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The Side Benefits of Barking Dog Enforcement

By taking effective action to deter chronic barking, the authorities can, in the process, reduce the number of dog attacks while simultaneously promoting responsible dog ownership. To grasp how that works, you first need to understand something about response clusters.

The term response cluster refers to a group of behaviors that tend to go hand in hand. For example: You might find a group of men who engage in what we might call a sports observation cluster in which they 1) get together, 2) watch sporting events on TV while they 3) drink beer, 4) eat junk food, 5) shout and 6) use profanity. It could be that during the rest of the week these particular men seldom do any of those things, but when they do one thing, they tend to do the others as well. That¹s what makes it a response cluster.

One of the interesting things about response clusters is that you can often increase the frequency with which people engage in one behavior in the cluster by increasing the frequency with which they engage in other clustered behaviors. So, by encouraging the subjects to watch more games, you can increase the rate at which they do the other things as well. You might also find that serving junk food or beer puts everyone in the mood to watch a game and, therefore, triggers the other responses.

Research shows that the opposite is also true. By preventing someone from engaging in one response in the cluster, you can reduce the rate at which they emit the other related responses as well. So, if everyone arrived at your house to watch the game but the cable was out, you might find that, with no game to watch, there was less interest in drinking, shouting and doing the other things that go with them. Or, if the game was on but the baby was sleeping, so everyone was forbidden to shout, that would be likely to trigger a reduction in the amount of eating, drinking and swearing and might cause everyone to turn the game off or go home sooner. The point is that by reducing the rate at which a person (or a dog) emits one response in a given cluster, you will likely achieve a reduction in the other, related behaviors.

We saw an example of that near the turn of the century, when New York City discovered that cracking down on misdemeanor, quality of life crimes, like noise and rowdy behavior, resulted in an enormous decrease in the number of felonies being committed.

That same phenomenon can be employed to reduce the large number of people being bitten by dogs every year, because usually, a dog biting somone is simply one component in a response cluster of canine belliegerence. That cluster includes: barking, snarling, postural changes, charging, and biting, among others.

We know that by reducing the frequency with which an animal engages in one component of a response cluster, (like barking), we can, simply as a side effect, reduce the rate at which the subject emits the other behaviors that, together, comprise the response cluster. That allows us to predict with confidence that, by reducing the rate of belligerent barking, the authorities could simultaneously reduce the number of times that the other responses in the cluster are emitted and, thereby, reduce the number of dog attacks. For more information on how barking abatement can reduce the number of dog bites, go to The relationship between dog attacks and the tolerance of belligerent barking.

Likewise, we can also predict with confidence that an effective program of barking dog enforcement will result in many dog owners taking greater responsibility for their dogs in other ways as well, because allowing one's dog to bark chronically is often simply one component in a response cluster of irresponsible dog owner behavior.

Go to New Animal Control.Org for more information about animal control reform

This page is part of Section Nine:
the Cure section of