The bark stops with dog's owner

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 08:14 28/05/2013
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Barking and howling dogs get under New Zealanders' skins more than lawnmowers, power saws and crying babies.

That is one of the findings of a doctoral thesis by recent Massey University graduate Elsa Flint.

The conclusion, based on an Auckland survey, fits the observations of her supervisor, Professor Kevin Stafford, of the Massey University Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, and Palmerston North City Council environmental protection services manager Wayne Jameson.

Under the Dog Control Act, council animal control officers are required to investigate complaints about the persistent and loud barking or howling of dogs. The purpose is to avoid or remedy what is seen as a public nuisance.

But often animal welfare plays a part.

Prof Stafford said the research found about 45 per cent of "problem barkers" were just defending their territory. They were doing what came naturally, fulfilling part of the purpose people chose to keep a dog anyway.

But most of the other 50 per cent were barking out of separation anxiety.

"They are social animals. When the owner is not at home with them some of them bark, they trash the house, or try to chew their way out of the front door."

He said people could usually tell the difference between a territorial bark and a distressed one. Both could be annoying.

Mr Jameson's team was well aware of the different quality of barking, and gave greater priority to calls to deal with the most irritating of all, the howlers, whose despairing noises upset as well as annoyed some people.

"Howling can indicate the dog is in a state of distress, and we tend to react to that a little faster."

The law gives officers power to serve written notice demanding that nuisance barking be controlled, and there can be an instant $100 fine, or a $1500 fine can be imposed for a summary conviction for failure to comply. The latest instant fine was issued in June last year.

Mr Jameson said solutions could include keeping the dog indoors at night, or keeping it away from boundary fences where children played on the other side.

The city council's figures on dog barking complaints show a peak in the summer months, from December to February.

The likely reasons were that some people went away from home, leaving a dog alone for longer periods of time, and that the neighbours were at home on holiday and generally enjoying being outdoors more and for longer into the evenings.

Prof Stafford said he had not seen the summertime peak in dog barking complaints in other research, but the pattern did not surprise him.

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"Maybe people are more short-tempered then. January can be a bad time for people who have overspent."

Mr Jameson said that for a city that is home to some 7500 dogs, receiving 102 complaints in a month was not a great deal, especially given that many of the calls were often from the same person about the same dog.

"Some barking is normal. How much is a nuisance is very subjective."

- Manawatu Standard

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