Her Dog’s Lips Were Sealed - with Duct Tape

Katie Brown of South Daytona, Florida, apparently did not think that her Facebook post last Friday would go viral and result in downed computer servers and phone lines at the local police station.

But that’s just what happened this past Thanksgiving weekend after Brown plastered a photo of her dog with its muzzle duct-taped shut along with the caption, “This is what happens when you don’t shut up!!!”

The photo has been shared hundreds of thousands of times since and launched a manhunt for Brown who has reportedly been traveling out of her state with her dog.  Animal welfare proponents from Canada, Australia and Germany joined concerned locals in besieging the South Daytona Police Department with calls and e-mails that spurred officials to investigate and had IT staff burning the midnight oil to restore overloaded communications systems.

Upon learning that police could not locate Brown, social media activists sniffed out her possible trail from Florida to Connecticut based on additional Facebook posts. Calls also poured into the Emergency Animal Response Service (EARS), a Connecticut group dedicated to training response teams in animal rescue during an emergency and educating the public on emergency preparedness.

Brown eventually responded to comments on her post: “I can’t lie. I did it for sixty seconds. It was time out and no more barking.” Following additional negative feedback, Brown wrote, “Don’t panic everyone it was only for a minute but [the dog] hasn’t barked since . . . POINT MADE!!!”

The point of THIS post is two-fold: 1) there is no place to run and hide by one who employs cruel forms of discipline - however transient - on their animal companions, then chooses to display their exploits on social media, and, 2) with a bit of research and patience, Ms. Brown could have used a simple technique to lessen and/or eliminate her dog’s barking, promote trust in her animal companion and avoid the Facebook fallout.

In his book, How to Speak Dog, Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, describes how wild canids of higher rank in their “pack” have been observed to silence their pups by gently crossing their snout over the pup’s snout and emitting a short, low and breathy growl. This painless and relatively quiet gesture effectively keeps the “pack’s” position from detection by rivals or predators while preserving pack hierarchy and mutual love. Humans can easily reproduce this gesture by holding the dog’s neck steady with one hand, gently cupping the fingers of the other hand over the dog’s snout and, in a low and emotionless tone, uttering the word “quiet.”

For those who do not want to emulate wild pack-leaders, the Humane Society of the United States website offers some very practical tips including removing the trigger(s) to barking, desensitizing your dog to the stimulus and teaching him/her to bark only when given the command to "speak."

Unfortunately, Ms. Brown’s duct tape idea is not novel. In June of this year, William Leonard Dodson of Charleston, South Carolina, was arrested for animal cruelty after he wrapped his 15-month-old Mastiff's snout so tightly shut with electrical tape that it caused permanent damage. Snout taping is but one of many anti-barking remedies that dog owners have turned to in frustration. These include water pistols and spray bottles (some filled with lemon juice), rolled-up magazines, coin-filled cans and electric “shock” collars. In the dark ages of pet ownership (within the past few decades) people have gone as far as performing vocal-fold surgery in attempts to mute their barking dogs. Fortunately, no modern veterinarian of repute would condone such barbarism.

For whatever reason a dog barks, he or she is trying to communicate something of importance. Annoying as it may be, barking is a sign of bonding and devotion to others in the extended family; it expresses the desire to alert and protect. “Imagine what goes through the dog’s mind when this act of devotion is met by violence,” Coren writes. Such aggressive “corrections,” says Coren, may only temporary stifle the barking behavior while breaking the bond of trust between human and canine.

Katie Brown may have silenced her dog’s barking in that moment and perhaps even for some time. But her actions have compromised so much more than just her reputation.