Dog Debarking Surgery

Updated February 25, 2024

Here’s a rare public comment on a dog breeder forum about what I think is one of South Australia’s dirty little secrets.

debarking SA laws
“You need a stat dec signed by a JP stating the dogs barking is a nuisance etc and all the other methods of redicign the dogs barking have already bent tried and failed. Then you can get your dog debarked. I live on the SA/NSW border and thats how ppl here get thier dogs debarked. a letter froma JP and they hop over the border and get the Op done by a SA vet”
dog after debarking

This dog is a victim of these attitudes. When he was re-homed as an ex-breeding dog from interstate, his new owner was shocked when the breeder said he had been debarked. All his dogs were done, he said, because together they barked and he needed to be mindful of neighbours. This attitude that debarking is an acceptable and reasonable practice astounded the new owner as it does any dog lover.

And this dog is a victim. He’s not a barky dog by nature, and now he pays a heavy price in the side effects he experiences. If you pull on his collar even lightly it causes him to cough or choke like he needs to clear his throat. Here’s something else they notice that I wouldn’t have considered:

This is our first experience with a debarked dog. The biggest difference I have noticed is he is quiet. Other people often remark on how quiet he is (not knowing why). He doesn’t make all the various noises I took for granted with our other dogs, but I now realise they were important auditory cues as to behaviour – there’s much more vocal communication by dogs than barking. So I need to remind myself that we don’t have those markers. He won’t whine or yelp if in trouble. He can’t. I need to actively watch him to pick up cues. I have learned to better understand the visual signs of how he is responding to an environment, if he is getting stressed, defensive, being overwhelmed by another dog or person, too excited etc, to know when to intervene to support or reassure him.

What Is Debarking?

Have you even heard of debarking? Most dog owners haven’t.

Debarking (also called devocalisation) is surgical damage to the vocal cords designed to reduce a dog’s ability to bark or the bark volume. There’s not much finesse involved.

Well-meaning dog owners often get told it’s a good solution to barking problems. I have never seen a debarked pet dog whose owners did not regret having it done. Debarked dogs still bark; they just produce a lower volume hoarse noise that doesn’t carry as far. Common complaints include:

  • a hoarse and unpleasant noise
  • coughing when drinking or difficulty swallowing
  • trachetitis and irritation of the throat
  • postoperative swelling and even sudden death

Thankfully, pet owners very rarely need to resort to debarking, as there are many other good ways to reduce barking in dogs.

Is It Illegal To Debark A Dog?

Debarking for noise reduction purposes is considered a mutilation and is illegal in the United Kingdom. Amazingly, it’s allowed here. The intention is that it is used as a last resort when there’s no other alternative than euthanasia.

I’m going to show you why that isn’t working. I’m going to compare our laws with the laws in NSW and Victoria. Then stay with me and I’ll explain why it matters.

debarking SA price

Owners of dogs who are debarked in NSW or Victoria must show an official council order identifying the dog as a nuisance barker, and sign a statutory declaration. Victoria goes further in requiring the vet to notify the Bureau of Animal Welfare within seven days of each procedure.

South Australia’s rules are excerpted below:

“However, a person who is a veterinary surgeon may—
(a) surgically reduce the ability of an animal to produce a vocal sound if satisfied
(i) the procedure is required for therapeutic purposes; or
(ii) there is no other reasonably practicable means of preventing the
animal from causing a nuisance by creating noise”

The “if satisfied” means the owner providing a statutory declaration saying they’ve ‘tried everything’. That’s it. No checking, no data collection, no outside involvement at all. Now you can see why people hop the border. Embarrassing isn’t it?

How Often Is Debarking Being Done?

I don’t want to sound alarmist but I think South Australia has a real problem with ‘convenience’ debarking.

I’ve been a vet long enough to hear the stories of dog breeders who routinely debark all their dogs (typically 10-20 at any time). These dogs are debarked because they think the alternatives are too hard.

debarking sheltie forum

These breeders don’t represent the vast majority of good, ethical breeders like the ones that bred my two dogs. There’s no way of being certain who or how many they are as numbers aren’t being collected. It’s all too easy to get done.

Yes, I understand the problems with properly looking after large numbers of dogs, but most people’s attitude would be: if you can’t breed dogs without debarking them, you shouldn’t be breeding dogs. These dogs are probably barking from frustration, boredom and overcrowding. Deal with it properly or get out of the game. Dog boarding facilities do just fine without needing to debark every dog that comes in.

Prevention is most important, but if these simple ideas for reducing barking don’t help, there are excellent behaviour consultants and specialist veterinary behaviourists who would love to help. They probably cost less than debarking too!

“I am unaware of any client who has sought my help resorting to de-barking.”

Registered Veterinary Specialist in Animal Behaviour, Dr Kersti Seksel has only needed to recommend the procedure for one special case in a long and successful career managing barking problems. This dog was essential for the mental health of a severely disabled man who couldn’t follow any treatment recommendations.

What about the argument that debarking saves dogs from euthanasia? Yes, it may, but these dogs would be saved under the Victorian or NSW rules just as effectively. What’s more, actual cases of barking causing euthanasia are extremely rare. I have never knowingly seen such a case, and of dogs left at the Animal Welfare League, barking problems make up only 0.67%, or two dogs in every 300 surrendered! And even these dogs aren’t euthanased!

What Can We Do?

You can be sure that when SA’s Animal Welfare Act 1985 is next up for review, we’ll be pushing to bring it into line with the other states.

In the meantime, the best we can do is apply moral and financial pressure. If somene you know is considering devocalising their dog, get them to ask us for a referral to a veterinary behaviourist. When you visit a breeder, or see them at the Royal Adelaide Show, listen to the barking. If it sounds like the dogs in the video below, ask the breeder if the dogs have been debarked. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, have nothing to do with them.

Not only is this breeder covering up poor dog husbandry, their low ethical standards are likely to show up in other areas like the health of their puppies.

To finish, have a look at this USA vet’s video on debarking and give it a big thumbs up.

By the way, if you’re surprised at the strong language in the page title, it’s to appear on a Google search results page if someone is looking into debarking.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

10 Replies to “Dog Debarking Surgery”

  1. Hi I have a rescue red nose have had a council letter due to her breed she could get put down if she doesn’t stop barking.
    I have spent hundred’s on a training citronella collars, I have also bought 2 bird house looking whistle things that are meant to stop the barking nothing has worked.
    I have also tried training discipline even when she plays and is happy she barks its all day except when she sleeps.
    My other rescue pup doesn’t have the same problem I dont know what else to do except try the vocal cord operation.
    Does anyone else have tips?

    1. Hi Donna. Have you had outside help from a dog behaviourist? If not it’s definitely something you need to do.

    2. Debark by surgery or any other inhumane way? That is a babaric thing to have done to any domesticated animal and family member.
      There are solutions to train your family pet or working dog to not bark. There are adjustable ‘Bark Collars’ that if used when barking first becomes an issue, or for owners that acquire a pup that already barks obsessively. This tool can train any pup to curtail excessive barking. The use of a muzzle may also help train to not bark. If the dog’s barking has become a larger issue depending on where you live, rehome to a rural area, farm or perhaps move. Has your Vet verified that your dogs hearing is not compromised by another issue within the ear canal. The statement that was made about spending hundreds on a training citronella collar, is absurd… that kind of spending might have provided professional training to stop barking. IMO, Any Vet, Breeder or owner that mutilates a dog, to stop the natural act of barking, should have the same done to them.

  2. i,ve had my shiba inu girl for a year now,and she has not once barked or screamed,is it possible she could have been born mute?

    1. Hi Carla. They aren’t a particularly barky breed so it may just be her nature. I haven’t come across a dog born mute, but it is possible.

  3. Our boy Bill is deaf, can take him anywhere and he stays close to me no barking. Out he is well behaved and walks well on a lead. But at home he is either running around barking or asleep. He will stop barking if I give him the signal. But as soon as I am out of sight , off he goes again. He is driving me and the other dogs up the wall.I am starting to think he is not all there. Have you any suggestions.
    Bill is 4yrs, Maltese/Tshitzu the size of a golden retriever.(go figure)

    1. I have a Maltese that barks mostly at home. She loves people and you can tell this is one way for her to let humans know but needs to bark to do it. I have been working with her and she’s made progress but she’s a bit sassy and that’s says it all. Good luck and be patient.

  4. Thanks for the site.I have just met my son,s recently acquired rehomed female Doberman aged 6. A placid dog.Owner apparently going overseas. She has obviously had some litters but they say she hasn,t barked at all in a week even when delivery at front door.. She salivates when excited by other dogs and cannot handle larger pieces of food. Will growl but little else. She doesn’t,t appear to have any basic training.She has been seen by the vet . I,m no expert on dogs but would there be a scar from debarking. Would there be any info on previous vets thru micro chipping? Such a cruel practice it seems to me.

    1. Hi Will. The only scarring is internal, but very hard to see even under anaesthetic. The best clue is an abnormal sounding bark.If you live in SA then each procedure must be registered but I’m not sure you can access the list at the Veterinary Surgeons Board.

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