Proactive steps can reduce neighbor feuds, code violations
By Jennifer Gangloff
Spring is starting, and as Rochester area residents hunger for warmth and a fresh beginning, open windows usher in the sounds of the emerging season—the whistle of cardinals, the chorus of frogs awakening from hibernation, the gobble of turkeys bidding for courtships, and—wait, what’s that sound?
Oh, yes, it’s the sound of the incessant barking of the neighbor’s dog. A different sign of spring, a rather loud, jarring, unwelcome sign of spring. Oh, the noise!
While the Grinch may have snarled at the noise of the obliviously joyful Whos during the Christmas season, residents around Southeast Minnesota may be snarling as the warmer weather heralds the arrival of dog barking season.
Nuisance barking can leave neighbor pitted against neighbor, and if the situation is severe enough, the Rochester Animal Control unit has the authority to seize a barking dog. Fortunately, homeowners can take steps to control their barking dogs and potentially restore riffs with fed-up neighbors.
Noisy Neighbor Dogs
Emily* and her husband are among those frustrated with a neighbor’s barking dogs and have tried several times to resolve the problem. “It would be impossible for the owners to not be aware of the extent that their dogs are barking,” Emily said. “They don’t ever really respond to the barking or acknowledge that it’s an issue and nuisance to their fellow neighbors.”
One of the biggest problems with the neighbor’s barking dogs, Emily said, is that the dogs are often loudest before dawn or late at night. “We have small children who have woken up due to the loud, continuous barking despite having sound machines in their bedrooms,” she said.
Across town, Paula and her family received an anonymous written complaint in the mail with a threat to contact Animal Control about their barking dog, an older Miniature Schnauzer.
Until they received the complaint, Paula said that they weren’t aware that some neighbors considered their dog a nuisance barker. Her family was dismayed that the neighbor didn’t speak to them directly, she said.
“In the letter they sent to us, they said they felt they were being nice,” Paula said. “I don’t find threatening to call Animal Control in the letter sent anonymously to be nice at all, especially without making any effort to discuss the issue face to face. We have our dog for special reasons. For those same reasons, there are times that we must put him outside for a bit.”
Emily and her husband did just that—they spoke with their neighbors face to face several times, but to no avail, she said, leaving them to consider sending an anonymous letter as well, perhaps signed by other neighbors, too.
Since receiving the complaint letter, Paula’s family has taken steps to control the barking, although their sons may not be as diligent when they’re in charge of the dog, she acknowledged. “If our dog is outside and barks continuously, we bring him in,” she said.
Barking Away Buyers
Barking dogs can do more than create feuding neighbors. Real estate agent Lori Mickelson of Re/Max Results says that barking dogs can actually derail a home sale.
“Sometimes there’s a neighbor’s dog, or two or three dogs, and the potential buyer steps outside and sees the dogs barking nonstop,” she said. “They may love the house but tell us the dogs would drive them crazy, so they pass on it.”
In one case, Mickelson said, a frustrated home seller in Mantorville installed an anti-barking device on her property and pointed it at the neighbor’s dogs. City officials got involved and told the seller to remove the device, and the home seller was ultimately forced to lower her selling price.
“I haven’t found the right solution yet, and you don’t want to mask the problem and try
to hide it from potential buyers,” Mickelson said. “They key is getting the dog owner to realize it’s a problem.”
In some cases, a dog’s bark isn’t as bad as it sounds, at least legally.
Rochester city ordinance 106A.10 outlines what constitutes a nuisance barker, stating in part that it’s “unlawful if any dog barks, whines, howls, bays, cries or makes other noise excessively so as to cause annoyance, disturbance or discomfort to any individual provided that such noise lasts for a period of more than five minutes continuously or intermittent barking that continues for more than one hour and is plainly audible outside the property limits of where the dog is kept.”
The city does allow some exceptions, such as dogs that bark when harassed or when someone is trespassing on the owner’s property.
Animal Control’s Role
In Rochester, formal complaints about barking dogs are handled by Animal Control. Animal Control Officer Erica Crowson said that when a complaint is received about a barking dog, officers will respond and park a house or two away and listen for a while to determine if there’s a violation.
“If there is no violation, we will attempt to make contact with the dog owner and inform them there was a complaint,” she said. “If the dog is in violation, it is up to the officer’s discretion if a warning or citation will be issued. If we continuously get complaints and there is no founded violation, the complainant has the right to fill out a citizen complaint report where they document when the dog is barking and submit the report. The report will be reviewed, and if enough evidence has been found, the officer may issue a citation based on the complainant’s statements. The complainant would need to appear in court as the witness.”
The city does allow Animal Control to seize a barking dog in certain situations and house it at the city-run animal shelter until the owner claims it. Dogs that aren’t claimed can be euthanized or adopted out. It’s not clear how widespread the problem of nuisance barking is, because the city doesn’t specifically track animal complaints by type, such as barking, Crowson said.
“We try to do a lot of education when there are complaints because most of them are unfounded barking,” she said. “Normally the problem is fixed, but some do fill out the citizen complaint report.”
Some dog owners, like Rhonda, take proactive measures to reduce nuisance barking. Rhonda has three small, older dogs. Daisy, a Min-Pin mix, is sometimes a relentless barker, she said, and is often triggered into barking loudly and aggressively by her neighbor’s dogs.
“Barking is normal dog behavior to some degree,” Rhonda said. “If I walk past someone’s house or yard and their dog barks at me, it seems appropriate. They’re saying, ‘Hey, stranger alert!’ If a dog is barking nonstop for no obvious reason, I don’t think that’s OK, though I feel bad for them. For chronic barkers, including my own, I tend to blame the owner rather than the dog. They’re either bored or need better training.”
Rhonda doesn’t want her dogs barking excessively any more than her neighbors do. “I’m very bothered by Daisy’s barking, especially outdoors,” she said. “I don’t want to be a bad neighbor.”
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Rochester says that one of the most common reasons she’s approached for help is barking. Although it’s difficult to stop barking entirely, it can be minimized, she said.
“Our goal is to channel barking into appropriate channels, as well as teaching the dog when she should be quiet,” Reusche said. “Managing your dog responsibly is very important here, too. Many dogs bark because they’re bored, so providing them with activities to keep them busy, such as giving them toys stuffed with their dog food or hiding treats to promote sniffing games, can greatly reduce the barking. Along those same lines, a dog who barks because she’s lonely will often stop barking completely if she’s brought inside with her family.”
One client Reusche worked with was on the verge of getting kicked out of her apartment because of complaints that her hound mix dog was barking excessively.
“By increasing her dog’s exercise, giving the young dog lots of ‘jobs’ to do around
the house, and teaching her when it was okay to bark, her owner was able to keep her apartment,” Reusche said. “I know a lot of dogs who are surrendered to rescues and shelters because their voices are too big for their owners’ homes, and I’d like people to know that there are many resources available to help them keep their dog. Don’t be afraid to reach out if your dog is a barker. There are many qualified dog trainers out there who can make a big difference.”
For Emily and her husband, simply acknowledging that a dog is a nuisance barker is a good first step. “We would appreciate if the owners would acknowledge the barking and promptly respond by letting their dogs in,” she said. “I understand that it isn’t possible to avoid the barking, but if the owners would at least respond to the dogs and put forth efforts to curtail the barking, that would be appreciated. … The owners really should be more proactive and considerate of who may be affected by them leaving their dogs out.”
* Some names have been changed to help preserve neighbor relationships.
Jennifer Gangloff is a freelancer editor and writer in Rochester.