Noisy dog? Trainer Carolyn Menteith and legal expert Trevor Cooper suggest some practical measures you can take to appease the neighbours.
Carolyn Menteith says: If you have a dog who barks persistently at all hours, it is going to annoy your neighbours.
Not only that but it is going to make life for you and your dog (and anyone living near you) stressful and unpleasant.
Dogs bark - it is one of the reasons why they make such great companions for humans. They are early warning systems, alerting their handlers to intruders or attack. It may seem obvious but it is amazing how many people don't consider this fact. And some dogs, depending on the breed, type, and individual temperament, bark more than others.
People who live close to others, in more built-up areas or in shared buildings, need to consider this when choosing a particular breed in the fi rst place. Any breed that was originally developed to guard will generally do just that, and more reactive breeds, such as some of the herding dogs and terriers, tend to be more vocal as are some of the Spitz types.
Companion breeds are more likely to suffer from separation-related issues, which can cause them to bark, so considering noise when you are deciding which type of dog would suit your lifestyle is important.
If, however, you already have a dog who barks excessively, there are things you can do to lessen, if not solve, this issue. Dogs do not ‘just bark', any more than babies ‘just cry'. They always bark for a reason and unless you know what that reason is, you can't stop them from doing it. Generally there are six types of barking:
- Watchdog barking - guarding either the owner or the territory (this includes reacting to people walking past the house, postmen, and neighbours moving around).
- ‘I want something' barking.
- Worried barking - ‘I am really frightened of something, so maybe if I bark it will think I am fi erce and it will go away and leave me alone.'
- Excitement barking.
- Boredom barking.
- Separation-related barking.
Dealing with problem barking
Once you can work out why your dog is barking, you are well on the way to being able to deal with it.
Watchdog barking can often be managed by using baby gates to prevent the dog having access to windows or glass doors so he can't see people walking past or moving outside. If you need to leave your dog, leave the radio on (but not so loud that the neighbours complain about that instead of the barking!) so he is less likely to focus on strange sounds.
Watchdog barking often becomes a problem in dogs who aren't being given much mental stimulation and so ‘protecting' the house becomes the only highlight of their day. It is important these dogs get plenty of exercise before you leave them, and that you give them plenty of things to occupy their minds (like training sessions and interactive toys).
‘I want something' barking often happens when you are at home and your dog wants food, contact, a walk, or a game. First of all ask if your dog actually has the right to demand your attention! Is he getting enough exercise, contact, play, and all the other things he needs to keep him healthy and happy? Many people want their dog to sit quietly but don't realise that if he is full of energy and frustrated, he just can't do that. Once you're sure he is getting everything he needs, you can ensure he only gets what he wants when he stops barking, and so teach him that barking won't work! You need to teach him how to have some quiet time too.
Worried barking is harder to deal with as you really need help from a behaviourist who can observe your dog, see what is causing the fears and the worries, and give you a plan to deal with them. Without this expert help, the barking is in danger of escalating as the fears grow (and the dog believes that barking makes the scary stuff go away).
Excitement barking isn't really a noise nuisance as it generally doesn't last long (just while you put the dog's lead on, or get his food ready, or complete whatever is causing the excitement).
Separation-related barking and boredom barking are the most common forms of nuisance barking. Dogs who are left on their own all day or dogs who do not get enough exercise or stimulation, bark to relieve the boredom.
If a dog hates being left, he barks to try and call his owner back to him. Experience has taught him that if he barks for long enough, his owner will eventually return.
Leaving him alone
Dogs are a huge commitment - these are not part-time animals, they need constant attention and stimulation. Unlike cats, dogs are pack animals and do not like to be left alone. Often they will make sure the whole neighbourhood knows when they are bored or lonely.
Obviously the best solution is not to get a dog if you are going to have to leave him alone. But if you have already got a ‘home alone' dog, you need to find ways to keep him happy, stimulated, and occupied while you are away.
- Leave him with a stuffed Kong when you go out so he has something to occupy his brain and his mouth - and make your leaving a more positive experience.
- Get a dog sitter - either someone who will pop in a couple of times during the day, or someone who can take your dog into their home while you are at work.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise. A tired dog is a happy dog and one more likely to sleep while you are away. This means walking your dog every day before work, and again when you come home. Try to come home at lunchtime to walk him too.
- Spend quality time with your dog when you are there. Don't just fl op in front of the TV when you get home. Take time to walk, to play games, or to attend a local training class. All these things will stimulate your dog's brain, help to make life more exciting, and prevent boredom.
A serious separation anxiety however needs help from a qualified behaviourist, as does any noise nuisance that doesn't improve despite working on these tips.
Once you know why your dog is barking and you have removed the causes or the triggers, put the barking under your control. In other words, teach your dog to bark when you ask him to. When he barks naturally, encourage him and use a word like ‘Speak'. Then use a really tasty and smelly treat held on the end of his nose and when he stops barking to sniff and eat it, say ‘Quiet'. By building up the length of time between saying ‘Quiet' and giving him the treat, you can teach him to stop when you want him to.
When the law steps in
Trevor Cooper says: Would you like to live next door to barking dogs? Probably not and nor would your neighbours.
If your dog barks enough to constitute a noise nuisance a complaint is likely to be made. However, when does a barking dog constitute a noise nuisance?
It's a fact that dogs bark - it's part of their natural way of communicating. There is no law against this. However, people have the right to live peaceably in their homes.
These conflicting rights have to be balanced by law. Quite when a barking dog becomes an actionable nuisance isn't straightforward and will depend on a number of things including:
- Volume - usually the more dogs you have, the louder the barking will be.
- Duration - the longer the barking persists, the more likely it will be an actionable nuisance.
- Time of day - barking during the evening and at night is more likely to be a nuisance than if it occurs during the day.
The definition of a statutory nuisance in Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is ‘noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance' - hardly comprehensive!
Most complainants will contact their local authority (district or borough but not a parish council). By law, it is the duty of the council to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to investigate a complaint of statutory nuisance from a person living within their area. A few things to bear in mind:
- Just because someone has moved into the area knowing that dogs are present doesn't mean they have to put up with a noise nuisance. They are entitled to make a complaint to the council.
- Commercial boarding kennels aren't immune from proceedings just because they have planning permission and a boarding establishment's licence to carry out their business. It doesn't give them authority to commit noise nuisance.
- There's no need for the complaint to come from the immediate neighbours.
The council is likely to write to the complainant and ask them to keep a diary record of when the barking is happening (date and times), how long the barking is continuing, and what effect, if any, it is having on them.
At the same time, the council is likely to write to the dog owner and advise them that a complaint has been made, although they won't tell them by whom (but in many cases you'll probably guess!).
If you receive such a letter, don't bury your head in the sand. Could it be your dog? If it is (or if it could be), then do something about it.
If it isn't your dog, then this is either a case of mistaken identity (so someone else's dog is responsible) or it could be your neighbour is making up the allegation due to a grudge against you.
If this applies to you, think seriously about whether now would be a good time to move as neighbour disputes can escalate very quickly.
If the council believes there is a statutory nuisance they must either take steps to persuade the dog owner to abate the nuisance (such as recommending mediation) or they will serve a noise abatement notice requiring the abatement of the nuisance and specifying a time for compliance. The notice may specify steps to be taken.
If you receive a noise abatement notice you have a right of appeal to the magistrates' court within 21 days. However, it isn't possible to get legal aid to bring such an appeal.
If there is a breach of the notice, the council can prosecute for a criminal offence. It has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a notice was served and that there's been a breach (a recurrence of the nuisance and/ or failure to take any specified steps). There's no need for independent corroboration, although in most cases there will be evidence from a council officer.
There is a defence of ‘reasonable excuse' which could apply if it was the complainant themselves who had caused the dog to bark, for instance by deliberately banging on the fence.
For business premises there is an additional defence if they can show they used the best practicable means to prevent or to counteract the nuisance.
If convicted, an individual can be fined up to £5,000 per offence and businesses up to £20,000. It is possible that these maximum fines could increase this year.
Other ways of pursuing a noise nuisance case include:
- If the dog owner is a tenant, the landlord (whether a private landlord, council or a housing association) may be able to take action by applying to a civil court for an injunction or perhaps applying to the court for a possession order.
- If the dog owner is a leaseholder, the freeholder may be able to pursue a claim to forfeit the lease.
- The complainant themselves has the power to bring their own proceedings in the magistrates' court or the county court.