Talking to Your Neighbor
There is no such thing as a difficult dog, only an inexperienced owner.
- BARBARA WOODHOUSE, No Bad Dogs
The obvious first step - asking the dog's owner to stop the noise - is either ignored or botched by a surprising number of people. Perhaps it's not all that surprising; approaching someone with a complaint can be unpleasant
and in some cases intimidating. And if you're afraid of your neighbor's burly watchdog, which snarls at you whenever you come near its owner's house, you're probably not eager to drop by to discuss things.
HOW TO SOLVE A BARKING DOG PROBLEM
Here is a checklist of actions to take when you're losing patience (or sleep) over a neighbor's noisy dog. Each step is discussed in detail in this section.
- Ask your neighbor to keep the dog quiet.
- Try mediation, especially if you and the neighbor have other isisues.
- Contact animal control authorities and request that they enforce local laws restricting noise.
- Call the police.
- Bring a nuisance lawsuit in small claims court.
Talking to your neighbor calmly and reasonably is an essential first step. Even if you do eventually end up in court, a judge isn't likely to be too sympathetic if you didn't make at least some effort to work things out first. So it's a no-lose situation, and if you approach it with a modicum of tact, you may be pleasantly surprised by the neighbor's willingness to work toward a solution.
Sometimes owners are blissfully unaware that there's a problem. If a dog barks for hours every day - but only when it's left alone - the owner may not know that a neighbor is being driven crazy by a dog the owner thinks is quiet and well-mannered. Even if you're sure the neighbor does know about the dog's antisocial behavior, it may be better to proceed as though she doesn't: "I knew you'd want to know that Rusty was digging up my zucchini, so that you could prevent it from happening again."
WHAT, MY DOG A PROBLEM?
If you're the target of a complaint about your dog's behavior, you should at least be willing to talk about the problem, even if you think your neighbor is being completely unreasonable. It's in your interest to solve the problem quickly, before it escalates and your neighbor calls the police or retaliates for your dog's offenses by parking in front of your driveway.
Try to find out the exact problem. It may be easily solved - or the real problem may not be the dog at all.
Some common problems, such as barking or digging under fences, may be relatively easy to correct with proper training of both the dog and the owner. Often, local humane societies offer free advice and referrals to trainers or obedience schools. The San Francisco SPCA, for example, has a "hotline" owners can call. A staff member answers questions and suggests solutions for hundreds of frustrated pet owners every year. Before you talk to your neighbor, make a few phone calls and see if there are some resources you can suggest during your talk.
Here are some suggestions on how to get the most from your negotiations:
- Write a friendly note or call to arrange a convenient time to talk. Don't blunder up some rainy evening when the neighbor is trying to drag groceries and kids in the house after work.
- If you think it's appropriate, take a little something to the meeting to break the ice: some vegetables from your garden, perhaps.
- Don't threaten legal action (or worse, illegal action). There will be plenty of time to discuss legal remedies if relations deteriorate.
- Offer positive suggestions. Once you have established some rapport, you may want to suggest, tactfully, that the owner get help with the dog. Try saying something like: "You know, my friend Tom had the same problem with his dog, and since he's been taking the dog to ABC Obedience School classes, he and his neighbors are much happier." Of course, if you make suggestions too early in the process, the neighbor may resent your "interference."
- Try to agree on specific actions to alleviate the problem: for example, that the dog will be kept inside between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- After you agree on a plan, set a date to talk again in a couple of weeks. If your next meeting is already arranged, it will be easier for you to talk again. It won't look like you're badgering your neighbor, but will show that you're serious about getting the problem solved.