Barking Dogs: State and Local Laws That Can Help

It's time to check your local laws to see whether they address barking dogs.

If a barking dog problem in your neighborhood doesn't improve after your efforts to work something out, it's time to check your local laws and see what your legal options are. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be better prepared to approach your neighbor again or go to animal control authorities, the police, or a small claims court judge.

In some places, barking dogs are covered by a specific state or local ordinance. For example, Massachusetts law allows neighbors to make a formal complaint to the town's board of selectmen (city council) about a dog that is a nuisance because of "excessive barking." (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 140, section 157.) The board holds a hearing and makes whatever order is necessary to stop the nuisance—including, in some cases, ordering the owner to get rid of the dog. (See Commonwealth v. Ferreri, 572 N.E.2d 585 (1991).)

Similarly, state law in Oregon declares any dog that disturbs someone with "frequent or prolonged noises" is a public nuisance. (Or. Rev. Stat. section 609.095 (i)(f).) The county investigates complaints.

Keeping a dog whose barking is a nuisance may even be a minor criminal offense. In 2006, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced a woman to 10 days in jail because the noise from her five dogs was "torturing the neighbors." He offered, however, to cancel the $300 fine and the jail sentence if she could find new homes for three of the dogs. ("As barking angers neighbor, law puts bite on dogs; owner," Harrisburg Patriot-News, Oct. 13, 2006.)

If there's no law aimed specifically at dogs, a general nuisance or noise ordinance will make the owner responsible. Local law may forbid loud noise after 10 p.m., for example, or prohibit any "unreasonable" noise. And someone who allows a dog to bark, after numerous warnings from police, may be arrested for disturbing the peace.

A Tennessee judge imposed a fine of $6,200 on a man whose dogs—up to 19 of them, at times—disturbed his neighbors. The steep fine came after the dog owner said, in court, that he didn't care what the neighbors said. ("Court cites barking, bites man with fine," Memphis Commercial Appeal, Apr. 13, 1996.).

To find out what the law is where you live, go online or to a law library and check the state statutes and city or county ordinances yourself. Look up "noise," "dogs," "animals," or "nuisance." You can probably also find out about local laws by calling the local animal control agency or city attorney.

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