Debarking a dog?

Debarking a dog? (Courtesy of MorgueFile / October 10, 2013)

I have a 4-year-old Yorkipoo who barks all the time — when other dogs walk by the yard, when I hug my wife, when he senses we're leaving the house, etc. He's on Prozac because he's so high-strung. His bark is so piercing that we are considering having him de-barked (the vocal cord surgery) because all of our training has failed. I know some people say this is barbaric, but others think it's OK. It seems dogs who have this done still bark (though it's quieter), so it seems if it really caused them any long-term pain they wouldn't keep barking. Is this procedure really so bad?

In general, surgical debarking is not recommended. Besides being an invasive surgery fraught with potential complications, dogs that have been debarked still bark, just at a lower volume. We need to address the underlying cause of the barking. In your dog's case, it seems he suffers from separation anxiety.

This is a serious and complex behavior disorder that requires intensive training and behavior modification. I advise speaking to a certified veterinary behaviorist or professional trainer. Ideally, a trained professional will come to your house and go through daily drills and household adjustments aimed at easing your dog's anxiety. Many dogs require medical management in addition to training, but never in the absence of intensive training and behavioral modification. Also, using a citronella collar can be a nonpainful but effective way to reduce barking.

Changing an ingrained behavior can be a long and difficult process that requires a lot of patience and dedication. Remember that your dog has been reinforcing these behaviors for four years. Often it is the owners who have been inadvertently reinforcing the undesirable behaviors.  In any case, this will not be resolved overnight.  

This week's expert is Dr. Meridith Brand, Eastern Animal Hospital. Send your question to sun.unleashed@gmail.com