Almost every municipality in the country has some form of a barking-dog nuisance ordinance on its books. These laws vary from region to region but share a basic gist: Dog owners cannot allow their dogs to bark excessively and without some restraint, especially during night-time hours. Enforcement of these laws usually is performed by animal control officers who have the authority to fine owners and/or impound dogs. Most laws begin with an introductory statement advising those complaining about barking dogs to first contact the owner and try to resolve the problem.
Why The Bark?
Barking is how dogs, which are generally social animals, seek attention. They may be protecting their territory, greeting visitors, expressing frustration, experiencing illness or simply wanting to play with their human companions. Barking is a dog's way of alerting others in his or her vicinity that something's up.
Not at Night
Many laws against barking dogs list specific night-time hours. In Livonia, Minnesota, for example, barking is outlawed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. In Rochester, New York, five or more consecutive minutes of barking between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. violates the ordinance. Not all cities or towns have specific night-time bans, but when they exist the law usually spells out a time period and a barking duration ranging from five minutes to one hour that constitutes a violation.
The continual bark of a dog can be considered a nuisance or violation of the peace in most vicinities at any time of the day. In Honolulu, dogs barking for 10 minutes continuously or 30 minutes intermittently are considered to be in violation. In Northport, Maine, a dog that barks either for one hour sustained or three hours intermittently for four days straight violates the ordinance. In Ventura County, California, the law states, "utterance of barks or cries which are so loud, so frequent and continued over so long a period of time as to deprive persons residing in two or more residences in the neighbourhood of the comfortable enjoyment of their homes" is a violation.
When a complaint is registered against a barking dog, animal control officers contact with the dog's owner by visiting the violating address or sending an official letter that a complaint was filed against their dog. Under most laws, the first visit includes a warning that the barking has been documented and further violations may lead to punishment such as fines or removal of the dog. Animal control officers talk with owners and provide suggestions to control barking.
Depending on where you live, the fines for allowing your dog to bark uncontrollably can take a big bite out of your wallet. In Honolulu, fines of up to £650 can be imposed for repeat violations. In Northport, Maine, first-time offenders pay £32. In 2009, Riverside, California, adopted a barking-dog law that imposes for first-violation fines of £65 if found guilty after a hearing. A second offence in 12 months warrants a £130 fine, with £325 fines issued for further violations.
Dog owners should check the barking laws in their locality. By doing so, they will know what is expected of them and how to avoid legal entanglements. Many local animal control agencies offer online access to barking laws.