[Updated July 6, 2018]
The natural thing to do when someone complains about your dog is to get defensive. “My dog? Causing a problem? How dare you?!”
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 intently to your neighbor’s complaint.
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 for your dog.
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 your dog’s nuisance behavior.
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. Respect all community dog laws.
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 to modify your dog’s behavior, and your own behavior.
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 “Modifying Your Dog’s Barking Behavior“.) 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. See, “Solve Fence Aggression with a Better Designed Dog Fence,” for more info on fencing.
-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.