Barking Dogs: State and Local Laws That Can Help

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

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

One of the most common sources of neighbor complaints and disputes is barking dogs. And, dogs being what they are, a simple request to the owner to control the problem might be of no help whatsoever. If a barking dog problem in your neighborhood doesn't improve after your efforts to work something out, what should you do next? Here, we'll discuss:

  • how to research applicable laws, and
  • the possibility of suing for nuisance.

Check State and Local Laws Concerning Barking Dogs

It's time to check your municipal, county, and state laws and regulations to 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. (The advantage of small claims court is that you don't need a lawyer, and the procedures are relatively straightforward.)

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, § 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. § 609.095.) The county investigates complaints.

Keeping a dog whose barking is a nuisance can even be considered a minor criminal offense. In 2006, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced a woman to ten 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.)

Check Local Laws Regarding General Nuisance or Noise

If there's no law aimed specifically at dogs, a general nuisance or noise ordinance will make the owner responsible. State or local law might 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, can be arrested for disturbing the peace.

For instance, a Tennessee judge once 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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