Achieving Balance and Harmony

DOG BEHAVIOR

Freedom of Bark

As dog owners, we often get frustrated with the lack of communication we have with our dogs. But even without a common language between human and canine, our dogs say an awful lot to us through their bark alone. So imagine if that sole vocal form of communication was taken away.

In an effort to give a voice back to the dogs, Massachusetts passed bill H.B. 344, known as “Logan’s Law,” that bans the controversial de-barking procedure without a diagnosed medical purpose. While several states have attempted similar legislation, including California, New Jersey, and Ohio, Massachusetts has set the precedent by fully banning the devocalization surgery. Ohio currently maintains a law that only “vicious” dogs may undergo the procedure.

The Animal Law Coalition hopes that this recent development in Massachusetts will encourage other states to adopt similar legislation and set the standard for debarking regulations.

Devocalization

“Devocalization does not address the underlying behavior that may be causing the barking or crying,” states the ALC on their site. “The reason for the barking or crying, whether fear, boredom, stress, will continue and escalate, and a devocalized dog or cat may act out in other ways, including by biting, and as a result, end up in the pound.”

The reasons for devocalization vary among cases, but the majority stem from behavioral issues and breeding practices. Some owners turn to the procedure as a solution to excessive barking, and many breeders find a “silent” dog as a more desirable buy—especially for those involved in the dog show circuit.

The Surgery

The surgery involves cutting certain tissues in the vocal chords, either through the mouth or through an incision in the larynx, and does not involve entirely removing the vocal chords. The end results of the procedure differ among dogs, but usually leave the dog with nothing more than a hoarse or squeaky wheeze.

As of late, the surgery has fallen out of favor with many vets, and some veterinarian educational programs are no longer including it in the curriculum, much to the satisfaction and “about time” mentality of animal rights activists around the country and the world. According to Jeffery Klausner, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Banfield, The Pet Hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer, the 750 Banfield vet practices across the country have officially banned the procedure all together.

“It is easy to see why most veterinarians will not perform this procedure unless there is an absolute medical necessity such as a laryngeal mass,” said Dr. Kristy Conn, a practicing vet for more than a decade. “It is a dangerous procedure because there are many blood vessels in this area that supply the larynx and trachea, disruption of the blood supply can lead to tissue death. Scarring is a common problem which results in glottic stenosis which is narrowing of the area where the vocal cords are removed.”

Last Resort

While there is no unanimous opinion among vets regarding the procedure, the American Veterinary Medical Association offers the official stance 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.” Surprisingly, the topic has become a heated political issue in the state of Massachusetts, and some call the 'bark softening' legislation a lie.

“This vote sets a dangerous precedent by banning a veterinary procedure based on emotional media promotion, and requiring vets to justify their medical decision,” said Bonnie Chandler, a local Boston farmer and dog trainer, in an article published in the Harvard Press. “This precedent is just what the animal rights folks are waiting for. They announced years ago what they plan to do with it: Ban more and more veterinary procedures and demand more oversight, until it becomes impossible or too expensive to keep pets healthy.”

But animal rights advocates believe that the procedure takes the strongest form of communication away from dogs. Excessive barking can often be attributed to boredom, loneliness and distress, and can commonly be remedied with nonsurgical interaction.

“Debarking a dog is similar to cutting the vocal cords of a two year old tot so he can’t cry and make a nuisance,” said Dr. Conn. “It is a convenience procedure since the surgery addresses the symptoms but not the underlying cause of incessant barking.”

If you find that your dog’s barking is a problem, refer to these 5 Tips for Handling Nuisance Barking . Also check out Vol. 5 of the Mastering Leadership DVD series, Common Canine Misbehaviors , where Cesar goes in-depth on the issue of barking.

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