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Putting the Bite on Backyard Barkers

Education is the answer when complaints turn ugly
By Lisa Wogan, January 2009, Updated June 2021

I understand that the constant barking of a neighbor’s dog can put some fairly nasty thoughts into a person’s mind. I’ve been on the receiving end of the steady woof-woof-woof of an anxious and bored pup. But I never blamed the dog.

When I read the recent report in The Arizona Daily Star about the frustrations of a barked-out Pima County women, I was sympathetic. Her attempts to find her rightful quiet have utterly failed. The county’s “intervention”—in the form of suggesting mediation and fining the dogs’ guardians $200—have, reportedly, done nothing to quiet the voluble pack.

But my sympathy faded fast when I visited the blog of the anti-barking organization she started, Quiet Pima County. There among the limited posts is a list of “How to Kill Your Neighbors (sic) Dogs,” which includes:

    The old standby - antifreeze meatballs.
    A gun.
    Get a pitbull and throw it over the fence.


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It's a total gut punch, even if indulging dog-killing fantasies is just a way of blowing off steam. So, I'd like to offer a more constructive strategy that brings barkers in from the cold--safely. Why not help people solve their own barking challenges? I contacted a go-to trainer in my neck of the woods, Amanda Brothers of Sidekick Dog Training, with a few questions about how to help backyard barkers.

Why do they bark? Some barking is meant to communicate, ‘I’m all alone, come find me!’ Plainly said, barking is something to DO all day while the owner is gone and it is a self-reinforcing behavior, meaning dogs get something from it whether or not the owner is there to reward it. And when dogs bark at pedestrians and trucks to protect territory, it works. The person, car or dog moves on, and the dogs thinks their strategy (barking) worked and are more likely to bark again when faced with the same situation.

How long is too long to leave a dog in a yard? The answer to this question really varies depending on a lot of factors: age, lifestyle of dog and guardian (particularly the physical and mental activity and interaction the dog enjoys on a day to day basis), breed, security of yard, proximity to neighbors, dog’s preference, weather, and on and on! Personally, I do not leave my dogs in the yard unattended for any amount of time and don’t like to see others do it.

Can you train a dog out of barking when left alone? It’s tough to train a dog not to bark when the owner is absent without using something nasty and not recommended, such as a shock or citronella collar. The best way to eliminate barking is to provide other outlets for your dog including "work for food" toys, such as a Kong or Busy Buddy. Exercise is always going to help. Tired dogs aren’t barking, digging, chewing, etc. Mental exercise will help as well, including basic training, tricks, agility and other dog sports. If you have a big barking problem, I would vote for leaving the dog indoors when alone, in a crate with a busy toy and the radio on. If the dog needs a mid-day potty break, come home at lunch or hire a dog walker.

Oh, and don’t ever reward barking by giving attention (even yelling “NO!” is attention). Ignore the barking until it ceases for at least five seconds before letting your dog indoors or going out to interact with him. If the barking doesn’t stop, make a noise by stomping your feet or knocking on a window. Then, you’ll get your few seconds of quiet, which you can reward.

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of several books including Dog Park Wisdom.