Barking As A 'Bone' Of Contention
One of the most common complaints received by animal control agencies and the Humane Society of Utah concerns barking and howling neighborhood dogs. The sound of a dog barking can be ignored by one neighbor, yet be extremely annoying to another neighbor who lives the same distance from the dog as does the first neighbor. Sometimes the barking is exacerbated by its particular pitch, frequency, or pattern. In addition, some dogs, such as the Alaskan malamute and Siberian husky can create howls and crying sounds which can make it appear as though they are being beaten to death.
A dog owner's reaction to being told that their dog is annoying to the neighbors can be similar to the oft-seen situation in a supermarket check-out line where a small child constantly makes attempts to gain the attention of its mother, who has learned to 'tune' out the sound of their child. Many dog owners, when confronted by neighbors or by animal control officers, state that their dog doesn't bark, it must be some other neighbor's dog.
Animal control agencies are charged by local animal control ordinances with controlling nuisance dogs. Ordinances usually include wording similar to one of the following, makes disturbing noises, included, but not limited to, continuous and repeated howling, barking, whining, or other noise which causes unreasonable annoyance, disturbance, or discomfort to neighbors, or others, barks, whines, howls, or makes other disturbing noises for an extended period of time, which by barking, howling or yelping disturbs the peace and quiet of any neighborhood or person, or barks, whines, or howls or makes other disturbing noises in an excessive, continuous, or untimely fashion. When animal control agencies receive a barking/nuisance complaint, they usually ask the calling party to start keeping a barking log. This documents the problem and shows the date, time, and duration of the barking problem. The log can then be used by the animal control agency or a court as evidence of the extent of the barking problem. Some people have brought audio tapes of what the barking problem sounds like in their bedroom. Others have used a combination of audio/video taping to document the problem.
Successful prosecution of owners for owning or maintaining nuisance dogs can result in fines, jail time, requirements to get rid of the dog, requirements to obtain obedience training, requirements to muzzle the animal at certain times, training collars, indoor crate training, debarking, etc. It is also time consuming (time off work or being away from home) and expensive (attorney's fees) to attend judicial proceedings to deal with such allegations, whether proven guilty or not.
The Humane Society of Utah has no law enforcement authority concerning barking/noise complaints, however, we do like to notify dog owners of such complaints, when associated with other allegations, such as lack of feed, water, shelter, medical attention, etc. We believe that it is an owner's duty to not only take humane care of their dog, but this should extend to the rights of their neighbors to enjoy their homes and property as well.
We also believe that neighbors of dog owners need to realize that barking is as natural to a dog as is talking is to a human being. This is one of the major ways in which dogs communicate with each other and to the world in general. It can be a bark of welcome to an owner, it can be a bark of alarm to a burglar or trespasser, it can be a bark of aggression to a perceived threat, it can be a bark of joy, it can be a bark to signal a dog's ownership of its territory, it can be a bark of warning to another animal, it can be a bark in answer to a siren or the moon. Barking can also be a sign of loneliness, boredom, or distress, as when the dog is trying to communicate to its owner that it desires the owner's attention. It would be, we believe, unreasonable to not expect a certain amount of barking from any dog.
We have seen many situations in which a disturbed neighbor has become frustrated with a barking problem and has taken matters into their own hands, rather than to contact the appropriate animal control agency. This results in reports of dogs which have been stolen, have been set loose from their place of confinement, instances of dogs being struck with objects (bricks, cans, rocks), being sprayed with noxious substances (pepper spray, chemical sprays, water hoses), being shot, and being poisoned. Unfortunately, when these incidents occur, it is often extremely difficult to prove who committed the offense, even though there might be a history of complaints from the suspected neighbor.
The vast majority of barking dog complaints stem from dogs which are either tied up in the yard or are confined to some type of pen or kennel. Other complaints, though not as many, occur when dogs are left to run in fenced-in yards. A dog's instinct is to protect its property. This instinct is heightened when it is left alone or restricted in its movements. Such restrictions create stress to the dog, as it knows that it is vulnerable and can't make normal movements.
The dog may bark at every noise it hears, especially when it can't see the source of the noise. It may bark at everyone who visits the property or who passes by the property. It may bark long after the perceived threat is gone as a result of built-up stress. Eventually, it barks out of sheer habit, also known as 'boredom' barking. Another problem is that all dogs don't feel comfortable when left outside at night. Young animals may be frightened and older animals may be suffering from physical pain or discomfort.
Dogs are by nature social animals and do best as part of a group; be that other dogs or their human family. If they are kept in the back yard without any human interaction, it is unnatural. The dog is going to do something during this time: this may include digging, running or patrolling the fence line, jumping over the fence, running in circles, destructive behavior, or barking.
A humane cure for excessive barking almost always includes professional obedience training, of both the dog and its owner/family. Difficult cases may require the assistance of an animal behavior specialist. Other methods to limit barking include stimulating the dog both physically and mentally. This can include daily walks/runs, play time with its family, toys of its own, having a designated area in which digging is permissible, as this is also a natural instinct of dogs; going on weekend hikes (while on leash in most parks/National Forest areas), supervised playing with other neighbor's dogs, etc. There are now special toys which can be stuffed with food and treats and will occupy a dog for hours as the food is slowly released as the dog plays with the toy. A child's wading pool can provide an oasis for water-loving dogs. Be creative!
Unwanted barking is a frustrating problem that results in an unhappy dog, an unhappy owner, and unhappy neighbors. With some creative work the problem is usually able to be solved to the enjoyment of all the above. For additional assistance with your dog's behavior, contact your veterinarian, dog trainer, or professional animal behaviorist. An inexpensive source of obedience dog training is through your local school district mailing of available continuing education evening/weekend classes.