Devocalization (also known as ventriculocordectomy or vocal cordectomy and when performed on dogs is commonly known as debarking or bark softening) is a surgical procedure applied to dogs and cats, where tissue is removed from the animal’s vocal cords to permanently reduce the volume of their vocalizations.
- 1 Indications and contraindications
- 2 Effectiveness
- 3 Surgical procedure
- 4 Reasons for excessive vocalization
- 5 Less invasive interventions
- 6 Controversy and legislation
- 7 References
- 8 External links
- 9 See also
Indications and contraindications
Devocalization is usually performed at the request of an animal owner (where the procedure is legally permitted). The procedure may be forcefully requested as a result of a court order. Owners or breeders generally request the procedure because of excessive animal vocalizations, complaining neighbors, or as an alternative to euthanasia due to a court order.
Contraindications include negative reaction to anesthesia, infection, bleeding, and pain. There is also the possibility of the removed tissue growing back, or of scar tissue blocking the throat, both requiring further surgeries, though with the incisional technique, the risk of fibrosis is virtually eliminated.
The devocalization procedure does not take away a dog's ability to bark. Dogs will normally bark just as much as before the procedure. After the procedure the sound will be softer, typically about half as loud as before or less, and it is not as sharp or piercing. So while the procedure does not stop barking or silence the animal completely, it is effective at reducing the sound level and sharpness of the dog's bark.
Most devocalized dogs have a subdued "husky" bark, audible up to 20 metres.
The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) is a council of ten prominent American animal organizations which studies and addresses statistics on companion animals.
The NCPPSP's Shelter Statistics Survey collected data from over 5,000 shelters, The study concluded that neither excessive vocalization nor general "behavior problems" were among the top ten reasons companion animals are relinquished at shelters.
In a study of 12 shelters reporting behaviors of animals relinquished to shelters as reported by prior caretakers, a majority of relinquished cats and dogs were reported to have "rarely or never" been too noisy.
|Was too noisy||Dogs||Cats|
|Always||99||5.0 %||31||2.4 %|
|Mostly||179||9.1 %||67||5.2 %|
|Sometimes||575||29.2 %||242||18.7 %|
|Rarely/never||1,119||56.7 %||951||73.7 %|
The procedure may be performed via the animal's mouth, with a portion of the vocal folds removed using a biopsy punch, cautery tool, scissor, or laser. The procedure may also be performed via an incision in the throat and through the larynx, which is a more invasive technique. All devocalization procedures require general anesthesia.
Reasons for excessive vocalization
Chronic, excessive vocalization may be due to improper socialization or training, stress, boredom, fear, or frustration. Up to 35% of dog owners report problems with barking, which can cause disputes and legal problems. The practice is more common among some breeds of dog, such as the Shetland Sheepdog (or "Sheltie"), which are known as loud barkers (due to the nature of the environment in which the breed was developed).
Less invasive interventions
Vocalizations are a natural behavior of animals which they use widely in intra-specific and inter-specific communication. As such, devocalization should generally be considered only as a last resort. Prior to this surgical intervention, there are other less invasive interventions which can be considered to overcome excessive vocalisations.
Training can be one of the most effective techniques to help combat excessive barking in dogs. Acquiring the help of a professional dog trainer can often help reduce an animals barking.
The use of automatic and manual corrective collars can be useful as a training aid when used correctly; however, the use of corrective collars, particularly shock collars, is controversial and banned in some countries. Types of corrective collars include vibration, citronella spray, ultrasonic and electrostatic/shock collar.
Controversy and legislation
- In some regions of the USA and in the UK, convenience devocalization is considered a form of surgical mutilation.
- Studies have shown that dogs become emotionally distraught after surgery.
- Most vets and the RSPCA offer information to behavioural schools on how to train dogs not to bark.
- After surgery, dogs are allowed to bark more freely, which is a natural behavior.
- The dog is no longer subject to constant disapproval for its barking.
- Some dogs that are successfully trained not to bark inappropriately can become depressed or neurotic. After debarking, these dogs can be allowed to resume their exuberant barking behavior, dispelling their depression or neuroticism.
- After debarking, dogs that previously had to be kept indoors to avoid antagonizing neighbors can be allowed outdoors.
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (May 2011)|
Dr. Kathy Gaughan points out that "the surgery stops the barking, but it doesn't address why the dog was barking in the first place." Gaughan notes that visitors to her clinic who request debarking are usually looking for a "quick fix". Gaughan states that, commonly, those who seek debarking live in apartments, or have neighbors who complain. Gaughan also counts "breeders with many dogs" among those who most often seek convenience devocalization. However, Dr. Gaughan does not agree with those who claim the procedure is cruel, stating "Recently, some animal advocates have asserted this surgery is cruel to the animal; some countries have even outlawed the procedure. I do not believe the surgical procedure is cruel; however, failing to address the underlying factors is inappropriate." 
Some breeders seek the surgery in order to limit or diminish noise levels for personal reasons ranging from convenience to prevention; some breeders even seek the surgery for puppies prior to going to new homes.
Opinions of animal welfare societies
Multiple animal medicine and animal welfare organizations discourage the use of convenience devocalization, recommending that it only be used as a last resort. However, organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, oppose laws that would make devocalization illegal.
The American Veterinary Medical Association's official position states that "canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed." 
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends that animal caretakers first attempt to address animal behavior problems with humane behavior modification techniques and/or with a treatment protocol set up by an animal behavior specialist. The ASPCA recommends surgery only if behavior modification techniques have failed, and the animal is at risk of losing its home or its life.
Legal restriction and banning
The legality of convenience devocalization varies by jurisdiction.
The procedure is outlawed as a form of mutilation in the United Kingdom and all countries that have signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. In the United States, devocalization is illegal in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Warwick, Rhode Island.
In the United States, laws vary by state. In 2000, anti-debarking legislation was proposed in California, New Jersey, and Ohio. The California and New Jersey bills failed, partially due to opposition from groups who predicted the ban would lead to similar bans on ear cropping and other controversial cosmetic surgical procedures on dogs. The Ohio bill survived, and was signed into law by Governor Robert Taft in August 2000. However, Ohio Revised Code 955.22 only outlawed debarking of dogs considered "vicious".
In February 2009, 15-year-old Jordan Star of Needham, Massachusetts, filed a bill to outlaw performing convenience devocalization procedures upon cats and dogs. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Scott Brown, with the title Logan's Law, after a debarked sheepdog. Star said of convenience devocalization: "To take a voice away from an animal is morally wrong." The bill became state law on April 23, 2010.
Devocalizing cats and dogs became illegal in Massachusetts by state law in 2010 and in Warwick, Rhode Island, by city ordinance in 2011. Legislation to ban devocalization of dogs and cats in New York State is underway.
- "Devocalization fact sheet". Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- Ventriculocordectomy (“Debarking”), by Dawn Brown DVM, April 12, 2009, Mushing magazine
- Debarking Dogs: Bark Softening Surgery, April, 2013
- Code of practice for debarking of dogs, Bureau of Animal Welfare, Attwood, Victoria, Australia, October, 2001
- Members, National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy
- About Us, National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy
- Shelter Statistics Survey, National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy
- The Top Ten Reasons for Pet Relinquishment to Shelters in the United States, National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy
- Characteristics of Shelter-Relinquished Animals and Their Owners Compared With Animals and Their Owners in U.S. Pet-Owning Households, John C. New Jr., NCPPSP (page 12 of PDF, page 218 printed on page)
- Cosmetic Surgery for Dogs and Cats, In Defense of Animals
- Declawing and Debarking: What are the Alternatives?: World Small Animal Veterinary Association, World Congress – Vancouver 2001
- Millan, Cesar. "Mr". Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- Anon. "PetSafe Products". PetSafe. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- Debarking surgery won't take away dog's motivation to bark, Understanding Animals
- "Opinion: The pros and cons of debarking", K-State Perspectives
- AVMA policy: Canine Devocalization (Approved by the AVMA Executive Board June 2002; reaffirmed April 2008; oversight: Animal Welfare Committee)
- Canine Devocalization Position Statement, American Animal Hospital Association
- New AAHA position statement opposes cosmetic ear cropping, tail docking
- Position Statement on Surgical Procedures for Resolving Behavior Problems, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- "Animal Welfare Charter". Hastings Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-07-20. "It is now illegal for ear cropping and debarking of dogs as well as the declawing of cats to take place."
- Animal control is people control, Animal People News, May 2002
- Confining, restraining, debarking dogs., Ohio Revised Code
- "Teen Files Bill to Make Vocal Surgery Illegal: Putting a Bite into Debarking", Boston Herald. February 02, 2009.
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Session Laws, Chapter 82, An Act Prohibiting Devocalization of Dogs and Cats: http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2010/Chapter82
- City of Warwick, RI, Chapter 4 Animals and Fowl, Article IV, Animal Care; Spaying and Neutering Dogs and Cats, Sec. 4-132. Devocalization prohibited: http://www.warwickri.gov/pdfs/cityclerk/2010/PCO-29-10.pdf
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