In my practice, I have met a few owners who have received complaints about their dog’s excessive barking. Unlike the note seen below, most complaints in Christchurch seem to be made by people to Animal Control, which instigates a visit by an officer to your home.
It’s natural that a complaint will put you into a defensive mode, but being in that frame of mind often means you don’t handle the situation as well as you should.
Here’s my advice on how to constructively approach a barking dog complaint.
Be Considerate and Listen
Don’t get angry.
If a neighbour complains to you directly, listen to what they have to say. Ask questions about the time of day that the dog is barking, length of time the barking lasts for, and understand the location of your section and proximity to the neighbour.
If the Animal Control Officer pays you a visit, pay attention to what they are saying and the steps they want you to take. Don’t feel intimidated because they are a Council officer – ask questions to understand the scope of the complaint, and how much time you have to respond.
Put yourself in the position of your neighbour and show some empathy for their stress. Particularly if you have a neighbour complain to your directly, try to build a bridge from the complaint to ways to solve the problem so both of you can remain happy.
Ask your neighbour to keep a log book of the barking (I know that one of my clients had an Animal Control officer ask for this). Make random visits to your home at off-hours to see if you can hear your dog barking. To make this effective, park your car a couple of blocks away and walk to your property – your dog knows the sound of your car!
Check all of your fencing for security. If your dog is being visually stimulated by activity over the fence, find ways to cover and reduce the gaps in your fence.
Keep Documentation – You Can Still Be Cooperative While Defending Yourself
I’ve seen situations where a neighbour is hard to satisfy and perhaps ultra-sensitive to barking. When this has been the case, I’ve suggested that the owner take their dog to a day care centre on random dates. When compared to their neighbour’s barking diary, they can show that their dog was not on the property that day. (This can be a very powerful defense in dealing with the Council.)
It may pay to seek the support of either an animal behaviourist or a dog trainer (there is a difference in scope of practice). If you hire professional expertise, then provide receipts and a report to show along with any other evidence of what you have done to help decrease your dog’s barking.
If you’ve reinforced your fencing to reduce your dog’s visual stimulation – take photos before/after.
The Animal Control section has the option of installing bark recorders, which can help you track the problem. They can confirm (or not) the extent of the barking to validate a complaint.
The good news is that most barking complaints can be resolved, through management of your dog’s environment, focusing on the problem, and being constructive.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand