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Why Exposure to Chronic Barking is So Profoundly Debilitating


People who have never suffered through extensive exposure to chronic barking often find it difficult to understand why it should be such an incredibly upsetting, debilitating ordeal. This section tells you why that is, beginning with a discussion of how our bodies react to exposure to chronic noise.

The Physiology of the Upset Victim

The various organs of your body are connected in a way you may not have thought of before. Your eyes, heart, lungs, digestive system, and the smooth muscles of your vascular system (among other organs) are all connected to your brain by nerve cells, which are also called neurons.

Picture the way telephone lines run across the country connecting one city to another. The telephone line running from Los Angeles to San Francisco is not one continuous wire. It is many wires, each connected to the next. When an electronic signal goes from one city to another over the phone line, it travels in relay fashion from wire to wire until it reaches its destination. These particular types of neurons are like that. They carry electrical impulses from the brain in relay fashion, only instead of running from city to city, they run from the brain to the other organs of the body.

Because the brain is wired up to these particular organs through the same relay system of neurons, it can simultaneously create changes in all the connected organs at once by sending electrical impulses traveling along the neural pathway.

If your brain sends electrical impulses along the neural pathway telling the connected organs to speed up, the pupils of your eyes will open wider. Your heart will begin beating faster and your breathing will increase as your lungs begin to work harder. Also, the smooth muscles of your vascular system will react in a way that reduces the blood flow to your hands and feet and channels more blood deep into your body to the major organs. The one exception is your digestive system. When the speed-up message is sent, everything speeds up except your digestion, which slows down. The more things speed up, the greater the sense of tension we feel. When you feel emotionally upset in an excited, high energy sort of way, you are in a state of autonomic speed up.

If your brain sends electrical impulses along the neural pathway telling the connected organs to slow down, your pupils return to normal size and your heart rate and breathing slow. At the same time, the smooth muscles of your vascular system channel more blood into your hands and feet and less to the major organs. As you might expect, when the slow-down message is sent, your digestive system reacts by speeding up. That's why digestion is a more pleasant process when you're relaxed than when you're tense.

The more things slow down, the more relaxed we are likely to feel.

The Autonomic Nervous System & the Endocrine System

The organs of the body that are beyond our conscious control, like those listed above, together with the nerve cells that connect them, are known as the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

Notice that when you hear the sharp report of a barking dog, it gives you a start. Physically you feel yourself give a little jump and you experience a sudden sense of tension. That feeling is the autonomic nervous system speeding up the inner workings of your body. As the barking continues on, the neurons continue firing and you become increasingly tense.

When a dog barks, he creates sound waves. Sound waves are real physical entities that have a real physical effect on our bodies. We can't see them, but they are there and they carry the output of the barking dog to the sensory hair cells of our ears, which then carry the report of the sound into our brains. The brain, in turn, stimulates the ANS, which makes us feel tense.

Hormones are chemicals manufactured within our bodies. Under certain conditions, those hormones are released into our blood streams by our body's various glands. Different hormones do different things. They regulate our growth, our metabolism, our sexual desires and our sense of well being and distress. While the ANS makes us feel tense, it is the endocrine system that makes us feel anxious when we are in close proximity to a barking dog. That's not surprising really. The hormonal (endocrine) system is regulated by a primitive part of the human brain that seems to respond instantly to the primitive threats and messages of desperation that are implicit in the voice of a chronically barking dog. That's part of why barking drives people wild.

To really appreciate the impact that chronic barking has on your autonomic and endocrine systems and, thus, your emotional state, you must also factor-in the length of time required for our bodies to return to normal after an acoustic shock like that which we receive when a nearby dog releases a loud, sudden, percussive burst of barking. If it happens only once, you may return to normal in a matter of seconds. However, with each additional episode of barking, your systems fire-up more quickly, and it takes a little longer to return to baseline. If it happens frequently enough, you will still be wound-up from the last outburst when the next one hits, with the result that you will be forever tense, and at no point will you ever be able to become truly relaxed in your own home.

Some people have an autonomic nervous system that works like greased lightening, while others have a relatively sluggish function of the ANS. The more readily your ANS fires up, the faster your endocrine system will kick in, and the longer it will take your body to return to a relaxed state after you are exposed to a flurry of barking.


  • Henry Kissinger is every bit as attractive as Paris Hilton.

  • I, for one, would just as soon sit all alone bare ass naked in Antarctica as to sip a margarita in the jacuzzi with the Laker Girls.

  • There's really not much difference between living in a quiet home and living in a house filled with the sound of a neighbor's barking dog.

The Nature of Noise

When the federal government wanted to push the Branch Davidians to the breaking point in the siege at Waco, they bombarded them with sound, including the sounds of animals in distress. When the U.S. military wanted to drive Manuel Noriega from his sanctuary in Panama, they used the same strategy, because they knew that chronic noise is an intolerable irritant that drives people frantic.

The owners of barking dogs will sometimes tell you that the fact that you are bothered by the sound means you have some deep psychological problem, but it is not so. It is normal and natural for people to be irritated and upset as a result of exposure to sound, especially loud, sharp sounds that erupt suddenly and without warning.

When you think of all the varieties of suffering that exist in prison, it is significant that for many, the most difficult aspect of incarceration is the misery that comes from being exposed to the high noise levels. Chronic noise is just very tough on people.

When chronic noise rings throughout your home, as it does with a barking dog, it is even more upsetting than it would be if the same noise occurred in a different setting, because your home is your place of refuge. It is where you go to get away from the relentless hammering of the outside world. If you cannot find refuge in your own home, then where are you to go?

An Unnatural Sound

Wolves, from which dogs are descended, do not bark with the same continuous, explosive, non-stop stream of noise we get from today's dogs. In his book, Dogwatching (Crown Publishers), Desmond Morris describes the barking of the wolf as being "modest and abbreviated." He says, "Wolf barking is not particularly loud, or particularly common, and is always monosyllabic. It is best described as a staccato 'wuff' sound. It is usually repeated a number of times, but it never develops into the noisy machine-gun fire so typical of the wolf's domestic descendants." In other words, dogs bark louder, longer, more frequently and in a more percussive manner than the animals from which they are descended.

The explosive and persistent bark of the modern dog, then, is not an abomination of nature. It is an abomination of man. For some reason, some of our ancestors thought that when it came to barking, more is better. So across the millennia, some of those who came before us bred dogs in a selective manner to create today's modern bark of excessive dimensions. You can see then that the barking we hear today is not truly a natural sound. As Morris says, the voice of the modern dog is the result of "ten thousand years of selective breeding" to produce the "superbarker" we have today.

Human Nature

Think of a room full of people who are emotionally subdued. If a charismatic, life of the party, always knows what to say, joke telling personality blows into the room, he can single handedly liven the place up and shift everybody into a positive mood. On the other hand, just one person who is angry or desperate or frantic, or one couple sniping at one another, can drag everyone's mood down and spoil the party. That's the nature of people. We are social animals. Most normal, healthy people have a very strong tendency to absorb the mood of those around them.

Now, think about the message a dog is sending when he barks. Either he is angrily shouting out threats to do bodily injury, or screaming out that he's lonely and desperate, or shouting out a frantic alarm. The function of those sounds is to agitate the listener, to force you to pay attention and make it difficult for you to focus on anything else.

Of course, there is also the sound of a happy canine at play, but when the next door neighbor's dog is barking all day, that's not the bark you're listening to. What you are hearing is the dog expressing rage, sorrow, desperation or a frantic state of mind. It is just human nature for us to absorb those feelings and be drawn into the dog's chaotic emotional state.

It is no wonder then that most people find it upsetting to be forced to listen to a barking dog. I'm sure it is worse yet for those who are tuned-in enough to dogs to be aware of the underlying desperation that drives chronic barkers to cry out endlessly.

Imposing a Fundamental Change in the Essential Quality of Life

Think of all the TV shows and movies that have ever been produced. If you added those up, surely they would come to an enormous number. Yet there has never been a single production that featured an off camera dog, unrelated to the story, that barked frequently throughout the show. To a large extent, theatrical productions mirror real life. You can find some show that reflects every conceivable aspect of daily life, but no production has ever been set with a chronically barking dog in the background. The only television shows that ever have dogs barking continually, throughout a scene, are the reality based shows like COPS, where they take a camera out to the streets and record real-life events as they occur. Since chronic barking is a common element in real life, doesn't it seem odd for that one particular facet of our daily existence to be so totally excluded from depiction on the screen? It shouldn't; there are reasons why dogs never bark frequently in Hollywood.

The sound of a barking dog in the background would make every show less enjoyable. The nuances of the spoken word, like the strategic timing of a key line, would become difficult to manage. No comedy would be as funny and no romance would be as touching. No drama would be as absorbing. Every minute the viewer watched he would be struggling to push from his mind the tension and anxiety that are part and parcel of the chronic barking experience. The sound of frequent barking would change the essential experience of making and watching the show, just as the dog barking next door changes the essential nature of our homes and the way we experience daily life within them.

Creating Limits On the Use of Your Property

One of those things we all discover as we get older is that the way things are officially, and the way things are in reality, are often very different.

Officially, we all have the right to the "quiet enjoyment" of our property. That means your home is your castle and, at least in terms of legal theory, you have a right to expect quiet in that space. It also means, that, with a few exceptions, your neighbor does not have the right to do anything on his property that will interfere with your right to maintain and enjoy a quiet home. That's the theory, but the theory goes all to hell as soon as we factor in the barking laws, which are almost always next to impossible to enforce.

Where the anti-barking laws are unworkable, the neighbor with the barking dog is, in effect, absolved of all responsibility to control the animal. That means that, in real terms, the neighbor has a right to keep a barking dog, and that negates your right to the quiet enjoyment of your property. It's sideways. The irresponsible neighbor is awarded a de facto right he's not supposed to have, which negates the right that the rest of us are supposed to have.

If your neighbor takes advantage of the Catch-22 nature of the barking laws and keeps a dog that barks frequently, you have no choice but to surrender to the dog much of your control over how your property is used. No doubt about it, under that circumstance the neighbor's dog is in the driver's seat. By barking, he can at any time force you to stop what you are doing, but you have no way of influencing his activities. So you must follow his schedule. You are powerless to force him to follow yours.

You can't call over the fence and make arrangements with the dog when you want to take a nap. You can lay down and close your eyes, but you can't sleep unless the neighbor's dog is in the mood to let you sleep. You may be upset and need a quiet place to pull yourself together, but the dog will determine whether a quiet space is available.

You may decide you want to work out of your house while telecommuting to the office. But you can't make an important business call with a dog barking in the background and you can't get your work done when every room in your house sounds like ground zero of the kennels of kingdom come. So it's not up to you. Rather, it will be the neighbor's dog that determines whether you make a long, expensive commute into town or spend your work days at home with your family.

It's no problem for you when it's your dog barking. If your dog's barking interferes with your plans, you can bring him in the house or take other steps to quiet him. When it's your neighbor's dog, it's an altogether different story. When your neighbor's dog fills your house with noise, it is you and not the dog that must make the accommodation. As odd as it sounds, it's true; while you control your dog's life inside your house, it is your neighbor's dog that controls your life inside your house.

You can't do anything inside your home that is inconsistent with what the neighbor's dog is doing outside. If he barks frequently, you can't relax at home, nor can you study, work, concentrate or have a mellow conversation or a tender moment. The neighbor's dog is in charge. He will not adjust his vocalizations to accommodate you, so you have to work your activities around him.

You can't have friends over for a quiet dinner. Dinner perhaps, but a loud, chaotic dinner is not quite the same thing. You certainly can't invite guests for an overnight visit and then situate them in a room where the neighbor's dog makes sleep impossible. And God help you if you must endure an illness in a sick bed dominated by the endless tyranny of a barking dog.

What's it worth to be able to sleep, nap, work, relax, concentrate, entertain and recuperate in your own home whenever you wish? What have you lost when an irresponsible neighbor takes that away from you? I can show you million dollar homes where the occupants can't rely on doing any of those things because the behavior of the neighbor's dog prohibits them.

Of course, the barking is merely the manifestation of a problem. The actual problem is the dog's owner who refuses to take control of his pet and, thereby, creates a situation in which much of the control of your life is transferred from you to his dog.

By controlling how much sleep and rest you get, your neighbor impacts your health. By controlling whether you are tense or relaxed, he transforms your psychological state. By controlling your ability to work at home, he impacts your financial condition and, thus, your future. When your neighbor so strongly influences your health, psychological state and financial well being, he holds heavy sway over the quality of your life and impacts the fabric of your relationships. I think it is seldom recognized how sweeping is the damage done by people who leave their dogs to bark unchecked.

Sleep In the Realm of the Irresponsible Dog Owner

Having a barking dog nearby turns your life on its head, especially when it comes to sleep. For most people, sleeping is the easiest thing they do all day, but when you must sandwich your rest between outbursts from a barking dog, the nocturnal hours become a dreaded ordeal. In the land of abusive barking, you go to bed tense and you wake up exhausted.

You may spend eight hours in bed and still only get three hours of sleep. You may lie there most of the night, watching the clock tick your life away, waiting for the dog to stop.

If he barks three times you'll wake up three times. If he barks ten times you'll wake up ten times. He if barks continuously you won't get any sleep at all. You can waste hours in a single day just getting up and lying down as you try to work a nap or a night's sleep around a barking dog. Those are wasted hours in which you don't have any fun. You don't get any work done. You don't get any sleep. You don't get relaxed. You don't learn anything. That time is stolen from you, and it's gone forever.

It's really maddening when you consider that the dog's owner could bark train the beast with a mere ninety minutes worth of effort, which is a fraction of the amount of sleep you may be losing in a single night.

If You Have A Toddler

If you have a toddler who wakes up easily and is difficult to get back to sleep, and your neighbor has a barking dog -- just kill yourself. Get it over with.

Work In the Universe of the Crowing Canine

As the commutes get longer and the computer technology gets better, there is a definite trend toward people working at home. Every year there are more of us doing it. All you need is a telephone, a computer, and a quiet place to hunker down.

When you work in a quiet house, you can think deeply and become absorbed in a state of sustained concentration. Just as important, you can plan your activities, which lets you work very efficiently. But you can kiss all that goodbye the day your neighbor decides he's too broke to buy an electronic collar for his dog, and too busy to train his new companion.

Trying to arrange your work around a barking dog is pretty much like trying to sandwich your sleep in between episodes of barking. Scheduling your time becomes impossible. When the dog is quiet you work, when he sounds off you take a break. If he barks all day, you don't get any work done and you don't make any money.

Relaxation in the Zone of Barking

There is no relaxation in a zone of barking.

Sex in the Land of the Howling Hound

Not unless you find it arousing to make love in a kennel.

Illness Within Range of a Superbarker

For many illnesses, the keys to recovery are rest, relaxation and sleep, none of which are possible in close proximity to a barking dog. So, for many, the course their illness follows is determined by the behavior of the neighboring canine.

Too much barking will make you sick as a dog. That's something the authorities need to keep in mind as the population ages, hospital rates rise, and there are ever more ill, elderly people lying in their beds, much too sick to organize the neighborhood for a legal action against the dog's guardian.

A Cur's Diminishment of Adaptive Capacity

A person's resilience can, perhaps, be best defined as their potential to regain their equilibrium following the introduction of a stressor. Therefore, the more resilient you are, the more readily you will be able to bounce back and regain your composure after something goes wrong. All of us have a certain capacity for adapting to stressful events with equanimity, but our capacity to adapt is not limitless. Anything that draws down your capacity leaves you less able to cope when additional events further tax your reservoir of resilience. Let's look at this phenomenon in real-life terms and then relate it to chronic barking situations.

If someone is extremely rude to you, will you become upset by it? Well, that depends. If everything is going great and nothing is bothering you to begin with, then you will probably be able to easily maintain your equilibrium when someone behaves provocatively. On the other hand, if someone is rude to you and you haven't had enough sleep, you are more likely come unglued than you would be if you'd had plenty of rest. If, in addition to not having enough sleep, you are also hungry, then you are more likely yet to be unhinged by a stressful situation, such as someone being rude. If you are under-slept and hungry and in pain, the odds are still greater that you will cope poorly with stress. If you are under-slept, hungry, in pain, your shoes are too tight and the room is hot and noisy, the odds are ever greater that you will be thrown into disequilibrium when something goes wrong.

The point is that anything that injures you, drains you, distracts you, impairs your functioning or keeps you from getting your needs met, will render you less able to cope with life's events. The more of these sorts of negatives you are exposed to, the less well you will be able to roll with the punches, because your capacity to do so is diminished by their presence. If adaptive negatives are in your environment in substantial numbers, you will be overwhelmed by them.

Therefore, any deficits you have, in combination with any stressors you encounter, will impact your potential to maintain equanimity as you deal with the problems and challenges of everyday life.

Maybe you suffer from chronic pain or depression or anxiety or some other similarly distressing condition. You may have noticed that your condition fluctuates, sometimes getting better and sometimes getting worse. If you start to watch for it, you will probably find that your symptoms either improve or deteriorate, depending on your level of resilience.

Since resilience is a reflection of your level of adaptive capacity, you can minimize your symptoms and maximize your level of functioning by keeping your adaptive capacity as high as possible. The best way to do that is to make sure you eat well and get enough rest, have enough fun and get enough sleep. Also, take care to remove from your environment those stressors that sap your potential to adapt.

Exposure to barking reduces your adaptive capacity by interfering with your sleep, rest and relaxation while simultaneously serving as a stressor that draws down your reservoir of resilience. Because barking saps your adaptive capacity, you may well find that the symptoms of the ailment from which you suffer are much worse in an environment where you are exposed to frequent barking. Anyone who has ever had to live near a hyperverbose canine can tell you there is no situation so bad that it cannot be made worse by the presence of a barking dog. In fact, it is safe to say that any distressing event will be more traumatic when experienced in the vicinity of a barking dog and any potentially enjoyable event will be less enjoyed.

Written by Craig Mixon, Ed.D. - Barking Dogs Webmaster

Go to the index for this article

This page about Chronic Barking is part of Section Seven:
the Harm section of