Dog on the Couch

2017-07-13 06:02

Hi Susan, I am being driven mad by the constant barking of a neighbour’s dog every night. It seriously interferes with my ability to concentrate or get to sleep. I politely asked the neighbour to do something about it, but his rude reply is that the noise is normal and I am not.


Thanks for the question. I sympathise with both you and the barking dog. Unfortunately some people are unaware of or insensitive to their dogs’ or neighbours’ plights. Dogs use barking as a means of communication.

Hearing a frustrated human or animal vocalisation will trigger the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in empathetic humans. Extreme physical and psychological stress can be triggered by constant exposure to dog barking. This is due to the ANS which regulates key body functions such as your breathing patterns and heart rate.

Any alarm-type sound that indicates another in distress or under threat will trigger the ANS in receptive people. In the case of an isolated spurt of barking, the system is able to return to normal when the noise stops.

However, if the noise is repetitive, or intermittent with brief interludes of silence, the stress hormones will be flooding the system and preventing the response system from returning to normal, even during brief cessations in the barking.

It is not uncommon for an inconsiderate neighbour to respond to complaints with the suggestion that others should be tolerant of excessive barking. The usual argument is that because he is not bothered by it, it is your response that is abnormal.

On the contrary, it is normal to react as you have to this noise. It is more than an ambient or “white” noise; it is a noise the cries out to be heard, not ignored. It is well known that noise has been used as a weapon. When the U.S. authorities needed to break the siege at Waco, they bombarded the Branch Davidians with noise, including the sounds of distressed animals.

The same techniques have been used by the military and police to drive people out of hiding. Many prisoners have stated that the most difficult aspect of their confinement has been exposure to noise.

It cannot be rationally argued that the repetitive and prolonged barking of a neighbour’s dog is not a disturbance of the peace.

Secondly, for the dog’s sake, it is important to recognise that the barking is not without cause, which is often sheer boredom or loneliness.

The dog is trying to communicate something in its barking. It might be saying, “stay away, we are under threat,” but obviously barking that persists nightly or daily cannot be explained away with that worn out excuse. From a security point of view the equivalent would be a burglar alarm intermittently sounding its siren throughout the night. Other than disturbing the peace, what deterrent value could there possibly be in such an alarm?

Most likely the barking disturbance is due to the loneliness, boredom or desperation of dogs who feel left out of what they consider their family group. Discomfort might also result in vocal attempts to get attention or help. Apart from the stutter bark “harr-ruff”, which occurs in play or as a greeting, or as an invitation to play, barks are meant to draw attention, to agitate for a need to be met. It is an empathetic human who involuntarily hears and responds to the desperate plea of the barking dog.

Susan Henderson© - accredited animal behaviour consultant phone 082 386 5805.

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