Devocalizing dogs: safe or not?

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - An Oregon appeals court voted Thursday morning for a couple of dog owners to debark, or devocalize, their dogs. The decision came after neighbors complained the dogs incessant barking was a continuing public nuisance. 

KIFI/KIDK spoke with local veterinarians to see how effective and safe devocalizing is, and when it should be used.

Dr. Rena Carlson, a veterinarian at Alpine Animal Hospital in Chubbuck, said with the process of devocalizing dogs, vets have to surgically remove the vocal folds in the back of the throat. Carlson said this should only be done in absolutely necessary cases. For example, if a dog has laryngeal paralysis or other throat problems where the procedure would be beneficial, Carlson said.

The procedure has its risks. 

"The risks and the potential complications start from anesthesia," Carlson said. "We are dealing with the back of the throat so swelling, bleeding, aspiration of blood or fluids into the lungs, and then long-term, you can have scarring which also can affect breathing."

The American Veterinary Medical Association said it should not be used to modify behavior. Carlson agrees.

"What we really want to do is look at the reason they're barking," Carlson said. "Are they bored? Are they alarmed by something? And once you deal with that behavior side of it, the barking will subside."

Carlson said devocalization isn't a perfect solution when it comes to a behavioral fix anyway because dogs can still bark. The procedure just changes the tone and sound of the bark, and possibly the intensity. 

Carlson said things like bark collars are much safer methods for dogs. 

If incessant barking is a problem and other solutions of behavior modification have been done, the AVMA suggests considering more relocation or rehoming he dog before devocalizing it.

"It really shouldn't be used as a behavior modification tool," Carlson emphasized. "It really is a last resort option."

There are currently six states who have some kind of law against devocalization of dogs. Idaho is not one of them. 

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