I have moved all over the place in four countries and stayed in various apartments and complexes, including semi-swanky and semi-slum. In the process, I have met a wide variety of virulently dog-hating neighbors, the kind of people who hate all dogs in general and your dog in particular regardless of training or behavior.
They piss me off. That’s only natural. But I don’t like confrontation and I do like to get on with people around me. So I have developed CuReD, the three-step approach to dog-hating neighbors.
Here is CuReD in action:
No matter how doomed it might seem, start with the charm offensive. Even if they will never come around, you are better off knowing exactly what the neighbor’s problem is. This involves biting your tongue and asking, sincerely, what is making them unhappy. The ruder they get, the politer you should be. If you can find a way to do them a favor at this stage, all the better, whether they deserve it or not. This is your first chance to seize the moral high ground!
You might be surprised how often this actually pays off. I had one neighbor who said something I couldn’t even make out, but it was grumpy and involved the word “dog.” I was tempted to fire back and let her know what I thought about her real-fur jacket, but taking the high ground paid off a few days later when she apologized and explained that it annoyed her how the dogs ruined the lawn. I replied that I had to admit the lawns near the doorways looked like they had been hit by incendiary missiles rather than just dog pee, but a lot of dogs do live in the building. She said she realized we weren’t doing it on purpose, and we have been on good terms ever since.
I had one neighbor who was convinced that dogs smelled bad. She even went as far as opening her apartment door and spraying the corridor with air freshener just because I had walked by. Pretty offensive, right? Then she called the building administrator to complain. Well, my response was to say that the landlord or management company could come by any time. If they could detect any odor at all, I very much wanted them to come over, help find the source, and deal with it.
Not defensive, not upset, not even bothering to deny it beyond having to say I genuinely did not know what the compliant was about. This approach made it pretty obvious to the people involved that there wasn’t really a problem, and that was the end of the drama.
Sadly, some landlords are dog haters, and in many cases previous tenants have made them that way. My approach is to never deny that my dogs create extra wear and tear, and to never try and hide the damage they do.
Sometimes those neighbors just be crazy. Like the one who thinks that because his apartment building is “no dogs,” I am not allowed to walk on the pavement, or even the road, outside it. Like the one who tries to surreptitiously kick my dog when I walk past.
For these people you have one clear, confident but polite disengaging conversation. Like: “I will walk on this sidewalk when I need to, and if you wish to call the police about that, you go ahead. I have nothing more to say to you.”
Or: “I will avoid coming near you with my dog as much as I can, but it is unacceptable for you to touch my dog. If you have a problem with my dog, you let me know and I will deal with it.”
Don’t wait for a response. Just deliver the message and move on.
You might think that for your dog-hating neighbor, the first two steps are a waste of time, but there is one reason this is not true. Even if the dog hater will not change his ways, you are demonstrating good faith and good intentions. You are showing that you are a calm, responsible person who cares about the opinions of the people in the neighborhood and wants to be a good neighbor.
It is natural to want to shout or argue to defend your dog, and you should never become a pushover. But believe me, excruciatingly polite disengagement pisses off histrionic dog haters far more than anything else you might come up with to “win” the argument. No matter what card they play, being the better person will trump it if you are consistent.
Make a reasonable accommodation to their feelings, but decide where to draw the line, and then don’t stress about it. Now if I walk by the woman who thinks she owns the sidewalk and she hisses some obscenity at me (which is quite disconcerting when coming from an elderly lady in a cutesy sweater set), I just wish her a good day and keep on walking, secure in the knowledge that I have not sunk to her level.
She is not going to ruin my day.
How do you deal with dog-hating neighbors? Do you take the moral high ground or do you get down on their level? Tell us your strategies in the comments!
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About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny, and Pippin — they think of themselves as dog-esque).