Features March 2011 Issue

How to React When a Neighbor Complains About Your Dog - Don't Get Defensive!

Five things to do when your neighbor complains about your dog.

The natural thing to do when someone complains about your dog is to get defensive. “My dog? Causing a problem? How dare you?!”

You can’t assume your dog has been a saint all day just because he’s asleep when you get home.

Don’t go there. Defensiveness exacerbates hostilities, escalates tension, and encourages your neighbor to make a mountain out of what you perceive to be a molehill. Remember, it’s all about perception, and your neighbor’s perception is his reality. Instead of being defensive, try these things:

1. Listen: Unless one of you plans to move, defusing the situation beats all-out war. Set defensiveness aside, and listen to what your neighbor says. Assume there’s some nugget of truth to his complaint. You need to find it, so you can figure out what to do with it. He says your dog barks all the time, underneath his bedroom window, and wakes him up. That may be an exaggeration, but chances are your dog is barking some of the time, especially if you leave her out in the yard, or if she has free backyard access through a doggie-door.

2. Empathize and apologize: Without admitting guilt, empathize with your complainer. “It must be frustrating to have to listen to barking dogs when you’re trying to sleep.” Be sincere. Tell him you’re sorry he’s being disturbed by barking. Reassure him that you don’t want your dog to be a nuisance, and you want to help find a solution to his concerns. Ask him to bear with you while you work on the problem. Bake him chocolate chip cookies.

3. Investigate: Ask questions that won’t make your neighbor defensive. “Is there a time when it’s most annoying?” “Are there other dogs that are barking too?” “Other than giving up my dog, what would make you happy?” Set up a video camera or voice-activated tape recorder to document your dog’s activities when you aren’t home. Alternatively, take a day off and watch your own house from a distance, to see what goes on that might make your dog bark. Check the neighborhood to see if there are other dogs whose barking might be blamed on your dog. Ask other neighbors if they hear your dog, and if so, when and how much.

4. Be legal, be considerate: Make sure your dog is currently licensed, and obey all local animal control laws. Maybe your neighbor is complaining because your dog runs loose and he feels threatened (even though you know your dog is a pussycat), or because you don’t clean up when you take her for walks. Those are legitimate grounds for complaint (as is excessive nuisance barking) even if your dog is a pussycat. You don’t want animal control to find you in violation of anything. Obey leash laws and scoop laws, and respect your neighbor’s discomfort with your dog – don’t let her off-leash even if you’re just walking out to your car. If she runs over to happily greet him, you’ll fuel the fires.

5. Take action: Make changes to accommodate your neighbor and protect your dog. If his complaint is early-morning noise and she’s barking when you let her out at 6:00 am while you shower, alter your routine. Get up earlier and go out with her. Let her eliminate, then play with her. Keep her quietly occupied rather than leaving her to find her own entertainment. If it’s random throughout-the-day backyard barking while you’re away, bring her in and close the dog door. She doesn’t have to be outside all day. If things get ugly, leaving her out unattended exposes her to great risk from an irate neighbor. If necessary, pay someone to let her out for a noon potty break. If the complaint is about barking even when you are home, behavior modification is in order. (See “Positively Quiet,” WDJ July 2007). If it’s something other than barking, determine how you can modify the situation to mitigate the problem. Some examples:

-Your dog charges the fence. Your neighbor fears for his children’s safety. Make the fence solid, or put up an inner fence so there’s an “airlock” between dog and kids.

-Your dog came over and attacked his dog. You think your dog was just playing, but whatever. Vow that your dog is never off her leash in your neighborhood. Even just walking to your car.

Keep your neighbor informed of your efforts to address his concerns. Document your actions in a journal in case you do have to face animal control. Ask your neighbor to let you know if he sees improvement – and document that. Save receipts for anything you buy to modify your dog’s environment. If you see your neighbor deliberately antagonizing your dog, document that with a video camera. Keep your dog safe. Be considerate. Keep baking chocolate chip cookies.

Comments (12)

I have purchased some land in a deed restricted neighborhood, and there is no limit to how many dogs or cats one can keep as long as the person can take care of them and have their rabies. I just want to say that ever since I have been in this neighborhood my neighbor that lives two houses from me started from the beginning to harass me about my dogs calling animal control everyday to say one thing or another even getting another neighbor up the street involved. I know when I left for work I would get a call (left my number tagged on the kennel) from animal control telling me that my dogs were loose; I would come home right away to find they were all in the yard but out of the kennel. Finally in April I found a way to keep them from getting loose to run around the neighborhood. My neighbors (the ones complaining ) have 4 dogs one being a shepherd mix 2 pugs, and 1 pitbull puppy. The shepherd dog has tried to attack me 8 times I have called animal control and to no avail nothing happens; The neighbors tell the animal control that is not their dog, but when they leave the dog is in their yard eating and sitting with them. My point is no matter what you try to do you will always have neighbors that are from hell they will lie and think they are beyond the law. I have never tried to make friends with them because they can not be reasoned with they would give me the finger for no reason because I never speak to them because they are screamers. One of the neighbors ran down to my house like she was going to fight with me and even came into my yard. Since I have been arrest for DWI several times I can not carry a firearm, my point is that no matter what you do there is nothing a person can do because police , animal control, and any other entity involved does not want to do their job.

Posted by: raml123 | December 11, 2014 1:36 PM    Report this comment

This goes to Zip and other people that have similar mind set. In my opinion, you are the kind of person that our society doesn't need at all, nor should you be giving any advise whatsoever. You are clearly the kind of person that has no issues with back stabbing people even neighbors (and it wouldn't surprise me your own family) at any given time. It seems to me that anybody that may cross your path would be a target for your likely unjustified hatress if they didn't meet your expectations. So your advise to people of calling the police on neigbords and/or suing them is just pure evil, and let me humbly suggest to you and people like you to analyze your approach to life for a minute. It is communication, dialogue, and attempt to resolve misunderstandings that makes us a better society and not quite what you are suggesting. If you have any issues with your neighbor's dog, go to your neigbor's house, SHOW YOUR FACE, ,knock on their door and express your frustration, let them understand by communicating them how you feel. I guarantee you that your neighbor will try to fix the problem if he/she has caused any. Don't you think the police has better things to do than to attend your "hide behind the curtains's" silly calls? Yes, they do!

Posted by: Desma | November 14, 2014 8:19 AM    Report this comment

My dog is inside all night (every night) and all day Monday thru Friday. He only barks early evening and as soon as he starts, I run out and get him in as soon as I can. But, a Beagle on a scent is hard to get in. I didn't know this when I got him, but he was in the local animal shelter and is a sweet boy. He deserves to bark a few times on Saturday afternoon! And, I never let him bark longer than 5 minutes. My neighbors are banging on my door and calling the Police!! But, its OK to drain nasty pool water in my yard and put up a fence that isn't straight or any where near the property line. I even think they have family "squatting" in the empty repo house next to them!

Posted by: Beagleboy | October 22, 2014 12:11 AM    Report this comment

It is not against the law to have a dog. A paper trail is stupid. How much time do you have to bother complaining. Move to a country that doesn't allow dogs. I don't blame anyone who has a "real" problem with a barking dog. My dog is very loud when he barks. He is a beagle and can be heard for miles. That's why I always go out and get him in. He doesn't always come right away. Beagles like to finish the scent they are following. He is following a cat scent. It is against the law to let a dog out of your yard and it is against the law to let a cat out of your yard. People need to stop letting their cats run all over the neighborhood and they need to stop feeding strays!!!! If the cats don't come in my back yard, my Beagle doesn't bark except when there is a stranger. Plus, he is inside all night and 8-6 Mon thru Friday. So, my neighbors need to STOP calling the police and yelling over the fence and knocking on my door! I hope to sell to someone with 2 or 3 Beagles that are kept outside full time!

Posted by: Beagleboy | October 22, 2014 12:04 AM    Report this comment

My neighbor has a swimming pool that I reported to the Health Dept. and they were fined because it is non-operating and has had 6' of black water standing in it. I guess they knew I called on them and since then they have called the police once because my dog was barking for a total of 6 minutes. He is a Beagle and when he barks it is LOUD. Four weeks later he barked again and I was "again" trying to get him in and they yelled from their yard to shut up my dog. I got him in and within 2 minutes they were knocking at my door! My dog is inside all night, all every day and if he barks or bays I get him in as soon as I can. They have lived there over a year and only complained the past 2 months (twice), after the pool problem. They even pumped the nasty water out of the pool over the fence into my yard! I am frightened and I'm writing them a letter letting them know that I am doing everything I can to stop my dog from disturbing them. I'm installing a privacy fence in an effort to keep out the stray cat that make him bay on her scent and a chain link fence close to my back door to have him enclosed if I have to let him out late at night. Plus, to make it easier to get him in if he barks and to keep him out of the entire back yard. I don't know what they want. I am going to sell & move anyway -- maybe they will get a neighbor without any dogs! I'm sick of them and frightened when they bank on my front door at 11pm because he barked for 3 minutes!

Posted by: Beagleboy | October 21, 2014 11:56 PM    Report this comment

What if you have a neighbor who purposely allows her dogs to bark usually starting at 4 am until 7 am, I ve called animal control and she claims its not her dogs, but as soon as they leave she allows the dogs to continue barking. Ive been dealing with her for about 6 mos now.

Help......

Posted by: smiley123 | October 10, 2014 9:38 PM    Report this comment

Dear Pat, These people are all dog haters, trolling around looking for justification for their answers. Dogs bark. Dogs that bark all night all of the time are a problem, but dogs just bark. An occasional bark from a dog is no different from traffic noise or music emanating from a house or gardeners doing their work or airplanes flying by. It's all the noise that comes from living with other people. If a dog really barks ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT or even ALWAYS BARKS in the middle of the night, it is definitely a problem that needs attention. But people that hate dogs will jump on the one time a dog does bark at night as justification of their pre-existing hatred as these people commenting clearly do. I stumbled upon this article because last night my chocolate lab was barking all night and I hadn't realized it until I awoke with my phone ringing. I ran outside to get her, realized a door had been left open (she always sleeps in my bedroom) and she had been going nuts. I found that the carcass of a dead rabbit on the other side of my fence. We have coyotes and clearly a coyote had been prowling around, and Daisy chased him off, then was confused and scared of the animal carcass and barked at it non-stop. The only other time I have caught her barking non stop was one evening when two stray kittens were stuck in the bush on the other side of our fence. We rescued them and brought them to a shelter. So, she really never barks unless something really off is happening and this one incident just slipped by me unnoticed because I happened to have fallen asleep early with the door ajar. But my neighbor turned it into "she barks all night every night and everyone is complaining and you should find another place to live where you don't have neighbors." Seeing as she sleeps at my feet every night, I know this is a gross exaggeration but I can't deny she was really disruptive on this one occasion. Anyway, my neighbor is like the folks that commented here...he's waiting eagerly for a justification of his dog hatred or maybe he just doesn't like me and is using my dogs as an excuse. Either way, he's not getting my sympathy by insisting I admit that my dogs bark every night. What do you do with these types of people? They won't be happy until they have neighbors with either no dogs or dogs that NEVER EVER BARK EVER. Not even once.

Posted by: beverly | October 9, 2014 12:18 PM    Report this comment

Extremely one sided article. How many nights should we lose sleep? Do you know that losing just one night of sleep can cause health problems? Don't be complacent. It is NOT ok. It is not only rude, but it is so inconsiderate of your neighbors. I'm with the last commenter-- if one is having problems, let your neighbor know once and then skip all the playing nice stuff part and start recording, keep documents and call the cops when animal control is closed. And if still no relief, then sue them in small claims court. Forget the county or animal control ("public nuisance")helping you unless you have other neighbors who are on your team. Just go straight to small claims and sue as "private nuisance". And after you win a small monetary award, and the noise hasn't stopped, you can sue them again and again, as long as it takes. Eventually, the bad dog owners will give in ... Good luck everyone!

Posted by: ohhhdear | August 27, 2014 9:14 PM    Report this comment

This is a very one sided article, and isn't helpful in solving real issues. We had a neighbor's (pussycat) dogs on OUR property trying to attack our chickens. 3 large dogs against 4 chickens? One of the dogs turned to attack our son and it was shot and killed. This was horrific for everyone! We had talked to the police many times about this dog asking if they could help us find the owner, only they did nothing and the end result was tragic. The dog lived directly across the street and owned by a police officer (shows why nothing was done). There are laws to protect property owners and the dogs and their owners. They are in place for a reason. Writing that there is a NUGGET of truth only leads the dog owner to further resent the complaint insinuating they must be exaggerating. Be responsible and get dog owners to follow laws and get them to realize out of their sight, they do not know what tneir dog is doing! We have had trash cans overturned, our frog pond ruined, peace disturbed by barking for up to an hour straight, growled at and barked at in our own yard, and the worst......our son attacked. Don't write that all dogs are pussycats......get dog owners to be responsible! Our dog is on , eash at all times and is not outside to bark disturbing the neighborhood.....it's not too difficult to be a good neighbor and good dog owner.

Posted by: ash | July 15, 2014 4:35 PM    Report this comment

I tried this when a neighbor complained about my dog who was running up and down the fence playing with their dogs and barking. Unfortunately, they are very hostile (always have been) and started off by cussing out my 13 year old son. We've caught them throwing stuff at our dog (rocks, etc.) and it's reached a point that when he's in the yard and sees them, he does bark now, but it's a bark of "stay away" and he runs to the other side of the yard to get away from them. They have up to 3 dogs in their yard at any given time. Now I deal with their 3 dogs coming to the fence barking because they want to play and I'm afraid to let my dog out without supervision because of their actions. It's a hard situation.

Posted by: dieseldreams | August 22, 2012 8:17 AM    Report this comment

I have a neighbor who comes over and loudly complains about once every 3 years when there is a barking issue...a one time thing, like the time my daughter's dog was out for a walk with me at 6AM and she began barking loudly at a neighbor's dog on a leash. Did I get a tongue lashing. He doesn't like "ankle biters." But likes large dogs. Always liked our large dog. Now I have a Small. I am a careful neighbor who always watches and listens all the day, and I always bring my dogs in (two) if they are suddenly barking up a storm. I wiah I could feel relaxed just once if my dogs bark, but the first tirade changed all that for me.

Posted by: B | December 29, 2011 8:10 PM    Report this comment

Skip all of that stuff, it is a waste of time. Call the police anonynously, every time the dog barks. Call the cops even if the dogs howl for a police or fire siren! Get a paper trail started with the local authorities. It is a better position for you if you don't have a dog, for your neighbors will certainly say it was your dog causing the problem!

Posted by: zip | August 8, 2011 9:27 AM    Report this comment

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