There’s a little Jack Russell at Paws in Subang, Selangor, that’s looking for a home.

Jack Russell Terriers were bred in the early 1800s as hunting dogs. These compact little dogs are famous for their energy, which makes them excellent working dogs. As a pet, a Jack Russell needs lots of walks, adores playing ball games and needs company. It’s an ideal dog for a family with kids and a garden.

However, if you’re like me and the idea of adventure is a good book, a Jack Russell is probably not for you. When bored, these dogs can become very yappy. And that’s why I’m not going to tell you all about the history and nature of this terrier. You see, the little pet at Paws has suffered a double disaster: not only has he been dumped at a shelter but his previous owners cut his larynx.

Some debarked dogs can’t “speak” at all but apparently Jack can still make small sounds. Even so, can you imagine going through life unable to speak in anything but a whisper?

The idea of taking away a creature’s voice horrifies me. In fact, it’s so disturbing that I haven’t been able to force myself to go visit Jack. I just know I’d be in floods and then I’d feel guilty because I can’t take him home.

Thankfully, this is the first time I’ve heard of a debarked dog in Malaysia. Also, calls to various rescuers and vets reveal they haven’t seen many (and many haven’t seen any) so the problem is not widespread here.

“I’ve met such dogs in neighbouring countries,” says Serene Tan, an animal rescuer in Johor. “Owners say it’s so they don’t disturb the neighbours. I think dogs that have lost their voice have lost their nature, too. They suffer.”

“Barking is a dog’s way of communicating its feelings – fear, frustration, pain, boredom or even happiness,” notes Kogi Gogela of SPCA Penang. “This cruel procedure strips dogs of their natural ability to express their normal behaviour. Dogs become emotionally distraught after surgery. I feel that one should not have a dog if he/she cannot bear with barking from dogs.”

However, there are also plenty of stories of dog owners who are forced to relocate to dog-unfriendly places or whose neighbourhoods bring in rules that ban dogs. “If it came down to killing my dogs or debarking, I’m not sure where I’d stand,” one animal lover confessed. “They’re awful solutions.”

Cruel and unethical

Although debarking is not illegal in this country, the vets I spoke to said they had never done such work and would not. Furthermore, they couldn’t even think of a colleague who would do this. Reactions ranged from “It’s unethical” to impassioned speeches on cruelty. All in all, it’s a very emotional issue. (If you’d like to comment, do write in!)

While I have trouble facing Jack, I thought it might be useful if I did some research so that we can get away from cruel “fixes” and go to the root of the problem: What is nuisance barking and what can you do to prevent it?

Interestingly, studies have found that people who like dogs are less bothered by barking than people who are frightened of dogs. Quite understandably, their fear makes the sound a frightening experience, which increases the nuisance value.

Studies have found that people who like dogs are less bothered by barking than people who are frightened of dogs. Quite understandably, their fear makes the sound a frightening experience, which increases the nuisance value.

Also, it seems that the noisier the places are, the more regulated nuisance sounds tend to be. In some New York communities, for example, nuisance barking is defined in terms of minutes of barking per hour. They also have similar laws on jackhammers, car horns and other city sounds.

If you are in a low-tolerance neighbourhood, the work of Dr Elsa Louise Flint, a vet in New Zealand who runs the Animals with Attitude Behaviour clinic that specialises in animals with behaviour issues, shines light on the issues.

“In my PhD study, I looked at the causes of problem barking,” Dr Flint notes. “This is barking that had been complained about or that was worrying owners. We found 40% of dogs were suffering from separation anxiety, 51% were guarding territory, and 10% were barking for other reasons, including play, excitement and senility.”

The question is, how do you fix it? Dr Flint suggests: “It depends on the underlying cause. If it is separation anxiety, dogs need medication and a behaviour modification plan. If it’s territorial, the fix depends on triggers. Dogs can be desensitised to stimuli, and sometimes the environment can be modified. For example, you might use screens if they are barking at things they see, and keep them inside at times when there’s lots going on outside.

“Also, dogs are less likely to be problem territorial barkers if they are walked in the morning and have some daily training, and are left with bones and toys and access to the house while owners are out.”

What it really comes down to is that having a dog isn’t something to go into lightly. It’s a long-term commitment that requires having the right life circumstances and picking up the knowledge to be a good pet guardian.

Because if we don’t take care, there will be a lot more Jacks out there. And that would be a heartbreaker.

Jack is up for adoption at Paws, 47200 Subang, Selangor (tel 03-7846 1087). His tag ID is D238(120415).

NEXT PAGE: Some tips to helping your dog quieten down

Some tips to helping your dog quieten down

#1 Understand barking: Dogs bark for the same reasons we speak: To warn, to explain or just to chat.

#2 Mask frightening sounds: “My poodle Whisky is frightened of kids,” says dog lover Stanley Saw Boon Leong.

“If I leave him at home, he’d bark if he hears them because he’s afraid, so I leave the telly on. It masks the noise.

“There are dog-sitting videos you can buy that work to entertain dogs, too.”

#3 Small steps to conquering fear: For dogs with separation anxiety, you have to slowly get them used to your being absent.

Start by leaving your pet alone for a minute. Just walk out and close the door. Then go back in without making a fuss of your pet. Act normally.

Repeat your actions half an hour later.

Gradually increase the length of time.

If you overdo it, and your pet barks or becomes frightened, back up by shortening the time.

Note: This takes weeks, which is why you should not adopt a dog and then straightaway go to work full-time.


#4 Entertain your pet: Dogs who are walked properly will get tired and sleep while you’re out. So walk your dog in the morning and as soon as you get back.

For a lively dog like a Jack Russell, you can play Fetch or other ball games so that the dog is running while you don’t exhaust yourself!

#5 A comfy, safe space: Make sure your pet has his own basket or bed in a place where he feels secure. Give him a toy to play with, or a bone to chew, so he doesn’t get bored. You should also leave water out for in case he gets thirsty.

If your pet feels happy and comfy, he’s less likely to bark.

For more tips, check out the articles at animalswithattitude.co.nz and talk to your vet.