How to Deal with Nuisance Barking in Your Neighborhood
I love dogs, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear them bark for hours on end. Nuisance barking disturbs my peace and makes getting anything done -- especially work and sleep -- difficult. It also hurts my heart, as a dog who barks nonstop cannot possibly be in a good place mentally.
First, I'll share some personal experiences with neighbors I've had whose dogs bark excessively. Then, I'll outline what exactly what you can do if you're in a similar situation.
Sweet Nala, home alone all day
At a previous house, I lived next to a nice nurse who worked 12-hour shifts and was rarely home. We enjoyed a peaceful co-existence. Then she adopted Nala, an 8-month-old rescue pup with a sweet disposition and severe separation anxiety.
My neighbor left for work before 7 a.m. each day, and her dog barked pretty much nonstop, mostly outside thanks to a doggie door, until she came home after 7 p.m. The shrill sound bounced around the driveway behind our row of patio homes, disturbing everyone in earshot.
Neighbors began complaining about Nala to one another, but none of us were ready to confront her owner just yet. The dog was still young and in a new home, after all. We hoped she would become more comfortable and quiet down. That didn’t happen.
After a month or so, talk of involving the homeowners’ association began. I volunteered to approach Nala’s owner about the nuisance barking, with the hope of keeping the situation from getting ugly. It’s no fun when a war breaks out on a block.
Nala’s owner was surprised to hear she was barking all day. Since I have two dogs, she asked me for advice. I said it sounded like Nala had separation anxiety, but I told her I was no expert. She needed to talk to her veterinarian and hire a trainer.
The next few months were a challenge for everyone involved. My neighbor did work with a trainer, but as soon as she felt Nala was “better,” she would become less consistent when it came to following his instructions, and the nuisance barking would begin again.
Eventually, though, Nala found peace through her training, and so did the neighborhood.
A poor pup, crated in a Phoenix condo
I currently live in a condo in Phoenix, with neighbors to the left, right, and below. Again, we all enjoyed a peaceful coexistence until a nuisance barker joined the community: The woman below me gave her spare bedroom to her adult daughter, who brought along a little dog with a big voice.
She proved herself an irresponsible dog owner right away. The daughter let her dog do his business in our shared courtyard, which I wouldn’t have minded -- even though I take my dogs elsewhere -- had she picked it up right away. Piles of poop would accumulate before she finally put them in a plastic bag, which she then would leave outside for another few days before throwing away. Anyone who visited either of our units would have to pass by the mess unless I took care of it myself.
When I finally saw who I thought was the dog’s owner outside one day, I asked her politely if she would please pick up after her pet. Her curt response was, “It’s not my dog.” I replied, just as curtly, “Well, then, who does the dog belong to?” She said that she didn’t live there. It was her sister’s dog, and she would pass on the “request.” Who knows whether she ever did, but nothing changed.
The nuisance barking began a few weeks later. I didn’t bother approaching the owner, who I had yet to actually meet, as both she and her mother had proven to be irresponsible and inconsiderate. I contacted the management company of the condos about the dog waste and the nuisance barking.
I explained that the owner had begun crating the dog while she was at work, as well as for long stretches at night and during the weekend. How did I know this? Because he scratched at the crate and barked pretty much nonstop when in it. Again, I felt bad for the dog. I could hear his distress in every room of my home, including my office.
The management company sent multiple letters to the tenant and the owner of the unit over the next few months. The daughter eventually began picking up after her dog, but the nuisance barking continued. Speaking from experience, the management company said I would need to file a complaint with the city in order to get any results.
Thankfully, the mother, daughter, and dog all moved out while I was researching the City of Phoenix ordinance regarding barking dogs and gathering my evidence.
Steps for dealing with a barking dog in your neighborhood
Thanks to the above experiences, I now know how to deal with the owner of a nuisance barker in the future. I would do the following, and so can you.
1. Talk to the neighbor or leave a note
The City of Phoenix website offers excellent advice on how to get your point across without starting a war between neighbors. Avoid bringing up nuisance barking when frustrated. Instead, approach your neighbor calmly and provide specifics as to when the dog barks excessively. If leaving a note for a neighbor you do not know, include your phone number so he or she can respond to your concerns.
Some dog owners will react badly no matter how polite you are, but keeping your cool allows you to take the high road and move forward.
2. Contact the homeowners’ association or community management company, if applicable
If the neighbor does not take your concerns seriously, ask for help from a governing association if one exists and has teeth. Some have strict rules regarding noise and can impose fines on homeowners or tenants who break them.
3. File a complaint with the city
Involve your city prosecutor’s office, if necessary. In Phoenix, I can file a complaint by submitting a petition that includes the signatures of at least three parties affected by the nuisance barking or that includes a log with dates and times of the offenses. The latter also can include a videotape or audiotape of the barking.
From there, the city will offer free mediation to the parties involved. “We encourage people to use mediation to settle the dispute,” explains Phoenix city prosecutor Aarón J. Carreón-Aínsa. “We are in partnership with the Phoenix School of Law. Trained mediators volunteer their services to resolve these cases. We refer as many cases as PSL is able to accommodate.”
Carreón-Aínsa adds that mediation proves far more successful in the long run than moving forward with a trial. “It is important to note that using the court to settle the dispute is a zero-sum process. Each time a judge decides 'guilty' or 'not guilty,' one side of the dispute loses. Either the accused is convicted and the accused is dissatisfied, or the accused is found not guilty and the complaining neighbors are dissatisfied. The people all return to the neighborhood, and the dissatisfaction continues. But, if the neighbors take the disagreement to mediation and resolve their differences, the dissatisfaction disappears, and harmony returns to the neighborhood.”
If mediation fails and the case moves to trial, either civil or criminal prosecution can happen. A violation of the city of Phoenix ordinance regarding barking dogs can result in fines of $150 to $2,500. A dog owner who disobeys a court order can even be arrested. Similar complaint processes and penalties exist in other cities, including Los Angeles and across the country.
If involving the courts is the only way to resolve a nuisance-barking problem, it will require patience on your part. In Phoenix, it takes two-and-a-half months from the time a complaint gets filed to the trial date.
One last thought
As I said above, I love dogs. A dog who barks nonstop for no reason has needs that are not being met. I blame the owner for allowing the situation to exist, not the dog. My own dogs are far from perfect, but I don’t inflict their imperfections on others and I expect the same consideration from other dog owners.
How do you feel about nuisance barking, readers? Do you tune it out, suffer in silence, or attempt to solve the problem by reaching out to your neighbor? How does being a dog owner yourself affect how you handle such a situation? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments.