Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.
The Very Basic Concern
I moved into a new place a couple months ago, and while most everything is fine and dandy, I have one big problem: The neighbors have a dog named Enzo, and he lingers around our shared fence, just outside my bedroom window, barking nonstop. It was bearable in the beginning, since he’s a sweet boy otherwise, but the constant barking keeps me up at night and distracts me from my work during the day. Plus, his owners seem to ignore him and his barking altogether, which is both baffling and, in my opinion, unethical. I need some help, or else I might go completely crazy.
Basically: Why does my neighbor’s dogs bark around the clock, and what can I do to make him quiet down?
The Expert Advice
Zazie Todd, animal psychologist and author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy: There are many reasons why dogs bark, but a common reason for dogs to bark when home alone is very simple: Boredom. To stop your dog from being bored, you can give them more to do. Make sure they get lots of walks, plenty of opportunities to sniff and play time with other friendly dogs. Ways to provide more enrichment include positive reinforcement dog training — e.g., teaching tricks — having toys to play with, including chew toys and food puzzle toys (there are plenty on the market, but you can also make your own), as well as games, such as fetch, tug or playing with a flirt pole. If your dog has to be home alone for a long time, you could arrange for a friend or dog walker to pop in during the day and take them for a walk.
If it’s your neighbor’s dog barking all day long, one thing to consider is that the neighbor might not know, and might be mortified when they find out. So if you feel like it, you could nicely let your neighbor know that this is a problem. Otherwise, in most places, the thing to do about a barking dog is to inform local bylaws about the noise problem. It will help to keep a record of when the barking occurs and how long it goes on for. However, if the dog is barking because they’re tied up in the yard all day with no shelter, that’s a welfare issue and you should tell animal control, who will investigate.
Christina Cartwright, a person surrounded by neighbors with constantly barking dogs: There are two sets of dogs by my house that bark nonstop. The ones in the house next door are clearly stressed, but their owner leaves the backdoor open during the day, so they can get out and hear the other set of dogs — which are in the house behind me — when they bark, which sets them all off. Essentially, the dogs frequently bark because they hear noises and don’t know what they are.
I’m a dog lover, so I don’t complain to my neighbors — I do things to help myself. For example, I make sure the curtains facing that home are closed when we’re home, and I hung curtains on my balcony to provide added privacy, and so the pups couldn’t see us. I also make sure to be quiet when shutting the front door. I even contemplated asking if they wanted the dog to come over when they weren’t home.
But for dog owners, since dogs frequently bark because they hear noises, a simple solution would be to not leave your dogs outside, where they can hear every last noise around them. And if the dog is inside, I leave on the TV, but you could also do a radio, which masks noises from outside.
Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of more than 1,000 essays on animal behavior, including his book Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do: There isn’t a single answer to this question, because it depends on the individual dog and the circumstances in which they’re left alone. It might be because they’re frustrated and stressed, or it could be to call attention to themselves — “Hey, I’m here, why did you leave me alone?” Excessive barking can indicate a problem that needs to be dealt with, but I’m leery of anyone offering a single, or even two, explanations that would have broad applicability.
This situation, aggravating as it may be, really depends on the individual dog and why they’re barking. Once again, it could be because they’re frustrated or stressed, or it may be because they’re wired and are trying to call attention to themselves. Some dogs do it, whereas others don’t. I know some people like firm answers to what look to be simple or common questions, however, there are no answers with broad applicability.
Justin Nussen, another person who has constantly barking neighbor dogs: I have a dog, and our backdoor neighbor (we share a back fence) has two massive dogs that never shut the hell up. Every time we’re in our backyard playing with the dog, the two dogs start jumping, scratching at the fence and barking nonstop. Eventually, my dog gets freaked out and runs into the bushes to bark right back at them. If we walk my dog around the block and pass by their house, the two dogs jump on the front fence and stand on their hind legs, barking the entire time we’re in their view. It’s great!
I’m too scared to do anything about it, because the neighbor’s house looks like a rundown farmhouse — the front door is always open, but it’s pitch black inside. One time I saw the owner come out to shut the dogs up, and he was basically naked with a robe on, drinking a beer.
So the short of it is, I don’t really do shit about it. We just avoid them, and we try to walk a different way. We also try to teach our dog to not go back there, since if she jumps into the bushes and sniffs the fence, it sets the dogs off. So we try to train her better, distract her with balls and so on. Those instincts can’t be stopped, though. I even talked to our landscaper about putting in more bushes and stuff to stop my dog from wanting to go back there, but I never pulled the trigger.
Sadly, I’m just hoping they move.