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If Your Dog's a Nuisance

If your neighbors are complaining about your dog because he's barking, roaming, fence-chasing, or fouling the sidewalks or peoples' yards, you have a problem. Your situation may soon escalate from slight misunderstanding to vendetta — with you and your family in the middle of the debate.

Barking

The truly frustrating thing about a barking problem is that it usually happens when you're away — in which case you may not have a real understanding of how serious the problem is. Then again, maybe you do. If you are always away when the barking occurs, you should put a tape recorder on so you can find out what's really going on. When does your dog start barking, and for how long does he bark?

Think about what's causing your dog to bark — loneliness, boredom, habit? Are you trying to make things as safe and comfortable for him as possible when you're gone? Is he confined to a room where there's not a lot of motion by the window(s)? Have you created some “white noise” to muffle the outside noises by leaving a fan on low or putting the radio on an easy listening or classical music station? Have you provided a desirable chew toy or something to occupy your dog in your absence?

If you want more information about the legal rights of dog owners, as well as perspectives on responsible dog ownership, check out the Web site of the American Dog Owner's Association (ADOA) at www.adoa.org.

If you're doing all this and there is still a problem, you need outside help. Contact a professional dog trainer and talk to her about how to solve the problem. The trainer will probably want to work with you and the dog, which may include visits to your home. It's important that your neighbors and possibly the police know that you are actively working to correct the problem.

Roaming and Fouling

It's nice to think about dogs living “freely” — able to meander at will, knowing which neighbors are friendly with treats and which aren't, having playmates they pal around with and certain spots in which they like to sleep, showing up for regular meals at their “real” house. Maybe it was like that for dogs once upon a time. But not anymore, and for a reason. Most parts of the country are too densely populated. Free-roaming dogs pose risks to traffic, other animals (including livestock), property, sanitation (by fouling wherever), and people (should they become aggressive or frightened).

Leash laws, licensing laws, dog-bite laws, and pooper-scooper laws are all ways to keep the peace in neighborhoods and other public places. You may walk your dog around the block off-leash because she listens so well and understands the rules of the road, but if one day you encounter a strange dog being walked on a leash and your dog runs up to say hello, frightens the dog, and inadvertently starts a fight, you're responsible.

To help people overcome their instinctual revulsion at having to pick up after their dogs, there are all kinds of products that make the job easier. These include pooper-scoopers, scented plastic baggies, even contraptions that can be buried in your yard where the waste will naturally decompose.

Similarly, some people find picking up their dog's feces so revolting they can't bring themselves to do it. When they walk their dog(s), they leave the feces. While they may justify to themselves that theirs is only one dog and can't make that much of a mess, it's easy to imagine how unsanitary and disgusting the sidewalks and areas around them would be if everyone made this same excuse. That's why towns make and enforce these laws and others — to protect everyone.

Aggression and Fence-Running

Dogs who charge at passers-by from behind a fence or who are quick to display aggressive behavior frighten others in the neighborhood. It's not okay that you don't mind your big, young dog's enthusiastic leaping at people or snapping and snarling as he runs along the fence. Both these situations are potentially dangerous: What if one day your dog gets out and actually attacks what's seemingly provoking him? What if your dog jumps on a child wanting to play and next thing you know he has the child pinned? Situations like these that appear to start off innocently enough have led to death. Before you have a neighborhood mutiny on your hands or people just stop visiting you, learn how to control your dog. Visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.com. You can learn how to choose a trainer in your area that will work for you.

In our relatively litigious society, there is never a shortage of reasons or excuses for lawsuits, many involving the care of animals who can't speak for themselves. For more detailed coverage of the common legal issues introduced in this chapter, check out Every Dog's Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book for Your Owner by Mary Randolph.

Working through a nuisance problem is one of the toughest challenges you'll face — with your dog, your family, your neighbors, and your community. You may feel all alone, frustrated beyond reason, even hopeless. Remember that your dog is sensitive to your moods and feelings toward him. If he senses that leaving him is stressful for you, he may feel stressed, which can contribute to the problems. Keep this in mind when the situation seems grim: If you work through this, you will have solved a problem (instead of ditching it), and you will have saved a life — that of your dog. It's worth it for both of you.

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