This information can help you work with your neighbours to sort out any problems caused by your dog barking without having to involve the authorities. It can also help you to understand why your dog barks and offer some practical steps to stop or cut down the barking.
It is normal and natural for dogs to bark. But when barking happens a lot or goes on for a long time, it can be annoying and upsetting for your neighbours. To tackle problem barking, you must first understand what is causing your dog to bark. From there it will be much easier to come up with a training plan. Certain breeds are a lot more vocal than others, depending on what they were bred for. So, it is important to do your research before buying a puppy if you're looking for a less vocal dog.
If you are out a lot, or accustomed to the noise, you might not realise just how bad it is. Research into noise issues shows that problems are most likely to be solved when people discuss things calmly and work out a solution between them. If you can’t do this, the council may have to get involved and you could face some serious penalties.
Talking it over
If the noise your dog is making is upsetting your neighbours, the first step is to talk things over with them. Stay calm and try to see the situation from their point of view: perhaps they are working shifts or have a baby or small children. Bear in mind that they might be worried about whether the dog is okay and remember, you might not know how serious the problem is if your dog is barking when you are not at home.
Understanding the problem
Ask your neighbours to tell you exactly when your dog is barking and for how long. If you are out a lot, ask them to note down the times when the barking happens. If you are home, then make a note yourself.
Think about using a web cam or video camera to find out what your dog is doing when you are not at home or try a ‘set-up’ – pretend you are going out for the day, then wait outside to see how your dog reacts. Be careful not to let your return be misinterpreted by your dog as a reward for when it is barking. Punishing your dog will only make things worse.
There are some simple steps you can take straight away to cut down the amount of noise your dog is making. This will help calm the situation between you and your neighbours and give you time to work out why your dog is barking.
- if your dog barks at things outside your yard or garden, do not let it go outside on its own - keep it away from windows, so it can’t see people or other animals
- if your dog barks at the same time every day, like when people in the house are going to school or work, try to keep it busy at that time - for example, you could take it for a walk or provide it with distraction toys, bones, or lick mats
- try to keep your dog calm - ignore your dog when it's excited or barking and play with it when it's calm
- if your dog is barking and you live in a flat, terrace, semi, or maisonette home, try to keep it away from any walls you share with your neighbours
- do not leave your dog outside if it is barking to be let in
- see if you can get a friend or relative to look after your dog when you go out or take it with you
- make sure your dog gets some exercise before you go out - a tired dog will bark less
Be consistent. For example, every time your dog is quiet when it normally would have barked, praise it, or give it a treat. Call your dog over, get it to sit then reward when it’s quiet.
You also need to remember that your dog is part of the family. If it only barks when you leave, bring it inside. Leave some toys or chews and put the radio on quietly. You can also train it to lie on a mat in a specific place in the house. This helps it to feel safe and associate that place as being somewhere to wait knowing you will come home.
If your dog is distressed, keep it inside with you whenever you are at home- dogs are pack animals and they need company.
Tackling specific problems
Here are a number of common problems and solutions in dealing with them. If your dog:
- is clingy and howls or whines when left alone - a vet, animal behaviourist or dog warden may be able to provide you with advice on how to help your dog get used to being on their own
- is frightened - it might look scared (ears back, tail low), have trouble settling or keep trying to hide - if your dog likes hiding, make a den for them, if it’s scared of noise, mask it by putting the radio on quietly, if it’s frightened of other people or animals, shut the curtains or doors - think about talking to a vet, animal behaviourist or dog warden
- guards its territory by barking at people, animals, or vehicles - keep your dog away from the front of the property
- screen your windows - if it starts barking outside, call it in straight away and praise them for returning to you rather than barking - you could ask a vet, animal behaviourist or dog warden about behaviour therapy
- is barking to get attention - try ignoring the barking - at first your dog may continue or get worse but this is perfectly normal - keep going and eventually they will understand that barking doesn't get your attention, if waiting silently doesn’t work, calmly ask them to "sit" or "lie down" - only interact with your dog when they are calm, solving attention seeking behaviour is not always simple, and you may need to seek professional help
- is barking when it is bored - if ‘free time’ is a large chunk of your dog’s day, it might be a good idea to up their exercise – like taking longer walks or playing in the garden or provide more mental stimulation in the form of training, food toys and scent games – this will tire them out and give them something to do that isn’t barking
- if you went out without taking your dog for a walk and it’s barking through frustration - wear different clothes for walking your dog, leave your dog’s lead where it can see it, so, if you’re leaving without taking the lead the dog will know that it’s not going with you
If the problem doesn’t get resolved
If you don’t take steps to solve the problem, and your district council receives complaints about the noise your dog is making, the district council will investigate the complaint. The district council may seek to resolve the problem by mediating between you and the complainants, but where it does not do so, or where such mediation is unsuccessful, and the Council Officer is satisfied that the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance, it will serve you with an abatement notice requiring the noise to be reduced to an acceptable level.
If you fail to keep to an abatement notice, you could face prosecution and, if convicted, a fine of up to £5,000 (and possibly further daily fines of up to £500 for each day on which the offence continues after conviction).
District councils have specific powers to deal with noise at night from domestic premises. These powers allow council officers to issue warning notices and fixed penalty notices. If you fail to keep to a warning notice, you could face prosecution and, if convicted, be fined up to £1000. Fixed penalty notices for an amount of £100 may be issued instead of prosecution.
For more information and advice about why your dog barks and what you can do about it contact:
The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)
50 Princes Street, Ipswich, IP1 1RJ
Telephone: +44 (0) 7483 429997
E-mail for a list of APBC members in Northern Ireland.
You may also want to contact the Environmental Health service or dog warden at your local council