When I came down with a horrific cold recently, I found myself clinging to the couch and willing the German Shepherd who lives above me to stop barking. The dog was clearly home alone and anxious.
I turned the TV on, but it was as if the program I was watching had been muted. All I could hear was barking. Next, I listened to some ambient noise of waves crashing as I tried to rest and let my cold meds kick in. That didn’t do the trick either.
Admittedly, I was already in a bad mood, because when I get sick, I feel like I am on an island alone without chicken soup and hugs. However, on this recent afternoon, my neighbor’s dog’s incessant barking and howling was about to push me over the edge into a canyon of complaint. Before my nasal congestion and impatience led me to pick up the phone to voice a grievance to the landlord, I got a grip on myself.
Two years ago, I was the one fielding complaints about my dog, Toby, barking in our small, fourth-floor walk-up apartment in New York City.
Bella and DiDi (my fur sisters) don’t like when my parents or guests leave the house, but they don’t have serious separation anxiety. The most irreverent thing that happens when the Bella and DiDi are left at home is DiDi spitting out the treat that my mom hands out to take her mind off the departure.
With Toby, it was a different story.
In September of 2012, as I headed back to work after some time off to adopt Toby, I closed the door to a crying and howling furball. Soon, I learned that in order to calm Toby down when I left the house, tools such as a frozen Kong stuffed with goodies and relaxing music in the background were necessary.
Before walking to the subway, I would stand in the courtyard of my apartment building to monitor Toby’s noises. A lot of those mornings, tears would run down my face as I heard my dog calling out not to be left. The guilt and worry I felt consumed me.
So that my neighbors didn’t think I was an emotional basket case (even though I clearly was at that time), I would throw my sunglasses on to hide my tear-filled eyes. Even though I had sought the help of a respected trainer to get Toby’s barking under control, I felt completely alone standing outside willing Toby to settle down.
After a few weeks passed, I stopped crying and Toby barked a maximum of five minutes after I left. By November, we got to a point where he curled up on his bed waiting for the Kong as I was about to leave. Toby let out 30 seconds of barking after I closed the door and then was silent (I left a sound recorder, with my dog walker’s knowledge, to track his barking).
Of course, just as the dog had vastly improved on his anxiety-driven barking, a neighbor who had never said one word about Toby after living in the apartment across the hall from him for three months raised hell with building management about Toby and me.
It was ironic and maddening. This neighbor, who had not been in my apartment or met Toby, and didn’t know my name, spent weeks making my life a living hell. She threatened to call the ASPCA on me because Toby’s bark sounded so unhappy she claimed I wasn’t treating him humanely. Nothing makes a dog lover who treasures their dog full of rage like a false claim of inhumane treatment.
Then, I was accused of leaving a negative comment about her business via an online review service. I didn’t even know what she her profession was! Her accusation was completely ridiculous!
Next came the late-night knocking on my door, which of course Toby would bark at, as any dog who is not deaf would have. This was followed by a barrage of notes on my door and more complaints about the dog and me to building management. And on and on …
I felt like a prisoner in my own home and couldn’t understand why this woman was acting out now when Toby was barking less.
In dealing with my unhinged neighbor, nothing brought peace. Venting to my mom and friends helped a little, but I was still so bothered.
Then one day, my dog walker, who knew Toby almost as well as I did, told me to be firm. She charged me to stand up for myself and end this nonsense. Because she understood Toby and why dogs bark, she was able to connect with me in a way others couldn’t on this topic.
Finally, I sent the building owners the “Toby Tapes,” aka the recordings I made of his drastically reduced barking, and a firm note threatening legal action if this woman didn’t stop harassing me.
The madness stopped. Toby resumed his life as a happy and less anxious dog.
However, I had a new understanding of how the world is full of some good neighbors and some not so good ones who will make other people’s lives hell because they are unhappy.
So, on that recent afternoon when the dog above me was barking out of anxiety, I chose restraint. If the dog does continue to bark a lot, I vow to be a nicer and more understanding human than the one who caused me so much grief two years ago.
Let’s hear from you, readers. Do you have a dog whose barking bothers your neighbors? Or does a barking dog disturb your peace? How do you handle it?
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About the author: Margot Ahlquist is a dog mom, Professional Life Coach and Creator of Paws to Talk where the motto is “Life Support For Dog Lovers.” She lives near Boston with her dogs Bella, DiDi and Toby. Margot recently released a product kit entitled Paws By Your Side which helps dog lovers cope with the loss of their dogs. Follow Margot’s blog and get more info on Paws to Talk’s services and products here.