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My Neighbor’s Dogs Are Driving Me Crazy. What Can I Do?

Q: I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Metuchen, N.J. Neighbors whose backyard abuts ours have two very large dogs that they leave outside all day, and the dogs bark incessantly and loudly. Six months into this pandemic, my other neighbors and I are stretched to the limit, as we are working from home and the noise diminishes our quality of life. What recourse do we have?

A: Dogs left outside all day may bark to communicate with each other, with every passing dog, because they are anxious, or to protect their territory from squirrels and chipmunks. Whatever the reason, incessant barking is the top complaint to animal-control centers, according to Mary R. Burch, an animal behaviorist for the American Kennel Club.

The dogs’ owners need to train and supervise their pets. And you need to persuade them to do that. Begin by talking to them. Start from a neutral place, assuming they don’t realize the disturbance the dogs are causing.

“Give the neighbor a chance to fix the problem,” Dr. Burch said. “The neighbor might not know her dog barks all day when she is gone.”

Explain that the barking interferes with your ability to work. Ask other neighbors to talk to the owner, too, so it’s clear that this is a neighborhood issue.

The owners can fix this, maybe by enlisting the help of a professional trainer. They can bring the dogs inside when they bark. They can crate-train them, leaving toys to occupy them while they’re alone, rather than leaving them outside. They can teach them to bark on cue.

If the owners rebuff you and the barking continues, report the behavior to your municipality. The Metuchen noise code directly addresses barking, defining an unreasonable disturbance as a dog that barks for five minutes without interruption or intermittently for 20 minutes. Record the barking on your phone, or videotape it, which will help bolster your complaint to the town.

Even towns that don’t explicitly address barking still enforce noise disturbances. “Almost all the codes have a provision that says no one should permit a noise that disturbs the comfort or repose of a neighbor,” said Alan Fierstein, the owner of Acoustilog, a noise consultancy.

If inspectors find that the barking violates town rules, the owners would likely get a warning first, followed by a violation, Mr. Fierstein said. However, you’d be better served in the long run by resolving the problem without involving the authorities and preserving your relationship with your neighbor.

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