Neighbours & Dogs

 
January 12th, 2009

Have you ever had an issue with your neighbour’s annoying pooch? Dogs Life investigates how you can approach your neighbours regarding their nuisance dogs, without causing trouble.

Rob was at his wit’s end about his neighbour’s dog. Whenever they were away, the dog would jump the fence, poo on his lawn and chase his pet chooks. Rob didn’t have the courage to confront his barrel-chested ex-football-playing neighbour. Instead, he quietly fumed and daydreamed about ways to get even. The last I heard he’d armed his daughter with a water-blaster and strict instructions to ‘let the dog have it’ when it roamed into the yard.

Rob is not alone. In suburban backyards across Australia, scenarios like this are played out every day. Does your neighbour have a pooch that is causing you grief? Perhaps their dog barks at your dog or whines when its owners are away, roams the streets, terrorises your furry feline, or leaves little doggie do-doos on your lawn.

If your neighbour’s dog is upsetting you or your family, the first thing you need to do is let them know what’s going on. Chances are they may not even be aware their beloved canine is being a nuisance. It is a common problem, says Steven Rigby, City Inspector, Glenorchy Shire Council in Tasmania. “People don’t want to cause trouble, so rather than chat with their neighbour they’ll ring us. We will often turn up and the dog owner is irate. They think, ‘Why didn’t they come and talk to me first rather than have council come and bash on my door?'”

Council’s advice

Councils do try to encourage people to resolve issues themselves, but you do need to tread cautiously. “Going in boots and all won’t fix the problem. Try to have a quiet chat and work out ways to keep everybody happy,” says Steven.

Among the complaints that councils receive, barking is by far the most common. Barking is a useful means of communication for a dog, but when a dog is left alone for long periods, its bark can become attention-seeking behaviour. This can be very distressing for neighbours.

It’s been said that dogs tend to bark when their owners are away in an attempt to call them home again. As the owners eventually do come home, the dog thinks his ploy has worked and a behavioural pattern is established. There are many suggested remedies for problem barking behaviours. If your dog barks in your absence, try keeping him busy with lots of toys to play with. The Aussie Dog range (aussiedog.com.au) is ideal, suggests Melbourne Animal Behaviourist Dr Debbie Calnon. You can also offer your dog a tasty bone before you go out, or hide dog biscuits around the yard. Anti-barking collars are occasionally appropriate, howe’ver Dr Calnon doesn’t advise using them unless they are part of a treatment program prescribed by a veterinarian behaviourist.

Dogs’ roaming is another problem that may concern neighbours. Your dog must be under effective control, which means it must be securely confined to your yard. “If the dog is roaming at large, it will mark its territory. It may aggravate other dogs and cause them to bark, and it can be a traffic hazard.” Owners are also responsible for any damage caused to property or other persons while their dog is roaming. “Keep in mind that although your dog is friendly, other dogs he encounters when he’s roaming might not be.” Your pooch’s droppings can also be offensive to other people, particularly if they are left on lawns. Unless disposed of, dog excrement can contribute to pollution in waterways.

If your dog escapes the confines of your yard and bites another person or animal, council can declare it a dangerous dog. Be aware that many dogs are territorial, so most dog bites do occur within a short distance of the dog’s front yard. If your dog has aggressive tendencies, always ensure your yard is secure. “Taking a dog from the front door to the car, or to the letterbox if the gate is left open, are high-risk areas if your dog has a history of aggressive behaviour. Always ensure the front gate is latched and your dog is on a lead when you escort him to the car,” she says.

Maximum happiness

Being a responsible dog owner is all about maximising pet ownership with minimal pet nuisance to the community, says Shane Scriggins, senior local law officer, Caloundra City Council in Queensland. “Owners need to be aware of their community standards with respect to keeping a pet,” he says. If you don’t know what those standards are, go to your local government, talk to other pet owners, or link into other special interest and community groups. “Veterinarians, kennel clubs and your Neighbourhood Watch group all have a wealth of local area knowledge,” he says.

Legal responsibilities of dog owners do vary from state to state, and may change from municipality to municipality. Your dog should be registered with council and registration renewed annually. Your dog should wear its registration tag whenever it is away from your property. There is also a maximum number of dogs that can be kept on a property. In most cases, it is two.

The Victorian government — responsible dog owner’s checklist

  1. Choose your type and breed of pet carefully.
  2. Take your pet to the vet regularly.
  3. Desex your dog if you don’t plan to breed from it.
  4. Give your dog proper food, shelter and exercise.
  5. Don’t allow your dog to be a nuisance to other people.
  6. Make sure your dog is looked after when you go on holiday.
  7. If you can no longer care for your dog, make sure it has another home to go to or place it with an animal shelter.

Solving problems

If neighbours have an issue with a dog’s behaviour and the problem cannot be resolved amicably, contact your local council. Council will meet on site with the dog owner and look at what remedial treatment may be applied, says Shane Scriggins. “The aim is for a win-win solution for all concerned,” he says. If the problem cannot be resolved, mediation is usually offered through the justice system. Council can step in and take action, although in most cases it never gets that far.

“The 80/20 rule applies. The majority of dog owners are willing to co-operate. It’s only in 20 per cent of cases that you need to get out the big stick — to apply the full range of penalties,” he says.

Councils can issue on-the-spot infringement notices. Penalties do vary from state to state. Fines could be approximately $150 for roaming, $375 for excessive barking, $75 for defecating, and $375 for attacking. If the matter eventually goes before the courts, the fines may range up to a maximum of $3750 for a single offence.

The little chat

The best way to solve your problem is to have a little heart-to-heart with your neighbour. Approach the situation with the notion that you’d like to resolve the issue amicably, says psychologist and relationships therapist Barbara Wood. “Don’t dig a trench for yourself and refuse to budge. Keep an open mind. The idea is to come up with a solution that meets everybody’s needs,” she says.

The first step is to ask your neighbour if they’d like to get together for a chat. Work out a place where you’d like to meet. Choose a time and venue that allows you to have a quiet discussion without distraction. Maybe jot down some notes so you don’t get side-tracked on the issue at hand. Then let them know what the issue is. “I’d like to have a chat to you about your dog jumping the fence and digging up my roses!”

* Step 1 — What are your needs and concerns? “I have to keep replacing my roses because your dog jumps the fence and digs them up.” When you are having your discussion try to remain calm and stick to the issue. Now is not the time to mention that the dog stole your newspaper six months ago.

* Step 2 — What are the dog owner’s needs and concerns? The dog owner has to work so he has to leave the dog alone at times. What are the dog’s needs and concerns? He misses his master and gets bored.

* Step 3 — Brainstorm ideas. Work together to come up with possible solutions to the problem. Do not go with the first idea you come up with, or discount any ideas at this point. Spend some time together weighing up the pros and cons of all the ideas you discuss.

* Step 4 — Choose the option that best meets the needs of everybody and the dog. For example, perhaps the owner could increase the height of the fence to keep the dog inside. You may have a teenager who could earn some pocket money by offering to walk the dog several times a week. The owner could leave Kongs and toys outside for the dog to play with. Come up with a solution — arguments will only make the situation worse and nothing will be resolved, not to mention the roses!

* Step 5 — Put the steps in place and evaluate at a later date.

Practical solutions

Melbourne animal behaviourist Dr Debbie Calnon offers some practical advice:

Problem 1: Two neighbouring dogs who bark at each other.

(a) One way around this problem is to time-share, suggests Dr Calnon. Work out a schedule with your neighbour. You could have one dog outside in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Alternatively, if an owner takes his dog to work on certain days, the neighbour could have his dog outside on that day. It’s a solution that will work well, provided the dog is house trained and comfortable staying indoors.

(b) Dogs that are on friendly terms with each other may also bark because they want to play together. An option here is to put a gate between adjoining properties to allow the dogs access.

(c) Dogs barking or whining because they are afraid of thunderstorms. Fear of thunderstorms is common among dogs. Many dogs get extremely distressed and will show their anxiety by barking and whining. One possible treatment is anti-anxiety medication, available from your vet. Ask your neighbour to administer the medication if you are not home as it takes time to work.

(d) Being under-stimulated or separation anxiety. This can lead to excessive barking, whining, and dogs escaping from their yard. If your dog is distressed because he is missing you and you cannot take him with you, try to keep him occupied by leaving out a bone or a toy to play with. Your neighbour can also assist by throwing stuffed Kong’s or toys over the fence during the day for him. Alternatively, perhaps your neighbour could take your dog for a walk. If a dog is suffering from severe separation anxiety, seek advice from a veterinary behaviourist. Extreme separation anxiety can be characterised in a number of ways including the dog causing damage to the property and themselves, soiling inappropriately, salivating, pacing, vocalising, or escaping in their owner’s absence.

Problem 2: Dogs on the loose

If your canine likes to escape from the confines of your yard he may be hit by a car, stolen, poisoned, or be attacked by another dog. If your dog is a happy wonderer you’ll need to track down his escape route. Check all boundary fences and any gates on the property. Dogs can jump over, dig their way under, or push over what you might think is sturdy ‘dog proof’ fencing. If your dog is climbing the fence (many can do this by stepping up on the cross palings), add height to the fence but make sure it is tilted inwards. If you can’t discover how he’s getting out, ask your neighbour for help. In most cases, your dog will escape while you’re away. Your neighbour may just be able to catch him in the act.

Case study – Jo Wruck and German Shepherd Rajar

Jo’s lovable German Shepherd Rajar suffered from a mild form of separation anxiety. Whenever Jo and husband Ross were away from home, Rajar would howl. Our neighbours were quick to point out their distress at Rajar’s howling symphony. We’d get home at midnight and they’d let us know he’d been howling since we left the driveway. We were apologetic and felt terrible about it. We thought it was important to do the right thing so we sat down and tried to work through some ideas. The first thing we did was take him with us when we went out, if we could. That’s not always possible so instead of leaving him outside until we came home, we let him into the rumpus room where he usually slept at night. After a night out, we would walk in and he’d be sitting on the lounge. He’d look up at us sleepily with his big happy grin. It was as if he was saying “Hi mum and dad, oh you’re home — you’ve just interrupted my beauty sleep!” Needless to say, the problem was solved!

Case Study 2 – Doris Griffin and Cocker Spaniel Jack

I moved to a house block in Glenorchy next door to a disability respite home. I do lots of volunteer work so Jack was left on his own sometimes. He missed having company and the people at the respite home made complaints about him barking. They said he would bark and bark the whole time I was away. The council became involved and I tried everything to make him stop barking. An anti-barking collar, anxiety tablets from the vet, and homoeopathic medicine, but nothing worked. I rang the director for mental health and I was in tears. I thought I’d have to have Jack put down. The clinical nurse manager of the respite home, Tom O’Brien, came over for a chat and we talked about the problems and what we could do about it.

Tom takes up the story…

One of the problems was the light from the respite home shone into the yard and Jack would bark at it. We turned the light around and made it a sensor light, so it only shone when people walked by. The most important strategy we put in place was to give Jack a job. Jack is now gainfully employed as our Pet Therapist. When Doris goes out Jack comes over for a visit. He spends time with the patients and even offers his services for walks!


Got Something To Say: