9 August 2022

Got a barking dog next door driving you crazy? You're not the only one

| Lottie Twyford
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Dogs may look cute when they are just next door. But what can you do if they just won’t stop barking? Photo: File.

Few things in life are more irritating than an incessantly barking dog.

But a dog barking in the early hours of the morning when you’re just trying to squeeze in those last few hours of sleep before facing the day makes a terrible situation even worse – as Tuggeranong residents Sara and Tony* know only too well.

It’s not only the sound that seems to reverberate in your skull and make you wish you lived on a desert island, it’s the worry about whether the dog is OK.

The couple and their children moved into their “forever home” about a year ago.

Since then, like clockwork, between 4 am and 6 am, the neighbour’s dog barks and barks and barks (and, well, you get the picture).

Not once, not twice, and not sporadically either, an exasperated Sara told Region.

“It’s non-stop for between one and one-and-a-half hours every morning. It wakes us up and it wakes our children up.”

And because of how the houses are positioned, the dog is outside on a balcony only about five metres away from their bedroom window.

The unique positioning of the houses and the bedrooms also means the other residents in the street aren’t affected.

Sara, who used to be a dog trainer, assumes the dog is cold and lonely. But there’s not much more she can do from her house to help it.

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Sara and her husband say they have tried to do the right thing.

They initially spoke to the owner, who they say is elderly and doesn’t hear the barking and removes their hearing aids at night. They also tried other avenues, like contacting the owner’s family, but this didn’t end well.

Then they went to Domestic Animal Services (DAS) to lodge a noise complaint. After four months of no correspondence, the couple was appalled to find out their complaint had been dismissed and the case had been closed.

“That length of time was completely unacceptable and ridiculous,” Sara said.

“I contacted them over and over again, but the only response I got was that my barking log and concerns would be forwarded to the ranger.”

DAS letter

A copy of the letter received from DAS. Photo: Screenshot/Supplied.

Eventually, the couple received a letter from DAS. Essentially, it said the noise wasn’t disturbing enough people for DAS to take any action.

The response angered them both.

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A spokesperson for the ACT Government said in a statement “it was important to remember all dogs bark to some degree”.

The government officially recommends residents speak with their neighbours about the problem before lodging a complaint.

“Often people are unaware that their pets are causing a problem and speaking with them directly can address this,” they said.

If this doesn’t work, people can complete a noise complaint form – as Sara and Tony did.

“All sections of the form must be completed for DAS to commence a formal investigation. This includes a ‘bark diary’ which records when the barking has occurred and for how long. This diary should cover a minimum of four days,” the government said.

Following this, DAS will then advise the owner of the complaint before it undertakes any regulatory action.

For it to do so, rangers will consider the number of people affected, the damage, disturbance or danger resulting, or likely to result, from the nuisance, any reasonable precautions the animal’s owner has taken to stop or minimise the nuisance, as well as any reasonable precautions a person adversely affected has taken to avoid or minimise the effects of the nuisance.

It seems Sara and Tony came unstuck at the first hurdle.

Since that underwhelming response from the government, they’ve started recording the hours and hours of barking (you can listen above to hours and hours of the barking).

And after only recently showing it to their neighbour – who at long last acknowledged there might be a problem – are they hopeful something might change.

If not, they don’t really know what else to do.

RSPCA CEO Michelle Robertson said Cupcake Day is one of the most important fundraising events of the year. Image: Supplied.

CEO of RSPCA ACT Michelle Robertson said excessive barking can be stopped if you figure out the root cause. Photo: Michelle Kroll

RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson agreed with DAS that dogs should be able to and allowed to bark – it’s normal behaviour.

But when this gets excessive, it’s usually because one of their needs is not being met. They might be lonely, anxious, bored, cold or hungry.

“If it’s every single morning at the same time, you need to work out what is happening at that time and what is the stimulus for them,” she said.

“If they are barking randomly, it might be because they are left at home without anything to do for hours at a time.”

She recommends not shouting at the dog over the fence as that can exacerbate the problem.

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Unfortunately, Ms Roberston doesn’t have any magic tricks up her sleeve to stop a dog from barking.

Like the government, the RSPCA says the best thing to do is to work in collaboration with the dog’s owner.

“Don’t leave it until you’re at breaking point or about to boil over to go and speak to them. Do it early and be polite,” she said.

“They might not know it’s happening.”

If that doesn’t work – she recommended contacting DAS or even Conflict Resolution Services for help.

Complaints about barking dogs can be lodged on the nuisance complaint form and either email it to dogcontrol@act.gov.au or mail it to Domestic Animal Services at GPO Box 158, Canberra City 2601.

*Names have been changed.

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We had exactly this problem, down to Animal Services dismissing the complaint. In short, I ended up at the ministers office – just happened to be Jon Stanhope. His advisor was excellent and made sure it was followed up. Ball was slightly dropped again and I got back in the phone. The person I spoke to admitted that it had been dropped through a crack, but Lo and behold, rangers came, bluffed the owner into thinking they knew there was a problem and then owner surrendered the dog on the spot.

My advice, go to the minister and make a fuss and point out the stupidity of the process.

Andrew Rhodes9:39 pm 12 Aug 22

If it was in a garden, open the gate and let it out, if questioned, just deny any knowledge. Because the dog is on a balcony barks at night, and the owner doesn’t hear it because of removing hearing aids, I would set speakers up directed at their property, and play a rather loud recording during the day whenever they are home or have visitors.
Whatever though, do not attempt to harm the dog, they are innocent and a victim like you.

Haiyan Jiang12:14 am 21 Jan 23

Brillant idea!

Both the RSPCA and DAS must be understaffed. A number of weeks ago we submitted evidence to show that our neighbours had 7 dogs, 6 who were confined to cages most of the time with very little human interaction. The cages are full of faeces, the dogs get no exercise and their shelter is not appropriate for Canberra weather. We have also witnessed the dogs being hit/struck/poked with a broom by a child in an effort to stop them barking. All of this has been reported. We have not had had any correspondence from DAS asking for our views on the neighbours having 4 or more dogs so it is assumed that they do not have a multi dog licence. The neighbours have advised that the dogs are there for the purposes of breeding. Photographs and statements have been provided to both the RSPCA ACT and DAS Canberra and the dogs are still living in these conditions. DAS has replied to say that they have received the evidence provided but we have not heard anything from the RSPCA ACT. Noting that dogs are sentinel beings, this is very distressing!

The ACT has rightly declared dogs to be sentient beings so why is it legal to shut one outside during cold Canberra winter nights?

All pets should be inside at these times and that would seem to be the obvious solution here.

Whatever you do don’t complain to the owner, if anything happens to the dog, (gets sick, runs away, dies) you will be the prime suspect.
Even if you had nothing to do with it.

Capital Retro10:15 am 12 Aug 22

DAS are useless. Try what I did when they refused to help which was to record the dog/s barking when the owners are not there. If you know their phone number, call them at 3.00am in the morning and play it back to them. If that can’t be done, get a powerful amplifier and direct it at their place late a night and playback the barking.

Let them share your misery. It worked for me.

Haiyan Jiang12:10 am 21 Jan 23

You are genius!

Neither RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson nor I have degrees in animal behaviour or training. (Does she?)
Michelle ‘recommends not shouting at the dog over the fence as that can exacerbate the problem.’ and ‘Unfortunately, Ms Roberston doesn’t have any magic tricks up her sleeve to stop a dog from barking.’
Gee, that super-useful.
Ross recommends asking whether you’ve ever tried talking to the dog? Whistling to it? Distracting it to break the patterned behaviour of barking? There’s your magic trick. It’s not your dog but a little positive input can solve everyone’s problem.

I feel for these people, the ACT Gov are a weak and powerless mob when it comes to managing noise.
They do absolutely nothing about it!
At best you might get a pamphlet from them giving you advice on how to share your feelings with your neighbour.
Take matters into your own hands, it’s the only way you’ll ever see real ACTion!

Haiyan Jiang12:13 am 21 Jan 23

Totally agree. What good ideas do you have?

Yep seems to be passive aggressive behaviour from owners and lack of care for their ‘fur babies’ (pass the bucket please) – even worse in what are supposed to be ‘walkable cities’ are the incensed dogs which bark at anyone walking down the street, often these are large dogs and very threatening. Owners need to be pulled up on this as well.

Rachael Cormack (Huntling&Boo)10:29 pm 10 Aug 22

The incessant barking we have to endure from our neighbours 2 dogs and the dog in the house behind them is sending us nuts!!! Easter long weekend both neighbours were away so we had 4 days of 8-12 hrs straight of barking. We have approached our neighbours but they are defensive and aggressive, we are keeping a long now to report it.

I’d recommend not bothering with DAS and go straight to ACAT.

Paul Mathews8:21 pm 10 Aug 22

I/we have been asking Govt since Stanhope to change the legislation DA Act 2000 to put more onus/responsibility on dog owners. As it now stands victims of barking have to prove their victimization, and the process essentially is orientated toward blaming the victim. The Act Part 6, Section 109 (a) (ii) p. 112 states: “disturbance to a person” [sic]. I would interpret that as one person, not a “number of people”. So the logic would be there has to be 2+ people killed to be classified as murder? Hohum. Current “Minister’ has ignored all requests to discuss the issue; he is often photographed smiling with a dog(s)…. If you complain more than 2-3 times u are branded a vexatious litigant and can be fined. DAS has no sound recording equipment like NSW. I/we have found rangers biased and rude, even intimidating. Approach a neighbour about their dog and get mugged. Stanhope said dogs are part of urban living, get used to it. Murders are also, but we do something about them! Sums up DAS/MLA ‘thinking’. Next election is coming. TEAL comes to mind. Also contact Ms. N. Lawder MLA. Libs.

Hi Paul,
I have a long similar story – I found I was labelled vexatious after reporting nuisance animals which prevented me from continuing Shift employment. I also had statements from neighbours supporting my side. Still nothing.
I’m going to keep chasing it. Why N. Lawder? – may I ask?

Having once had a dog breeder neighbour with anything up to 30 unexercised kelpies in a tin shed and would not acknowledge a problem I can fully sympathise.

The guy on the other side being thoroughly and justifiably sick of the noise played his stereo at full volume with speakers pointed directly at their house in retalliation so we copped twice the noise for twice as long.

daveinhackett1:40 pm 10 Aug 22

Such constant barking can ruin people’s lives. It does seem that government is reluctant to enforce noise regs (easier to put in the “too hard” basket than confront owners?) I agree about feral dog owners but this is no excuse for failing to act in support of innocent neighbours who are suffering.

I totally agree dave. But could you imagine how much time following up every individual complaint against a neighbouring barking dog owner!!!
Rangers have many diverse complaints to follow up. Some owners of dogs are just so disrespectful. Yes go through ACAT you will probably have more success!!!

This one could and would be a cut and dry investigation. All the ranger needs to do is be there at 05:00. Oh there might be the problem.

DAS are not on your side and incapable of enforcing nuisance regulation from animals. They also disregard any evidence you supply – even supporting statements from other neighbours.
My recommendation is to go through ACAT and you’ll have way more success.

I would disagree with that. DAS staff follow government regulations. In my experience DAS employees jare more than helpful. Some of the owners of these dogs are often more feral than the animals!!!

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