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How to Tactfully Talk with a Neighbor about their Barking Dog?

by Prince Of Petworth January 7, 2016 at 1:10 pm 43 Comments

barking dog
Photo by PoPville flickr user Randall Myers

“Dear PoPville,

I’m wondering if people have suggestions about a neighbor’s barking dog. This dog barks at all hours, and it’s driving me up the wall! I have to turn on a fan at night to drown out the barking. My husband works from home, and has a hard time concentrating. I want to knock on the neighbor’s door, but I’m not quire sure what action s/he can take (aside from keeping the dog indoors, which I assume s/he doesn’t want to do). Appreciate any suggestions on how to approach this problem. Thank you!”

Ed. Note: I’m sure the OP is looking for advice beyond the inevitable (and sage) “talk to the neighbors” – however, if there is tactful advice about how to broach the subject I’m sure that would be especially appreciated.

  • madmonk28

    Stuff like this is easier if talking about a problem isn’t the first conversation you are having with a neighbor. My neighbor came to my door to talk about a problem he had (personally, I disagree with his position, but whatever). We had spoken before many times, so it wasn’t the end of the world when he wanted me to do something differently.

    • Ally

      +1. Our neighbors asked us to chop down a number of our small trees at our expense. I loved the trees (birds nested in them), but respected my neighbor’s position about roots in her driveway. We did the neighborly thing and had them removed and life is better for it. She has been a total sweetheart and got our baby awesome Christmas gifts. I’m sure some middle ground can be reached. As a southerner, I might start out with some concessions like, “I’m terribly sorry to ask for something since we don’t get to talk enough as it is, but my husband works from home and we’re trying to figure out a way to …”

      • Ally

        Add on comment: I would let the neighbor choose her own solution, though. Her dog. Her budget. Her thoughts. I wouldn’t suggest anything beyond, “How can I help?”

  • jcm

    Don’t they have collars that train dogs to not bark? Maybe you could offer to foot the bill for one.

  • Anonymous

    DC Regulations are clear that this is illegal, but good luck getting that enforced:

    900.1 No person shall own or keep a dog that, by barking or in any other manner, disturbs the quiet of any neighborhood or any person.

    • Timebomb

      900.1 seems ridiculously vague. All dogs bark at least sometimes. More pressing in OP’s case is, the dog is outside at all hours? OP says “aside from keeping the dog indoors, which I assume s/he doesn’t want to do” and also that the dog is barking all night. So the barking is only a problem outside and the dog is always outside, presumably unattended much of the time. This is a more grievous offense, I think.

      • FridayGirl

        +1. If the dog is outside and left unattended for much of the time (particularly in cold temps) I believe you could call the humane society for guidance on this issue. They may investigate.

        • anon

          They will investigate, but the minimum standard for what’s “humane” in DC is pretty low. I called them about the Rottweiler I mentioned in the post below. This dog lived outside 24 hours a day, had a tiny space to go to the bathroom, and constantly barked out of boredom/loneliness (he’d stop barking when I’d reach through the fence to pet him, so he wasn’t being protective). The owners paid zero attention to him and he never got walked or left the yard. Anyway, the Humane Society investigated and said as long as he had food, water, and could get under cover from the weather (the deck), it met the minimum standards in DC and they couldn’t do anything.

    • anon

      Yep. But I found many police officers aren’t aware there is a separate statute that covers dogs, so they default to applying the noise statute and tell you the barking has to be after a certain time, and at a certain noise level. I had this issue for years with the police. We had a Rottweiler behind our building that barked ALL THE TIME. Several neighbors tried to talk to the dog’s owner, only to be told to f*ck off. When we’d call the police, an officer would show up and usually tell us there was nothing he could do, as it wasn’t late enough at night and even then he’d need to have the sound level measured. That was a bunch of BS, and we finally went to the commander and explained that his officers weren’t aware of the barking dog statute and were failing to help address our problem. He finally ordered them to issue the dog’s owners a ticket (which can be $300). The dog’s barking substantially diminished after that.

  • sunnytime

    I’m sorry that you’re going through this! I think it would be helpful to frame the conversation around the idea that you’re worried about the dog’s high levels of anxiety and want to make sure the neighbor is aware of it. This will hopefully make the neighbor less defensive since it comes from a place of concern (no need to mention that it’s understandably driving you up the wall). A friend took this approach and the neighbor was very appreciative because they didn’t realize the extent of the problem. Of course every dog owner is different and some just don’t care, but I wish you luck!

    • textdoc

      “This will hopefully make the neighbor less defensive since it comes from a place of concern” — Possibly, but the neighbor could also respond with “Don’t you tell me how to treat my dog!”

    • pjl35

      Agree to disagree here. Could be totally unrelated, but I actually had this happen to me a few months ago. My neighbors the apartment next to mine came over because they were concerned about my dog because they heard him (occasionally) barking during the day. It was clear that this was just a backhanded way of complaining about him making noise, not “concern” for his well-being. (Especially since they came over late in the day on a day when I had been home the entire day…so he hadn’t been making any noise at all for over 24 hours.

  • The OP Anon

    Call the Washington Humane Society. It’s unacceptable that a dog is kept outdoors in these temps.
    They are aggressive about investigating and can light a fire under the city if they spot abuse/neglect.

    • Ally

      Doesn’t sound like a neglect issue (at least I hope not!). Assume the OP would have mentioned the weather or the health of the dog if that was the case. But, agreed. If the dog is out in cold weather all day, bad idea and best to talk to the neighbor, then (and only then) WHS, for the sake of the dog.

  • transplanted

    I used to be the neighbor with the barking dog! He made no noise when I was home but hated being alone and apparently barked pretty nonstop while I was at work. My neighbor saw me in the hallway, said “Hey I don’t know if you know this, but your dog barks all day, and I work from home and it’s pretty bothersome…” and I said “Oh man I did not know that! I’ll take care of it!” and I got him a bark collar and it was not a terrible interaction unless you count me double checking with her every time I saw her after that that he had stopped barking. I mean, I was definitely embarrassed but not mad at her. Who wants to be the crappy neighbor?

    • transplanted

      Hmm I just realized that this dog is kept outdoors overnight. That’s more of a “you need to be a better dog owner” conversation than a “did you realize this was happening” conversation. I think I’d still try to suck it up and speak to them about it at least once before calling the Humane Society though, because feuds have started over far less.

    • emvee

      Oh man this was me five years ago, except my neighbor was an ER nurse that worked the night shift and when I left for work is when she got home to sleep. I felt incredibly guilty and was so thankful she told me. It’s helpful when someone tells you, because how else would you know?

      • Anon Spock

        +1 to this
        Had the same issue. As soon as I was told, I fixed the problem.

      • transplanted


      • textdoc

        Right, but you guy are all conscientious neighbors and conscientious dog owners, and the problem was occurring when you were at work and not around to witness it.
        If the OP’s neighbor is keeping her dog in the backyard 24/7, then the neighbor is already aware of the barking (unless the neighbor doesn’t actually live there). So then the tricky thing for the OP is how to express to the neighbor that this thing that apparently doesn’t bother the neighbor is bothering the OP.

      • Timebomb

        You could set up a Nest cam (or similar device) to check up on your dog. This is just a recommendation, because I enjoy checking in my dogs this way.
        Before streaming cams were cheap and good, I used to set up a spare laptop with skype set to auto-answer, so I could call my dog to check-in. He was whatever about it.

    • Ally


  • ugh I have this issue in our new house. On both sides of us are old women with tiny yappy dogs. It’s so awful. I feel your pain

    • anon

      A neighbor on my street in eckington has half a dozen little yippy dogs that get let out all the time in the front pen and go ballistic and every possible thing. I’ve been close to rolling out of bed at 6:30 and curse out my window on multiple occasions. But I look on the bright side, at least there’s some added security for the neighborhood..

  • mwmp

    I lived in the apartment below a neighbor with a new dog. The dog barked and cried all day while the neighbor was at work/school. I was in the exact same spot- wondering what to do when he came to my door! Someone else anonymously wrote a pretty accusatory note and he asked if it was me. Initially he was pissed- the note writer accused him of cruelty and mentioned calling the humane society. I told him I hadn’t written the note but that I had some similar concerns. He set up a webcam and once he realized how serious the problem was he took action- did lots of research, training, calming plug ins, and updates posted in the building entry- and the barking stopped! I was lucky someone else breached the subject- but the approach was off. You could write a note- but without judgement or accusation. “I have noticed your dog barks throughout the day and it affects me in such-and-such way. I wanted to make sure you are aware of this in case there’s anything to be done to improve the situation.” And if you’re crazy nice offer to walk the dog :)

  • Gal13here

    We have a very similar situation. My sister is a police officer in a different jurisdiction and told me to go ahead and call the police, if you do not want to talk to your neighbor directly. It can help. You do have the right to remain anonymous and there are good reasons to do so. I get it that you are supposed to be able to have rationale conversations with your neighbors but I have seen it go sideways very quickly in the past (different neighborhood) and then you’re stuck. You never know how people are going to react to you or… hate to say it… to the dog. There is an ordinance on the books, so the police should help facilitate and enforce, especially if it is all hours of the night. Getting police involved can also sometimes force the Humane Society to be more responsive. You could also send a note if you want to remain anonymous. Now, if your neighbors are going to be “the crappy neighbor” and ignore the police, notes or conversations,… well, then, you probably wanted to remain anonymous anyway. They just suck. My crappy neighbor has definitely lessened the duration & times that their dog is outside and barking, but it still happens EVERY DAY. Just a crappy neighbor. They are renters. I’m just hoping they move away soon. They are crappy neighbors and crappy dog owners.

  • navyard

    I have this problem with a neighbor, and that neighbor is fantastic in just about every other way. I don’t usually hear the barking when I’m in my house, but everyone else on the street does. And no one can walk in the street without the dog going absolutely ballistic. I know one neighbor said something about it, but the dog owner now thinks that the messenger is the bad neighbor! The truth is that people have a blind spot for their precious pets (and children) and think every part of their behavior is either cute, or non-disruptive. My neighbor will even stand outside with the dog and pet it and say “stop, shhh, quiet, etc” to the dog while it’s barking its head off. Because the dog eventually quiets down, the neighbor thinks it’s okay, but meanwhile, the rest of the hood just had to listen to 10 minutes of barking. And then another person walks down the street and the cycle starts over again.

  • Golden rule

    So it’s not just you single-sidedly calling out your neighbors as the problem, consider that you probably make noises (habits, appliances, etc) that they can hear, too. Perhaps ask them if there’s any noises on your end that bother them. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, you know? …But honestly if all you have to do is turn on a fan to drown out the noise, it might just be better to ignore it. DC can be noisy and obnoxious at the best of times and imho living next to pissed off neighbors can be more stressful than trying to solve the problem.

    • textdoc

      “[C]onsider that you probably make noises (habits, appliances, etc) that they can hear, too.” This might be true in a condo/apartment environment, but from the OP’s description, it sounds like the dog is being kept outdoors, which makes me think this is a house situation (rowhouse, semi-detached, or detached).

  • textdoc
  • zandunga

    I have 4 small dogs who love to go outside. Since I’m home all day, they come in and out – so I can see how it can be perceived that they are outside all day. I bring them in when I hear them barking. I’ve asked neighbors if their barking disturbs them, one of them informed me that she sits by the window waiting for them to come out and play.

  • JCo

    I have been the guilty neighbor with the barking dog on multiple occasions. My husband and I rescued a mini-poodle from the Humane Society more than three years ago. He behaves so well whenever we’re home. We had no idea that he suffers from separation anxiety whenever he is left alone, which is pretty common with rescue dogs. He was barking constantly every time we left. A neighbor fortunately told us. We got the bark collar, and it works great. We keep it on him for a month or two until he becomes accustomed to a daily routine of me walking him, putting the collar on him, and then immediately leaving for work. The collar is pretty heavy for his neck though, since he’s only 10 lbs, so I try to slowly take him off it over a course of maybe 6-8 weeks when he seems ready and accustomed to his surroundings at home. Unfortunately, we have lived in 3 apartments since we adopted him and his separation anxiety starts all over every time we have a new routine; it’s the one huge and very unfortunate downside of finally being able to afford a bigger, nicer space in the city. We moved into a new place about 3 months ago, and I thought our dog was ready to be off the collar again. It turns out – he definitely WASN’T. The only reason we ever found out was because our downstairs neighbor brought it up to my husband in the elevator, citing her concerns for the dog’s health. She was very tactful, which was really appreciated. It’s so helpful to hear constructive feedback from neighbors! I’d encourage you to definitely approach the topic, just in the most friendly, neighborly way possible.

    • kc

      jco – have you tried a thundershirt? Your dog’s anxiety may be lessened by the comfort of wearing a snug thundershirt around the apt.

      • JCo

        Thanks for the heads up. We tried it before, but he always refuses to keep it on! He’s not a big fan of wearing clothing in general – such a little brat! The bark collar + having access to his favorite cuddly blanket and toys usually does the trick.

      • pjl35

        What type of collar do you use? The one that emits a tone, the one that sprays citronella, or a shock collar?

        I’ve tried the citronella spray with my pup but he has figured out if he barks enough after it’s on he can empty the cartridge and then he’s free to do whatever.

        • JCo

          Sounds like you have a really smart pup! We use the …shock… collar. It pains me to publicly admit that, but we ran out of options and I didn’t want our neighbors to continue dealing with constant barking. The tone and citronella spray options didn’t work with him. I tried the shock collar out on my own neck to make sure it wasn’t inhumane. It feels like a pinch the first few times. If the dog keeps barking, the shock will escalate in accordance. It takes a lot of repeated barking for it to actually hurt. Our dog stops after one bark while wearing it – he knows. I’ve seen other dogs that don’t quite ever figure it out though. I wouldn’t use it with a slow learner, out of fear of it causing hurt and harm.

          • pjl35

            Thanks for the info! No judgment here. Clearly that’s the next step for my pup as well (and he’s obviously quite the fast learner). He’s completely settled in my work routine (I’ve used the webcam during the weekdays before to see what he does, and he’s perfectly content beyond a few occasional cries and barks in the afternoon that last a few minutes tops), but he gets upset if I deviate from that routine (coming home from work, walking him, then going out to dinner or going out on the weekends). I’d definitely do the same re: trying it on myself to see how painful it is. My only fear is that it would create a non-stop cycle wherein he barks > shocked > yelps/cries from the shock > gets shocked again > etc etc. Hopefully he’ll learn his lesson and figure it out.

    • cookie

      Since you know your dog has the propensity to bark all day, PLEASE don’t wait until your neighbor mentions it to you. It can be very difficulty for some neighbors to bring up and may suffer for weeks until they get the balls to do it. Please tell you neighbors what is going on with your dog and the collar you are using and invite them to contact you asap if they hear him bark all day. You would be the best neighbors ever!

  • anonymouse_dianne

    Any dog with separation anxiety may benefit from a Thunder Shirt. They can be had relatively inexpensively nowadays.

  • Your neighbor’s response will depend a lot more on their personality/conscience/temperament than on the way you broach the subject. Be nice about it, but there’s a good chance they tell you to “F off” anyway. Who knows, maybe they’re cool, but if they’ve got their dog outside incessantly barking 24/7 chances are they are not, in fact, cool.

  • Shaw

    You mention they “don’t want to keep the dog inside” – that tells me the conversation needs to be between you and DC’s Humane Law Enforcement division, and then between those officers and the neighbor. Call the cops on that horrible pet owner! Let them have the dog taken away so good people can actually adopt it!

  • There are 2 types of people with constantly barking dogs – the genuinely clueless and the genuinely mean, aggressive, F**K you types. Start by assuming your neighbor is the first, and talk to them. If it turns out they are the second, you’re pretty much SOL. You can buy an electronic bark stopper device that emits a bothersome ultrasonic tone and set it up in your own yard. However, it only deters about 50% of dogs.

    My own awful next-door neighbors have a terribly neglected, beautiful (but LOUD) German Shepard that they left to bark outside at all hours. After many civil requests, trying the bark stopper, leaning out the window to tell the dog “quiet,” one midnight I squirted it with a hose through the fence. Awful neighbor went ballistic (a common occurrence.) The next evening two cops showed up at my door. Poor cops were young and clueless and had no idea what they were doing there, except that awful neighbor had complained that I squirted her dog with water.

    I pointed out that awful neighbor had in fact reported herself for violating noise ordinance. (They were still befuddled.) Meanwhile, I had sent awful neighbor a letter that day with copies of the DC noise ordinance (and articles on the decibel levels of barking dogs.)

    DC noise regulations 2701 “Maximum Sound Levels” and 2799 “Definitions.”

    Maximum noise level for residential areas are 60 dbl in daytime and 55 dbl at night. “Daytime” is the hours between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

    Please see the enclosed charts of decibel levels and note that the average dog bark is 75 dbl, with larger dogs such as German Shepherds easily hitting 100 dbl.

    Surprisingly (though one of the family is a lawyer and less aggressive) the dog has not been left out barking past 10 p.m. I still feel sorry for the poor dog though.

  • tt

    An untested idea if you’re (understandably) not willing to to talk to the neighbor directly: (1) set up a free anonymous email account (2) drop a note in the mail to the neighbor noting the problem in a non-adversarial manner and offer to discuss by email. See where that takes you — you might at least find out if the person is open to ideas, apologetic, or completely the opposite.


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