Devocalization of Dogs – Position Statement
April 4, 2016
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposes non-therapeutic “devocalization” of dogs.
- Devocalization in dogs (sometimes referred to as debarking, bark softening, surgical silencing, or devoicing) is a surgical procedure (i.e., ventriculocordectomy) wherein the vocal cords are fully or partially removed.
- It is recognized that ventriculocordectomy in dogs may be undertaken for legitimate therapeutic reasons such as, for example, airway obstruction or laryngeal paralysis (1).
- The devocalization procedure is non-therapeutic in nature if it is undertaken solely for the purpose of decreasing the volume, pitch, and intensity of a dog’s bark.
- Serious health and/or animal welfare concerns can result from devocalization including:
- inherent risks and related mortality associated with general anesthesia;
- post-operative pain and discomfort;
- complications from bleeding, swelling, infection, coughing, gagging, and aspiration pneumonia; or
- post-operative complications such as scar formation, dyspnea (respiratory distress), stridor (noisy breathing), and stenosis (1,2).
- Resumption of a near-normal bark can occur within months following a non-therapeutic devocalization procedure thereby negating any perceived benefits.
- Due to animal welfare concerns, non-therapeutic devocalization is prohibited in a number of jurisdications including the United Kingdom (The Animal Welfare Act, which primarily extends to England and Wales) (3), the European Union (European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals) (4), and in the states of Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey in the United States (5).
- The key to controlling undesirable barking is to treat the underlying cause of the barking (i.e., separation anxiety, protective/guarding reaction). Devocalization of a dog as a solution to unwanted barking behaviour without treating the underlying cause of barking commonly results in the dog beginning to engage in unacceptable alternative behaviours induced by fear or anxiety (6).
- Barking is a normal canine behaviour used as a means of communication in activities such as playing, greeting, alerting/protection, and issuing warnings. It has been suggested that barking may have evolved to include interspecies communication from the dog to humans rather than just intra-species communication (7).
- Excessive barking in dogs can arise for multiple reasons. For example, anxiety in dogs can result from boredom, poor socialization, and separation from the owner thereby leading to behavioural responses including excessive barking. In all cases of excessive barking, a veterinarian should be consulted in conjunction with a certified and experienced trainer or behaviourist to determine the underlying cause(s) and recommend a treatment program to mitigate excessive barking. If behavioural pharmacology (i.e., administration of drugs) is indicated as an adjunct to behavioural modification, as might be the case with separation anxiety-induced excessive vocalization, a qualified veterinarian must be consulted.
- Excessive barking caused by anxiety is not effectively corrected using aversive training methods (e.g., use of electronic collars) as they can further increase anxiety (8,9). Such methods should only be considered for situations in which barking is not related to anxiety (such as in a high stimulus environment), and in all cases should only be used by a certified and experienced trainer or behaviourist after all other training and/or behaviour modification methods have failed (10-12, 13).
- Zike C, McCarthy T. Bilateral ventriculocordectomy via ventral laryngotomy for idiopathic laryngeal paralysis in 88 dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2012;48:234-244.
- Holt D, Harvey C. Glottic stenosis secondary to vocal fold resection: Results of scar removal and corticosteroid treatment in nine dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 1994;30:396-400.
- The Animal Welfare Act (2006). Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/contents Last accessed October 6, 2015.
- European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. Available from: http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/125.htm Last accessed October 6, 2015.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. State laws governing elective surgical procedures. Available from: https://www.avma.org/Advocacy/StateAndLocal/Pages/sr-elective-procedures.aspx Last accessed August 5, 2015.
- Overall KL. Miscellaneous behavioral problems: Emphasis on management. In: Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby, 1997:261-262.
- Pongrucz P, Molnar C, Miklosi A. Barking in family dogs: An ethological approach. Vet J 2010;183:142-147.
- Stafford K. Behavioral problems. In: Stafford K, ed. The Welfare of Dogs. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007:199-213.
- Juarbe-Diaz SV. Assessment and treatment of excessive barking in the domestic dog. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 1997;27:515-532.
- Schalke E, Stichnoth J, Ott S, Jones-Baade R. Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations. App Anim Behav Sci 2007;105:369-380.
- Schilder BH, van der Borg JAM. Training dogs with help of the shock collar: Short and long term behavioural effects. App Anim Behav Sci 2004;85:319-334.
- Salman MD, Hutchison J, Ruch-Gallie R. Behavioral reasons for relinquishment of dogs and cats to 12 shelters. J App Anim Wel Sci 2000;3:93-106.
- CVMA Position statement on Humane Training Methods for Dogs. Available from: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/humane-training-methods-for-dogs Last accessed February 22, 2016.
(Revised February 2016)