DennisBeaverJune 22, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

“An animal control officer just handed me a barking dog citation and made it clear that if we do not resolve the situation, we will be hit with large fines and neighbors could file a lawsuit to have our three dogs taken away.

“Mr. Beaver, I am really sick of this. First, neighbors calling us for months, complaining about the dogs, and now this animal control officer shows up. I do not know whose dogs they are talking about, because when we are home, we just do not hear the same things.

“Do you have any recommendations? Thanks. Hector.”

Difference between hearing and listening

Could it be that Hector is correct, and that his dogs aren’t the ones disturbing the neighbors? It’s not likely, but in researching this story, we found that it is indeed possible to be unaware of the problem and not simply “in denial.”

You and the Law discussed these issues with Hanford veterinarian Dr. Lee Fausett, Capt. Parker Sever and Animal Control Officer Amanda Uthoff of the Hanford Police Department. All three agree that many pet owners do not know their dogs are a nuisance, “because the barking takes place when they are away or at work, which we see quite often,” Sever observes.

“However, there is another extremely interesting reason why dog owners can easily be unaware of their dogs constant barking, even if it occurs while they are at home,” Fausett points out.

“It is all about the difference between hearing and listening. All of us are able to concentrate on a conversation or activity in a noisy environment. While we physically hear voices or noise around us, our brain suppresses the unimportant sounds, so that we are not actually listening.

“So, just like with a family of noisy kids, mom and dad are able to maintain a conversation because the brain tunes out their kids. For dog owners, the brain tunes out the dogs.

“This is why it is so important to realize that if your neighbors call or drop by, asking you to please do something about the barking, you have to assume they have a valid reason to complain. After all, who wants to approach a neighbor with a complaint?

“It’s The Golden Rule — dog owners have a duty to respect their neighbor’s right to peace and quiet. And blocking their phone number — making it impossible to be informed of the barking once again — well, this is certainly not mature at all,” Fausett maintains.

Barking often goes on a long time before complaining

“It is difficult to be neighborly when, over months or weeks, you have put up with nonstop barking, but have not complained, hoping that it will get better. Now you’ve got one very upset neighbor, pounding on the dog owner’s front door.

“These situations can get ugly, and for that reason we suggest not hoping that it will just go away, but to promptly and politely speak with your neighbor and contact Animal Control,” Sever recommends.

What is excessive barking?

“While it is normal for all dogs to bark,” Uthoff  observes, “it is not normal for a dog to continuously bark or howl. If not warning of some danger, referred to as protective barking, but continually barks all day or all night long — this is termed annoyance barking.

“Barking continuously for over 15 minutes in an hour — for no apparent reason — followed by a brief silence and then more barking, is legally termed excessive and can result in a citation being issued. While the breed of dog has an impact on the degree of barking, we know that if most of the dog’s needs are met, annoyance barking will be fairly minimal.

“There is a reason why dogs constantly bark. Often they lack sufficient food, water, or they are lonely, having been ignored by their owners. We have found that when an owner simply takes the dog for a walk that this will often be a remedy.

“One of the most troubling things we see when verifying excessive barking is to discover an owner who doesn’t care about his pets or neighbors and is completely aware of the barking problem. We see so many innocent little creatures so badly treated by their owners,” she added.

Capt. Sever wants dog owners to understand that when Animal Control shows up, “There is a problem and we want to help you. We do not want their dogs. We do not want to take them.”

While dogs are often considered as members of the family, one must never forget that they are animals with the potential of causing great harm. Next time: How not to react when faced with a growling dog.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.