her back. The surgery is performed through an incision directly into the larynx, bypassing the oral cavity entirely. 

This procedure usually costs more since it provides greater access to the vocal cords. However, it’s also more invasive which comes with higher risks. 

Is the Debarking Surgery Always Successful? 

I wouldn’t say it is always 100% safe and successful. Like every other surgical procedure, it comes with risks. The most common one is scar tissue forming. 

Hence, if I were to debark my dog, I would go to a veterinarian who has great experience in debarking. The more skilled your veterinarian is, the more likely the surgery will be successful. 

What Are The Surgical Risks Of Debarking?

With surgery comes the risks. That’s why I’d make sure my dog gets the best treatment available to me. Nevertheless, I make sure that I know what risks come with it. Here are some of them.  


This is a post-surgery risk. Webbing is when the vocal cord tissue regrows. It can lead to respiratory problems if not treated. Webbing can also reduce a dog’s ability to clear its throat of mucus.

The dog may also regain its ability to bark loudly. It could lead to another surgery that exposes the dog to risks.


Infection is also a high risk like in most surgeries. The larynx and trachea normally have many bacterial populations residing in them. This means a mistake by the veterinary could lead to infection. 

Common Misconception About Debarking

While there are downsides to debarking, some of them are just downright false. If we want to understand the debarking issue more, we should learn to distinguish what are the facts and what are the myths. 

Debarking is a “Cruel and Barbaric Procedure”

The procedure isn’t cruel and barbaric. In fact, it’s a grey area that needs all things to be considered before judging. The dog will undergo anesthesia so it will not feel anything during the surgery. 

For example, if shelties are natural loud barkers, the most common argument would be to not get a Shetland Sheepdog. However, from another perspective, this dog might end up dumped in the pound waiting for a home for its loud barking. This dog may even have a lower chance to find a new home and it might be put down. 

Debarking isn’t that different than removing the uterus in spaying or removing testicles in neutering. It’s a simple procedure that most competent vets can do. 

Selective focus of a barking dog

Dogs Suffer Emotionally From Debarking

Debarked dogs can still bark. There is still no conclusive study to back up the claim that dogs suffer emotionally. 

There are studies that show decreased ability to communicate intentions to other animals and people. However, it still needs further research to completely make the claim. 

People Who Debark Dogs Are Criminals and Drug Dealers

That’s just a generalization myth. Most people who debark their dogs are dog owners who either

  • Have no option left other than debarking;
  • Don’t have the time and money to hire a professional dog trainer;
  • Or are at their wit’s end to keep their dog with them or risk their dog getting impounded or taken down.

If I don’t know a dog owner or their circumstances, I ask first why they are seeking to debark their dog even with the accompanying risk. You may find that a lot of them have tried all available safer options for them. 

Excessive Barking is Caused by Bad Breeding

Excessive barking is not about bad breeding at all. Certain dog breeds have a tendency to bark more or they have louder barks compared to other dog breeds.

I wouldn’t blame excessive barking on my own dog. It’s in their own nature to bark as it’s their natural means of communication. 

Alternatives to Debarking

Before making a decision to debark a dog, I make sure that I have already exhausted all my options and there is nothing left more to do. Here are some alternatives you can try before considering debarking or de-vocalization your dog.

Doggy Day Care

If you leave your dog in doggy daycare, your dog will engage in various activities and come home to you tired. A tired dog rarely barks and just wants to relax and rest. 


A tired dog is easier to train. If your dog is physically active, they’re more likely to obey you and you can manipulate your dog’s behavior.  


If the other two options don’t work, I’d hire a pet behaviorist or trainer to help me with my dog’s barking problems. They give me tips on what to do and explain why my dog is barking or acting in a way. 

Sound Proofing

If the problem is only about your neighbors complaining about the barking, then you might consider soundproofing your dog’s room or your whole house. 


Debarking is a grey area. Surgeries tend to have risk and there’s always that doubt in our mind that what if it goes wrong. Personally, I consider debarking as a last result if I have run out of options. I also make sure my dog gets into the best veterinary.