LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Many neighbourhood feuds in the U.S. are caused by barking dogs, but animal trainers say dogs are usually bored, scared or anxious, so they shouldn't be blamed for fights that involve their masters.
Incessant barking has stirred neighbourhood violence and bred an industry of shock and sound devices decried as hurtful by some but hailed as solutions by their makers. Ultimately, owners need to take responsibility for devoting enough time to pet care, experts say. They urge people to get to the root of the problem before boredom, anxiety or fear turn into shredded bedspreads, puddles in the house or escape attempts. Make sure bored animals get plenty of exercise and find out what's upsetting them — maybe it's just a car's backfire.
"Barking definitely affects people's lives," said Sgt. Dustin Delridge, an officer for the Missoula, Montana, Police Department who deals with quality-of-life issues, such as barking. By the time he gets involved, bad feelings usually are brewing. Sometimes solutions are as simple as moving a kennel to the other side of a yard or asking an owner to keep a dog inside.
"Most of the time, we can come up with a solution," he said. "Once in a while, we can't make anybody happy."
So far, that includes Gary Garrett, who's losing sleep as three Rottweilers howl through the night in his neighbourhood in Visalia, about 200 miles (320 kilometres) north of Los Angeles. He says the sound penetrates his walls like "blow horns or subwoofers." He visited his neighbour when it started six months ago, and she told him to get earplugs.
Garrett is also upset with animal control and the city. Animal control needs to hear the barking to take action, but he says representatives come during the day and the barking happens at night.
His neighbours "are being inconsiderate and the city is not doing anything about it. I don't want a battle here. I just want to sleep at night," Garrett said.
Many municipalities post online instructions on filing complaints or petitions.
Garrett has completed paperwork, but even if a citation is issued, "it's no guarantee the barking will stop," said Tami Crawford, executive director of the Valley Oak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which the city contracts to provide animal control services.
"It's a tough problem," Crawford said. "It takes co-operation on both sides of the fence, and sometimes neighbours can't do that."
Lori Weise, founder of Downtown Dog Rescue in South Gate, a city just south of Los Angeles, knows barking can be an adoption deal-breaker. So, she's training her rescue's 17 dogs to bark and go silent on command.
It's important, because simple feuds can quickly escalate to violence:
— In December, a Detroit man was accused of killing a neighbour who complained about his dog's barking. He's facing murder and firearms charges.
— Last April, an Oregon father reportedly paid his 30-year-old son $500 to shoot and kill a neighbour's barking Lab. The father pleaded no contest, and the son pleaded guilty.
Experts say problems could be avoided if potential pet owners think ahead before they bring a dog home.
"It's really important to 'think before you adopt' and determine if you have the time, the lifestyle and the schedule to give a dog the kind of care he or she needs," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles.
And while barking can grate on neighbours' nerves, it can also be rough on animals, said Mychelle Blake, CEO of the South Carolina-based Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
They can get hurt misbehaving, by jumping over fences or barking themselves hoarse, she said.
If a dog is bored, increase its exercise. "If you don't give them something to do, they will find something, and it's not always what you want," Blake said.
If it stays out all day, sprinkle its kibble around so it has to hunt for food, she suggested.
Anxiety and fear are harder to deal with, and the problems get worse the longer they go on, Blake said. Sometimes they require vet care and medication.
There are also sound, shock and scent devices that promise to curb barking. Sound devices, the most popular, include whistles, collars and remotes that emit high-pitched, ultrasonic tones only dogs can hear.
Manufacturer First Alert for Pets makes devices that are harmless and disrupt unwanted behaviour, spokesman Ryan Brooks said. He says "it is a safe sound that won't hurt the dog's ears and is undetectable by humans."
But Blake said the collars teach dogs not to bark at all and warned that they can make anxiety and fear worse.
"They get rid of the symptoms but not the cause of barking. And the emissions are not pleasant sensations for the dogs either," she said.
You don't want to stop barking but control it, Blake said.
Barking can even be a good thing, and it's often a neighbour who benefits when a dog warns of a fire or an intruder.