Sheltie Nation

Debarking a Sheltie: A Sensitive Issue

Sheltie barkingShelties ARE barkers.  No two ways about it.   And for the most part, barking can be controlled in most Shelties.  But what if your Sheltie barks all the time?   Is your Shelties barking getting on your nerves?   Are you considering giving away your Sheltie because you cannot tolerate the barking?  Excessive barking can be a serious problem.

Most Sheltie folks have various opinions on the subject, & I know I have my own.  I doubt I’d ever want to de-bark one of my dogs, but everyone is different & each situation is unique.

I really love Shelties, but they are not the right breed for all people and all living situations.  I really wish people would “think” before the bring a dog into their lives.  My boys sometimes drive me crazy with the barking, but I knew that going in. It makes me so sad to hear about the things people do to Shelties to get them to stop barking, when if they did a little homework in advance, they would have realized that a Sheltie wasn’t right for them in the first place.

Now, I shouldn’t generalize, but I’m sure certain situations would call for debarking as the best alternative for the dog’s welfare.  But I’ve heard a de-barked Sheltie & it makes me sad.  How can the dog NOT know their voice does not carry?  I can’t claim to know how dogs think & feel, but they do hear very well.

I digress….Read through two professional opinions on the subject & decide for yourself.

The Rescue Perspective: 
Excerpts from Central Illinois Sheltie Rescue

Rescue groups say that some of the abuse that Shelties suffer is from people’s intolerance of the barking.

Until you work in rescue and see how some Shelties are quieted, you won’t believe it…

  • Had oven cleaner sprayed in their throat because of barking.
  • Found with their throat slit wide open, because of excessive barking.
  • Found with their muzzle tied shut with bailing wire.
  • Had been given up 3 times for it’s barking.  At age 1, it had gone through 3 owners.

If a rescue gets a dog whom they feel is an abuse risk because of excessive barking, many will have the dog surgically debarked.

“Debark surgery is the kindest, most humane thing we can do for a chronic barker.  With a Debark surgery a dog will still go through all the motions and enjoyment of barking…….it’s just that no noise will be produced.   No more shock collars.  No more muzzles.  No more yelling at the dog.   No more angry neighbors.  And….most important, it eliminates the worry of possible abuse.  It is the best all around solution to problem barking.”

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Animal rights groups attack life-saving debarking procedure

By Charlotte McGowan
Charlotte McGowan is the author of The Shetland Sheepdog in America and is an honorary Life Member of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association. She has bred dogs for over 40 years. She has been an AKC dog show judge for over 30 years.

There is a move around the country by animal rights interests to outlaw the practice of debarking dogs. So much misinformation about this procedure abounds that it is truly time to set the record straight. As a dog breeder for over 40 years, I can tell you that debarking in the hands of a well trained veterinarian is a very useful tool for breeders and owners and it saves lives. I have had a lot of dogs debarked over the years and the usefulness of this procedure should not be ignored. I know friends who have used debarking for decades with no ill effects on the dogs.

Q: What is debarking?
A: 
This is a surgical procedure to reduce tissue in the vocal chords. Some vets use a punch to remove tissue. Other surgeons make cuts of varying sizes and I have heard of some using a laser. The goal of the surgery is to lower the volume of the dog’s bark and the ability of the bark to carry over a wide area.

Q: Does debarking remove the dog’s ability to bark?
A: 
No. Debarked dogs continue to bark. What debarking does is to lower the volume of the bark so that it does not carry for miles around.

Q: Is the surgery always successful?
A:
Sometimes scar tissue forms and heavy barkers will become louder than when first debarked. The skill of the veterinarian is also a factor. 

Q: Is this a “cruel and barbaric procedure?”
A:
No.  People with little or no experience raising naturally noisy and talkative breeds may tell you this. People with breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) can tell you that this procedure is simple and that it saves lives of dogs that might otherwise be dumped in the pound for their barking.

Debarking is a more simple procedure than removing the uterus in spaying or removing testicles in neutering.

Q: Do dogs suffer emotionally from debarking?
A: 
It is a huge myth to suggest dogs are emotionally disturbed by debarking. Debarked dogs can bark. Even if reduced sound comes out of their mouths, they don’t seem to notice at all! Debarked dogs that are not being constantly disciplined for barking, in fact, tend to be much happier dogs!

Q: Is it true that only criminals and drug dealers debark dogs?
A: 
This is the biggest myth about debarking! The majority of people who debark dogs are responsible dog owners at the end of their rope with dogs whose bark is so piercing that they can be heard for miles around.

To be breed specific, Sheltie, Collie and other herding breed owners are the
people most apt to do this. Herding breeds, by nature can be very vocal in their work. They also are joyful in their barking. They bark at squirrels, strangers, in play. They bark just to bark. Sheltie and Collie breeders are not criminals and drug dealers!

Q: Is it true you can train any dog not to bark?
A: 
I defy some of the so-called new wave of dog behaviorists to train a group of Shelties not to bark! Shelties in numbers larger than one love to do group barking. It is part of who they are.

Q: Isn’t debarking a hazardous procedure?
A:
Any procedure that requires anesthesia, whether it is a dental cleaning, spay, or debarking has intrinsic risks. The key to success is good veterinary skill in all these procedures.

Q: Do people debark just to avoid training their dogs?
A:
The majority of people who debark have run out of options and are trying to be good neighbors. We are not talking about people who are irresponsible and leave their dogs out all night or ignore chronic barking. We are talking about people who understand that the piercing bark of a Sheltie, even on limited occasions, can be enough to cause a war in built up residential neighborhoods.

Animal rights interests have painted debarking as a cruel quick fix when in fact it is something no owner does lightly.

Q: Is excessive barking due to bad breeding?
A:
Here’s another myth. Shelties  kept birds of prey away from lambs on the remote Shetland Islands. They also kept livestock out of the crofters meager gardens and protected fish drying on the beach from eagles and other raptors.

Barking is a useful tool for this work. It also helps let the owner know where the dog is. Unfortunately, in modern life, neighbors are not impressed when Shelties bark at birds!

Q: Anti debarking legislation is being put forth around the country as part of anti dog fighting bills. Isn’t this a good idea?
A:
Criminals pay not attention to laws. They are not going to license their dogs in the first place, let alone report any that may be debarked. The people impacted by anti debarking laws are responsible owners, especially people with Shelties and Collies. Animal rights interests want to outlaw any procedures they deem unnecessary. Responsible and compassionate veterinarians should understand that debarking can save lives by keeping dogs out of shelters and in homes.

While some dogs, especially when they are the only dog in a home, can be trained to reduce their barking, others cannot be trained to the point where neighbors will not be annoyed.

Q: Do you debark ALL your dogs?
A:
No. Some dogs are less noisy than others. I do debark the dedicated squirrel chasers because they can be extremely noisy and the squirrels are always going to be out there. I wish I could train the squirrels to move to another neighborhood but that’s just about as hard as training a sheltie not to bark.

Additional reference:

Thanks to sheltiebrat for the great photo of Rocky doing what Shelties do best – bark! :)

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14 Responses »

  1. As others have said, I think it comes down to choosing the right breed. I knew Shelties were barkers, and fortunately I was blessed with a Sheltie that only barks briefly when someone is at the door. But I think de-barking should really be a last resort. Shelties are extremely intelligent and with the right training I think most would learn to control their barking. I realize there are extreme cases, and maybe de-barking is the answer for some, but bottom line, if you don’t want to deal with a barky dog, maybe a Sheltie is the wrong breed for you.

  2. If you don’t want something that barks, get a cat. I love cats too, and have five. They have their own idiosyncrasies, and I wouldn’t dream of altering them in any way to make my life easier. Shelties are more inclined to bark than another breed, so if you are looking for a dog and can’t tolerate a barker, or live in an environment that barking will become an issue, don’t get a sheltie.
    Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp? Why choose a spirited dog who has an instinct for picking up on strangers at the door, or on your property if you don’t care for the bark that goes along with it?
    It’s like buying a piano for your child play and enjoy and then complain everyday that the music is bothersome and loud. Do you sell the piano? Give up on your child’s ability?
    Let a sheltie be a sheltie. If you can’t stand the bark, get a cat. If you can’t stand the meow, get a stuffed animal.
    Don’t get an animal at all unless you are fully committed.

  3. Years ago I witnessed a Schnauzer at a marina with a shock collar on to prevent his constant barking. He was the marina owners dog and had been quite a barker, annoying some of the customers. While the dog did not bark, he stood there and shook all over, watching the comings & goings of people. He was obviously terrified of barking & frustrated that he could not. I have seen de-barked Shelties at my breeders and they seemed way happier barking away without soulnd then that poor little Schnauzer. That’s when I felt that de-barking was less cruel than that awful shock collar. While I do not feel the need to de-bark my two little noisemakers, in some instances it is a safe alternative to giving up your dog.

  4. I must debark my dog….after 2 years of trying my neighbors
    almost hate me and do hate my dog. I have read over the
    different articles and I have made a decision to debark
    my beagle BLU……thank God for the internet….the notes
    that were pro on debarking “softening the voice” has helped
    me go forward. ONE PROBLEM>…I’m in Santa Monica, Calif
    and can find no one who debarks….

  5. I have had shelties all my life and until my recent little girl, have never dealt with the excessive barking. My girl barked non stop and never took a break except when she slept. I learned to deal with it after trying numerous training and obedience classes. Until I received formal complaints from animal control. They threatened to remove her and the neighbor who called them constantly threatened her. She loves to be outside and loves to run and play, although she barks the entire time. I was rushing her inside everytime she started barking out of fear. I tried a bark collar (hated it, it was so mean to her) and spoke to my vet. I found a vet who was well known for debarking and after being completely against it, found the true research and decided to do it. It was the best decision and a blessing. She is so much happier and is able to run outside as long as she pleases. I still hear her loud and clear when she is “talking” but her bark does not carry throughout the neighborhood. She is without a doubt a happier and healthier dog because we did this. I don’t recommend it for every sheltie but when it comes to their safety and happiness, it can be the best choice. Do your research and determine if you have tried every other option first.

  6. The reason animal rights people such as HSUS want to ban bark softening and mandate spay and neuter of all dogs is because they don’t believe in owning any animals at all. By passing limit laws, msn, and breeding restrictions they hope to make having a pet so difficult that people will stop owning them. Then they will all die off. This cult also thinks human beings also should die off as well, thus, many of them won’t have children. Read the leader of this movement’s latest article in the New York Times titled “Should this Be The Last Generation” where he asks recommends that we all spay or neuter ourselves and then party down until the last human being dies out. These people are often strict political vegans deficient in VB12 which causes irrational thinking and overly emotional responses. Their brains are deprived of VB12 and the longer they are on this meatless diet, the more irrational they become. These people are so irrational, that they will even let their children die rather than feed them the needed protein and VB12 recommended by their child’s doctor. So far 5 children in this country have died from being restricted to a strict vegan diet. VB12 comes only from meat. There is a pseudo VB12 in plants from the ocean, but this is a fake VB12 and actually doesn’t work. Worldwide 12 million die each year from lack of protein, and these children only have access to the vegan only diet d,uek to lack of meat in poorer countries. I

  7. I have had a number of debarked dogs in my life, many of whom have lived very long lives of 15, 16 17 and even 18 years old with no problems as a result of the procedure.
    Shelties love to bark so let them bark, I say. the debark, if done correctly does NOT totally take away their voice, it only softens it so the neighbors won’t complain. It is far more humane I think to do this procedure and let them bark their little hearts out than to put them at risk from attacks from angry neighbors, or be at risk of losing your house over neighbor complaints, or submit them to training which may involve an electric collar or a collar spraying yucky citris junk in their face every time they try to bark, or some people might even yell, hit, or otherwise abuse the dog to stop him from barking. Some people say you can just train it away but with some dogs it is not possible to just click away the barking. And if you think about it, technically, if you are training the dog never to bark unless you tell them, you REALLY are taking away their voice in a “children should be seen and not heard” kind of way! Let them bark I say!
    I have dogs that when I come home they are happy to see me, barking (softly) and wagging their tails like crazy (which is how I know they are happy!) and i am happy to see them because for one thing I’m not being given a raging headache from the happy barking. :-P I often even encourage them to bark more as I talk to them and greet them back.
    it really is unfortuate that the procedure is so misunderstood. I know there are occational complications but in my experience that is *extremely rare* and the dogs really are much happier for being able to bark whenever the heck they want and no one punishes them for it.

  8. training is the answer, not needless and dangerous surgery–and I don’t believe a human can tell that a dog is happier with this surgery and does not mind it!

  9. This is not an issue to just likely pass over. All dogs bark, just the same as all cats meow. But the owner is responsible for training the dog – and as other posters have indicated, you CAN train your dogs to not bark. If you have too many to control – then you should consider lowering your numbers, or moving to a remote area.

  10. I always wondered why my little girl barked so much. Sometimes I worry that she’s being aggressive but then I look at her face and tail and she is just excited.
    How horrible that anyone would actually do that to their dog!
    What if we did it to our children because they were yelling and having fun outside!

  11. This was the most interesting article I have read in a very long time.
    I didn’t know the history, why my Sheltie barks so much. The heritage of the Shetland Sheepdog was great. Thanks so much “Sheltie Nation” for printing this.

  12. This all comes back to picking the right breed for your situation and the willingness to train your dogs.
    I have had Shelties for years and am currently living in close quarters with neighbors. I haven’t had a single complaint about them.
    I train them to respond to a “hush” command, just as they respond to “sit” and “down”. I have lived in a situation where my neighbors’ dogs were quite the barkers too. We (the other owners and I) filled soda cans with pennies along the fence to stop the dogs running and barking next to each other. I got a “barker breaker” the device that emits a high pitched beep. If they didn’t obey the hush command they got beeped. After a few times they quieted the minute they saw the barker breaker and went back to paying attention to “hush”. I’m sure some people won’t like using noise like that, but it beats a surgical option and was short term!
    Also, very importantly, we immmediately responded if the dogs were barking outside and we let all the other neighbors know that we were addressing the problem. Invariably, the neighbors said “no problem” or “does our music bother YOU?”
    And yes, my darling Shelties went crazy barking and growling one night and puffed up into giant balls of Sheltie fur. They were mad as heck.I had never heard them sound quite like that! They woke me out of deep sleep. The next morning there were foot prints in the new snow under the living room window. Did they scare off a burglar? What do you think?

  13. After neighbors complained about my boys barking (and a formal complaint from the dog warden) I asked my vet about debarking. He refused and said that most good vets will decline to do the procedure.
    In stead, we have trained the boys that after they bark they must come in. They now know the rules and we do the best we can to be good neighbors with shelties. They bark at birds or big trucks, but the barking time is limited to a few minutes. They cannot be out and bark when we mow or use equipment that sets them off.
    Besides, the upside to sheltie barking is “Homeland Secruity.”

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