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

The Solution to All of Our Dog-Related Problems


This section builds on information presented in two previous links, The barking laws, law enforcement, and the courts, and The root cause of our barking epidemic and the source of all of America's dog related problems. This section will be more meaningful and easier to follow if you read those sections first.

The Case For Exclusionary Licensing

When you look at the amount of barking and biting and the number of dogs suffering and being euthanized, it couldn't be more clear that, every year, millions of people who are not fit for dog ownership, acquire dogs. The question is, why do we continue to allow it? How many millions of canines have to be put to death each year before we are ready to admit that dogs are falling into the hands of people who should not have them? How many millions of people have to be bitten and how many years of our lives have to be spoiled by the punctuated barking of untrained dogs before we are ready to acknowledge the obvious?

The fact is, allowing unfit people to acquire dogs is ruining the experience of dog ownership for the rest of us. Due to the growing number of unleashed dog attacks on park users in recent years, the city of New York has instituted a new leash law with a vigorous program of enforcement to go with it. Now all residents of the city must walk their dogs on the lead. Everyone, even master trainers whose dogs are under perfect voice control must still keep them on the lead at all times. The problem was caused by the irresponsible, but the consequence befell everyone.

Similarly, the city of Rockland, Maine, was plagued by ruffians who intimidated the citizenry by loitering on main street with their out-of-control Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. Local government responded by banning all dogs from its historic downtown. Now the street thugs with their vicious dogs are gone, and so are the well behaved canine companions who, in a happier time, daily traveled downtown with their masters to keep them company in their place of employment.

Now we see one city after another banning Pit Bulls. Why? Is it because Pit Bulls can't be controlled? No, not really. Pit Bulls make first rate canine citizens when they are raised from puppyhood by knowledgeable, conscientious owners who train them rigorously using meticulous kindness, and take care never to let aggressive behavior get started.

True enough, it has been proven that those who are unfit for dog ownership are going to cause problems if they are allowed to acquire Pit Bulls. It has also been proven that those who are unfit to drive automobiles will wreak havoc if we let them get behind the wheel. But the answer is not to make it illegal for anyone to ever drive, the answer is to learn to tell the difference between those who know what they are doing and those who do not.

However, rather than learning to discriminate between the fit and the unfit, and then taking action to hold in check the behavior of those who do not have what it takes to own such a creature, the animal control system is again reverting to the lowest common denominator as, increasingly, they pass laws declaring that no one, regardless of their qualifications or expertise, will ever again be allowed to keep a Pit Bull.

Pit Bull attacks have reached epidemic proportions because an enormous number of ignorant, belligerent, and aggressive dog owners keep that breed. But when Pitt Bulls are outlawed, all the nut cases will purchase Rottweilers who, as a result, will also bite a large number of people. When Rottweilers are subsequently outlawed, the lunatic fringe will all rush out and buy German Shepherds, who will soon thereafter, also fall to the legislator's ax.

Where will it end? Few people much like Pit Bulls, but how will you feel when they come to take away your Welsh Corgi? Don't laugh. Corgi's have now been outlawed in Germany, where they are just the most recent on a growing list of breeds that no one is any longer allowed to have. So don't think it can't happen where you live.

The writing is on the wall. If we continue to allow irresponsible people to acquire dogs, they will continue to behave in irresponsible ways that will result in increased restrictions in the future, on all dogs and all dog owners.

It may seem strange to you to hear talk of allowing someone to acquire a dog. But, society has the right to prohibit any individual from having a dog and to place whatever restrictions on ownership we see fit. Because, as far as the law is concerned, no one has a right to own a dog. Like driving a car, dog ownership is a privilege.

Licensing People to Keep Dogs

Up to this point, dog licensing has been a pro forma affair, consisting of little more than documenting the animal's immunizations and paying a nominal fee. To date, we have licensed only dogs, as opposed to also licensing dog owners. However, if we hope to loosen the ever tightening noose of restrictive dog laws, and protect both dogs and humans from abuse and injury, we need to institute a program in which we not only license dogs, but license people to keep dogs.

When I see someone in public with an imposing canine, unless the animal is obviously friendly, I move in another direction, because I know that most people have only minimal control over their dogs. However, automobiles are many times more dangerous than dogs, yet I don't head for the hills every time I see someone coming in my direction from behind the wheel of a car.

The difference is, before you receive a driver's license, you must first prove that you have learned everything you need to know to safely operate a motor vehicle. And you must take the automobile out into the real world and prove to a trained evaluator that you can control the car and control yourself in stressful, real life driving situations.

We need a licensing system sufficiently rigorous to move us from our current expectation that any given dog owner we encounter, probably cannot control his dog, to one in which we can safely assume that every dog on the street is under near-perfect control. And that every owner is trained, disciplined and committed to behaving responsibly.

Mislead by the Lead, or Unleashing a New Way of Thinking

A dog leash is a good way to remind a well-behaved dog of what he is supposed to do, but it is an extremely poor means of restraining an out-of-control dog determined to follow his own agenda. A powerfully built dog, or most any dog that takes you by surprise, can break loose or work up enough slack on the leash to get in range to trip or bite someone walking nearby, attack another dog, or get into other mischief. It happens every day. Millions of Americans can tell you from first hand experience that a dog on the lead is not necessarily a dog under control, and they have the scars to prove it. If you doubt the potential for an on-lead disaster, remember that one of the dogs that killed Diane Whipple was, at the time, being walked with the lead attached.

So the real issue is not whether a given dog is on the lead, but whether the dog is under control. If he's under verbal control, then he is under control whether or not he's on the lead, and if he is not under control, then he's not under control, period, whether or not a leash happens to be attached to him at the moment.

Three Erroneous Assumptions

The current dog licensing system seems to be based on three erroneous assumptions:

  1. everybody is responsible and
  2. already knows everything they need to know about owning a dog, so
  3. anybody who wants one should be able to have one, even if he is totally ignorant of the species and has made no commitment to care for and properly socialize the animal.

Four Levels of Licensing

To ensure the public safety and the right to unfettered interactions with our dogs in public places, we need a four-tier system of licensing that works very much like the process of getting a driver's license. In the new system, anyone can get licensed at whatever level they want, but they have take a test and prove that both they and their dog can function at that level.

The Off-Lead Public License

There are many people who can manage their dogs exquisitely well using only their voices. They can command the dog to walk by their side and he will do so indefinitely, unfailingly, step for step like a shadow, never wavering, regardless of even the most provocative distractions. He'll stay where he's told for a half-hour or more, he will instantly obey the command "no" to stop whatever he might be doing at the moment. A dog like that will never go after a cat, jump up on anybody, growl at anyone, or disregard a command. Such people have better control of their dogs off lead than what most people are able to achieve on lead.

Therefore, the fourth and highest level of licensing should be the off-lead license, which would permit the holders to publicly walk their dogs off the leash. To get licensed at that level, the applicant would have to demonstrate the following:

  • That he is able to control his dog in a busy area, well enough to keep the animal close by his side, never wavering from the heel position, as he guides him past a series of severe distractions, without any physical restraints, using only his voice.
  • Upon being called, the dog, under all circumstances, always immediately returns to his master's side, even in the face of severe distractions, and remains there until he receives further instructions.
  • The dog will never enter the street, even in the face of extreme provocation, without first receiving the okay to do so.
  • The dog does not approach any human, dog, or other animal without first receiving the go-ahead.
  • The dog is not aggressive toward any living creature

The idea is to gauge the dog's ability and propensity to follow verbal instructions and, thereby, to be controlled effectively and reliably off lead. Therefore, like the performance component of a driver's license test, the owner must demonstrate for an evaluator, his ability to control the dog off lead, in the real world, on busy sidewalks and in the presence of bicycles, skateboards, dogs, cats and every other distraction common to daily life.

Depending on the conditions at the time of the test, the evaluation could be fairly quick or it could last several hours. It just needs to continue long enough for the evaluator to be able to say with near certainty that the owner is able to control the dog off lead in any situation he is likely to encounter. And that he knows with near certainty that the dog is not aggressive to man nor beast.

The Problem with Off-Lead Dogs

On average, I walk the local streets for about an hour each day without a problem. But once or twice a year I have to think quick or move fast to avoid being bitten by one of the dogs that I encounter along the way. There are many other poorly supervised dogs that deliver a bad scare, simply because they approach, perhaps suddenly, and you have no idea how the dog is natured, or what his intentions might be. Thus, even a friendly dog can send your heart racing and spoil your outing before you are able to decipher his intent.

Even if you love dogs, those negative experiences still make you gun-shy after a while. You get to the point where nearly every dog you meet engenders anxiety, because you never know, the one moving toward you at the moment could be one of the ones that will try to bite you, or he might knock you off your feet or coat you with mud in a playful attempt to interact.

Obviously, that is the major problem with a licensing program that allows dogs to walk among the public without a leash attached: Even if they are friendly and perfectly trained, unfamiliar dogs moving off-lead have the potential to terrify the people they encounter.

To a large extent, the problem can be solved by having the off-lead-licensed dog, and/or his off-lead-licensed human, wear a prominently displayed decal with an identification number to signal to all concerned that both are well trained and positioned to be held accountable for their actions.

The problem of reassuring a tooth-shy public can be futher remedied by a well-defined code of conduct for the off-lead dog and his owner.

The Advantage of Providing Increased privledges to Conscientious Dog Owners

It would be a thing of beauty to see the day that, when we encounter a dog walking off lead in public, we could assume he is a friendly, unflappable canine, escorted by someone who has proven himself capable of controlling the dog in any situation, by voice alone.

It's such a sad thing to see dog after dog out for a walk, tied to his owner when he could be moving freely. It appears that those who passed the nation's leash laws believe that every owner is irresponsible and every dog is stupid, while our "anti-barking" laws seem to reflect the view that every owner is responsible and every dog is smart.

As a society, we need to begin extending special privileges to people with well-trained dogs as a means of encouraging others to follow suit. When people with unruly canines arrive at the park and find that people with well-trained companions are free to walk them off lead, then soon, everyone is going to want to have an obedient, under-control dog. And that's the direction in which we should be moving. Let us unleash those dogs proven to be under control and well-behaved and, thereby, encourage responsible behavior among all dog owners.

Separating Fantasy from Reality

I know that for many people, it must sound like somebody's fantasy when they read descriptions of off-lead/level four dogs; the ones that always, immediately obey every command and never enter the street without permission. You may wonder if anybody actually has a dog like that. The answer is, yes, they do.

To be sure, not every dog is predisposed to near perfect behavior, and not every human is capable of handling a dog skillfully enough to train one up to an optimal level of functioning. But the great majority of the dogs coming from the breeds rated high for their obedience training potential, would be perfectly capable of passing a level-four exam, providing that they were raised properly and trained by a handler who knew what he was doing.

That is the real problem, then. Not that our dogs are incapable of learning to behave well, but that so many of us choose the wrong dog because we acquire a companion before we have the knowledge necessary to make an intelligent choice. And the problem is further compounded because so few of us take the time to learn to teach our dogs in ways they can understand.

The On-Lead Public License

The process of obtaining a license at this third level also requires that you successfully maneuver your dog through a series of real world distractions without incident, only you will have the leash to help keep the dog in position. Nonetheless, if at any point it becomes questionable as to whether you have full control over the dog, you and he fail the test. A person with an On-Lead Owner's License would be legally permitted to take their dog walking among the public, but only with the lead attached.

As with the off-lead licensing procedure, the test just needs to last long enough for the evaluator to be able to certify that the owner is able to control the dog in any situation he is likely to encounter, and that the dog does not behave aggressively toward any living creature.

One nice thing about requiring an on-lead test is that it would keep people with vicious, out-of-control attack dogs from taking them out where they endanger the public. If the city of San Francisco had required its citizens to pass an on-lead certification exam before taking their dogs in public, Ms. Whipple would be alive today.

A Minimal License

This second level of licensing would not require you and your dog to undergo a performance evaluation. It would permit you to have the dog on private property and in the car. But when in public, you would be permitted to walk him only on the lead and only in situations where there are no living creatures nearby. You could not, for example, walk him on a well-traveled sidewalk.

The High Security License

This most basic level of licensing is for people who want to keep a dog with an established history of vicious behavior. Obviously the holder of this license would be forbidden from taking his dog out in public. Also, the owner would be required to pass a city inspection of his property to ensure his dog is properly confined in a humane and escape-proof enclosure and that warning signs are prominently posted.

Dog Owner Education Classes as a Prerequisite to Licensing

Owner education classes should be required of everyone applying for a dog-related license, regardless of the level of certification they seek. No true dog lover ever wants to see a dog in the possession of an irresponsible person, and pre-licensing classes could take us a long way toward keeping that from happening.

There is no doubt that such courses are long overdue. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended dog owner education programs as a means of dealing with the nation's epidemic of dog bites. The idea is to take preemptive action against biting injuries by teaching people how to select the right dog, and how to train their dogs, as well as by spelling out the responsibilities that are incumbent upon those who keep dogs. By requiring prospective dog owners to attend such a class before licensing, we could make major inroads against both the biting and the barking epidemics in one fell swoop.

The current animal control system seems to hold sacred the credo: Don't say anything at the time of licensing that might discourage perspective owners from getting a dog. And, for God's sake, don't require anything of them that might change their minds. It's an industry-friendly perspective. I'm sure they like it very much. But it's killing dogs, and it's hell on humans.

As a society, think how much money we spend every year attempting to correct dog-related problems after they occur. Imagine what it costs: rounding-up dogs; keeping them in shelters; trying to place them; putting them to death; providing emergency services and follow-up medical care to those bitten by dogs; processing tort cases over dog bites; processing barking dog complaints, and moving them through the courts; removing excrement from public places and providing police services to referee rancorous disputes over barking and menacing dogs. Add to that the hours of lost productivity because barking dogs left people too exhausted to go to work or so upset that they could not perform their work-at-home jobs. This system of reactive, as opposed to proactive, animal control is costing us a vast fortune as it drains resources that could be more productively spent elsewhere. The Center for Disease control estimates that just the medical cost of treating dog-bite victims comes to $254 million each year. Think how much better off we'd be putting our money into classes designed to prevent problems, instead of attempting to remedy them after they occur.

Many times, dogs end up with an insider's view of a gas chamber because their owner-to-be bought a dog without knowing what he was getting into. Which is why I have no sympathy for those who think it's too much trouble to study their dog-to-be, and learn about the obligations that fall to those who choose to shoulder that responsibility. If you really want a dog, you should acknowledge your obligations and learn how to handle the animal. If you don't care enough to learn what you need to know to do the job right, then, no doubt, all parties concerned will be better off if you just forgo dog ownership altogether.

People attending owner education classes would learn about canine development. They would also learn all about selecting a dog, including the horrors of the puppy mills and the pitfalls of acquiring animals spawned in those dungeons of deprivation and suffering, which means we could shut down the puppy mills overnight through this simple measure. That alone is reason enough to require such courses.

The pre-licensing education class should be the time to tell perspective dog owners everything they need to know: All about care, housing and feeding; how to bark train a dog; where to purchase an electronic collar; an overview of the process of obedience training and instruction on how to locate a professional trainer; which breeds are most amenable to obedience training; how to prevent aggressive behavior from developing; how to cope with aggressive behavior after it is established; how to treat common ailments; how to know when it's time to call a vet, and all about health insurance for dogs.

One should never have to debate with the owner of a noisy dog about whether or not the animal can be bark trained or whether that person has an obligation to keep his dog's barking in check. Local government should go over all that with the dog owner before they ever issue him a license. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of quiet.

The owner education course would provide the instructor an opportunity to spell out the owner's obligations, and to get a written commitment from the potential owners to live up to those responsibilities. Through that process, we could ensure they are aware that they must provide medical care for their dogs, and that they know the extent of that liability, given the cost of canine medical services these days.

During the pre-license process, the city can record the licensee's phone number at work as well as those of friends or family who will be available to take immediate action if the city gets a complaint that the dog is behaving disruptively while the owner is not home. That way, when your neighbor's dog launches into barrages of frequent barking on any given day, you can phone the authorities who can then call the dog owners at work, or wherever, and tell them to go tend to the animal. Think of the countless hours of aggravation that could be avoided if local government would stop scapegoating the victims just long enough to take that much responsibility upon itself.

Finally, the issuance of a license should be contingent upon the licensee's written consent to allow the authorities to immediately impound his dog if he barks disruptively and there is no other means readily available to quiet the animal and restore peace to the neighborhood.

The Shalt Nots of the New System

  • Thou shalt not allow thy dog to do anything that disturbs the neighbors.

  • Thou shalt not allow thy dog to behave aggressively toward any living thing.

  • Thou shalt not take a belligerent dog to a public place.

  • Thou shalt not take thy dog among the public or walk him off lead unless licensed to do so.

  • Thou shalt not disgust everyone in the neighborhood by leaving your dog's droppings where they do not belong.

  • Thou shalt not neglect thy dog in any way.

  • Thou shalt not provide thy dog with less than a high quality of life.

The Canine Good Citizen Program

The American Kennel Club has a Canine Good Citizen Program that tests dogs for basic obedience skills along with their ability to behave as they greet people and walk through a crowd. They also gauge the dog's reactions to other dogs, and his ability to deal with distractions when in public. Thus, the AKC has laid a good foundation. Government should be able to build on that to devise tests for dog licensing, or perhaps the Kennel Club could take on the task of developing rigorous, prototype dog owner licensing exams.

The AKC, by the way, says there are clubs and training programs in almost every city that can help you prepare your dog to earn the Canine Good Citizenship certificate. For more information, contact the American Kennel Club.

Time For A Change

When the licensing process catches up with a more rigorous version of the AKC's Good Citizenship certification program, the barking problem will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, we need to make sweeping changes in the way we structure and enforce our anti-barking laws.

Most of us would be outraged if local government passed a law that said explicitly that the right of an individual to keep a barking dog in a residential neighborhood supersedes the right of everyone else in the community to the quiet enjoyment of their property. But for all practical purposes, the laws and the enforcement system we have in place have created exactly that state of affairs.

The noise of barking dogs is a serious public health problem. Therefore, local government needs to initiate a vigorous, ongoing program designed to eliminate the problem. To be sure, they need to move beyond the current system that is driven exclusively by victim complaints, away from their present policies of reaction and inaction, and into a proactive mode.

Putting the Weight On the Data and Taking the Burden Off the Victims

We need a system that, to the extent possible, protects the anonymity of the victims and removes them from the process of taking legal action against their irresponsible neighbors. Ideally, there are only two things the injured party should have to do: 1) report the recurring violation, and 2) respond to city officials when they call back periodically to make sure the problem has been resolved.

With most dogs it is easy enough for the authorities to establish whether there is a barking problem, because the great majority of troublesome barkers sound off at everything they see and half of what they hear. That makes it a simple matter: If you want to know if a dog is a problem barker, go out to the neighborhood and stand in the dog's line of sight. Shout a few times, jump up and down and maybe bang a couple trash can lids together. If the dog responds by barking at you, it is safe to conclude he is a chronic barker.

The Threshold of Barking Tolerance

Someone once asked me if it is fair to label a dog as a chronic barker based on whether he barks when someone in the street shouts or bangs trash can lids together. But in today's densely populated landscape, to accept a lesser standard is to accept an environment of constant noise.

There are just too many people engaged in too wide an array of activities to have every dog bark every time he hears someone make an unexpected sound or sees someone do something unusual. There are the people from the electric company, the gas company, the cable company, the water department, the trash collectors, the yard people, the recycle folks, the street department, the phone company, the sewer maintenance crews, the meter readers, repairmen of every description, fire crackers, car horns, car alarms, cars that beep and boop every time you lock or unlock the door, door-to-door salesman and rowdy people passing on the sidewalk. Not to mention the neighborhood kids who have an endless array of gadgets a dog is likely to find barkworthy.

For everyone's sake, you don't want your dog to tell you every time somebody does something unusual out in the street. We will all be better off if he saves his voice to warn you at those times when there is someone doing something unusual on your property. That not only makes for a quieter environment, it makes you more secure in your home.

The bottom line is that your dog needs to learn to mind his own business, and it's your job to teach him the difference between his business and those things that should not concern him.


There are some dogs who bark too much, whose verbal behavior cannot be assessed by simply standing in their line of vision for a moment to see if they respond by barking. It could be that the dog barks only when he sees certain stimuli, like squirrels or cats, or it could be that he only barks at night when his owners let him out to relieve himself.

For that reason, in situations where the owner denies their dog is barking, it is sometimes necessary to employ monitors who can come out by appointment or on a moment's notice, and stay for as long as it takes to verify the problem. Monitors would also collect audio or video evidence and, if necessary, establish the dimensions of the violation through gathering data. Undoubtedly, off-duty police offers would make the best monitors, because they are already recognized by the courts as reliable witnesses. Also, employing off-duty officers would have the added benefit of putting more cops into the community than would otherwise be present on a given day.

Some police departments have rigid policies against allowing their officers to moonlight, but you'd think they could make an exception for dog monitors who would, after all, still be in the service of the justice system. In any case, a city with such a policy could get around the problem by employing sworn officers from neighboring jurisdictions.

A monitoring service is a paradoxical thing. If you don't have one set up in your town, then you need it desperately, because otherwise, when you assert that your neighbor's dog barks frequently, and he says otherwise, the court has no surefire way to quickly determine who is telling the truth. On the other hand, if monitors are available, you will probably seldom need one, because the owners are unlikely to lie about their dog's barking behavior if they know a monitor will be sent out and, when the truth is determined, they will be billed for the service.

In the new system, if you notify the city that your neighbor's dog is barking, but the dog owner denies the allegation, you can post a deposit with the city to cover monitoring services. With your deposit down, you can schedule a time for the monitor to come out, or arrange for someone to respond to your phone call the next time the dog begins a sustained tirade.

The best monitors would be off-duty police officers. Of course, we can't expect those officers to volunteer to spend their personal time working as monitors without adequate compensation. Therefore, the monitor's fee needs to be generous enough to ensure there are always plenty of off-duty officers ready to go out on a moment's notice and remain on-site for a period of time to observe the situation and take steps toward its resolution.

If a monitor comes out, but does not witness inappropriate barking, the monitor's fee can be taken from the deposit of the complainant. If, however, the monitor verifies a barking problem, then the deposit will be returned and the monitor's fee will be collected from the offending dog owner.

With a system like that, there would be little need to worry about false barking reports by vindictive neighbors. It is very unlikely that anyone would lay-down a hefty deposit to retain a monitor on the off chance that their neighbor's normally quiet dog might happen to bark while the monitor was present.

Enforceable Laws & Proactive Policing

Local government needs to focus on adopting some enforceable laws and some aggressive enforcement policies that are not dependent upon victim complaints to drive the process.

It would be best to start with the adoption of a standard noise ordinance which would make it illegal for anyone to make any noise loud enough to be heard beyond their own property line. That would cover not only barking dogs but also amplified music, dirt bikes, fireworks, and any other unnecessary and obnoxious damn noise you can think of. Next, we need a police department dedicated to a policy of writing citations every time an officer encounters a violation.

If you ever watch the television show COPS, notice how often there are dogs in the background barking the entire time the police and the camera crew are on the scene. The owners never come out to see what their dogs are barking at, much less to silence them, and when they finish their business the officers simply get back in their cars and drive away.

How about if, before they left, the police took five minutes to write barking dog citations to the owners of each of the dogs. If there are three dogs barking and each owner receives a $100 ticket, that would be $300 for the city coffers, and that laudable act of enforcement would not have cost the city an extra dime. It would be a win for the city treasury and the quality of life and a wake-up call for the dog's keepers who apparently were in need of a reminder that they have obligations to both their dogs and their human neighbors.

The key to ending the scourge of frequent barking, then, is to write citations in an actively proactive way as a matter of standard operating procedure, every time a violation is observed. Parking control officers are often in an excellent position to observe barking dog violations. If they joined the regular police in writing barking citations, it would take us a long way toward solving the problem.


We can probably get the best results with the most equitable administration of justice when barking dog/noise violations are handled like parking citations. That way, the dog's owner can be cited anew for every day the problem continues. In turn, the owner can respond to the citations by simply paying the tickets or by waiting until the court dates roll around and contesting each alleged violation before a judge.

That system would minimize the possibility of fraudulent complaints against the owners of quiet dogs because officer-initiated tickets would only be written by cops who personally witnessed inappropriate barking.

Better the Police than Animal Control

We need to get over the collective notion that barking problems are caused by dogs. They are not. At the root of barking disruptions are people who are behaving either irresponsibly or maliciously. Since problem barking is caused by people behaving badly, barking enforcement is a job for the police rather than animal control.

Often times, the animal control officers working for local government are actually employees of one of the humane societies who contract their services out to the municipality. As such, animal control officers are trained to focus on protecting animals from abuse at the hands of people. However, with barking dog infractions, both the victims and the perpetrators are human, which makes it a matter for the police. Unless a barking dog needs to be removed from the property, barking complaints should not involve animal control at all. Calling animal control to straighten out a problem with a barking dog makes about as much sense as calling a mechanic to come out and deal with an automobile that is being driven recklessly.

You often hear that the police are too busy with important matters to bother with barking dogs, but anyone familiar with police operations knows that's nonsense. It is true that the police must prioritize their calls, and there are times when the cops are so overwhelmed by urgent calls that less pressing matters must take a back seat. Nonetheless, in most jurisdictions most patrol cops spend most of their time driving around bored to tears with nothing to do.

Patrol officers busy themselves during their quiet hours by pulling drivers over for broken taillights, expired tags, and other trivial concerns. They don't do that because they are obsessed with vehicular minutia. They do it because those minor infractions give them probable cause for what they really want to do anyway, which is to meet the driver, generally assess his activities, and make sure everything is on the up and up. Every cop knows that routine traffic stops for minor infractions often lead to the discovery of larger crimes.

Writing tickets for barking dogs can serve a similar function. Keeping a barking dog can be an indication of drug dealing and/or substance abuse, animal abuse, a paranoid or anti-social personality disorder, domestic abuse, or any number of other conditions of interest to law enforcement.

There had been complaints about the barking of Bane and Herra, the Presa Carnarios that killed Diane Whipple. One of the apartment dwellers who shared a wall with the dog's owners, received from them a written response to his complaint about the noise. It read, in part, "A Presa's bark is preferable to the sound of a wall penetrating bullet." And their doormat was inscribed with the words, Ask not for whom the dog barks, he barks for thee, which the neighbors took to be both a taunt and a threat.

On the day that barking is declared a police matter, officers will find they have probable cause to interact with a population of people who bear watching. In the case of the Presas that killed Diane, the barking alone should have given the police all the reason they needed to call on the dog owners and assess the degree of control they had over the animals.

Immediate Relief

When your neighbor's behavior results in a situation in which your family can't sleep, rest, relax, work or recuperate in their own home, it is a crisis situation requiring action that is both immediate and effective. If someone kept you from getting your car out of your garage by parking in your driveway, you could have a truck dispatched immediately to tow his vehicle. However if, by way of his dog, your neighbor spoils your quality of life, degrades your health and denies you full use of the entirety of your home, the powers that be consider that a "nuisance" unworthy of immediate response. That needs to change.

Here in Santa Rosa, barking dogs are covered by a three-household law, with the result that there are barking dogs everywhere you turn. There is a different policy for dogs found running loose, however. The authorities here immediately impound loose dogs on sight, and the owners have to pay to get them back, with the result that you rarely see a free-roaming dog in this town. So we know what gets results with the owners of dogs that would otherwise be loose. Now let's see if that same thing works with the owners of dogs that, up to now, have been barking.

When the authorities learn that a dog is suffering at the hands of its owner, animal control can quickly obtain a court order allowing the dog to be removed from the property. Now we need to extend the same compassionate consideration to humans by implementing laws and procedures that allow animal control to immediately remove from the property of its owner, any noise-generating dog that is causing human suffering.

Certainly there are times when it is appropriate to remove a dog from the property of an unresponsive owner. If the dog is barking frequently, there is a complainant who needs immediate relief and, for whatever reason, the dog's caretakers either can't or won't quiet the animal, the dog should be impounded, right away. Also, dogs that bark at passersby in a threatening or challenging manner should be transported to the pokey in a hurry.

Under the current system, impounding a dog for barking is an extremely rare event, if it ever happens at all. One of the problems with attempting to impound a dog is that, legally speaking, dogs are property and, under the constitution, you cannot seize/impound someone's property without a court order. However, depending on how your local law is written, it may be legally possible for the authorities in your area to impound a dog and to get it done quickly.

If your jurisdiction has a law that says it is illegal to possess a barking dog, then, with a court order, the dog can be impounded because, even though he is property, he is illegal property. Therefore, the illegal dog can be impounded for the same reason illegal drugs can be seized: Because he is illegal.

However, the way most barking ordinances are written, it is not illegal to allow your dog to bark freely. It only becomes illegal when the judge declares it so at the end of a drawn-out legal process. If your city has that sort of law in place, there is no possibility that the authorities will be able to get a court order allowing them to quickly remove the dog, because it is not illegal for the dog to bark.

Certainly that needs to change. All barking ordinances should stipulate that barking that causes human suffering is, in and of its self, illegal. That would lay the legal groundwork for impounding disruptive dogs as well as for writing barking citations. After all, you can't write a ticket for barking if barking is not illegal.

It is possible for law enforcement officers to appear before a judge and secure a court order in a matter of an hour or two. They do it routinely, but they never do it as a means of dealing with barking dogs.

Maybe you think people don't need to sleep, and maybe you think that being denied the opportunity to rest and relax in your own home is a matter of little consequence. But most people with normal human needs can understand that when a family is suffering and their ability to function is profoundly impaired, it is an emergency situation, and that large numbers of people being subjected to the constant stress of chronic barking is a serious public health concern. It is time for local government to gear-up, and to get used to the idea of resorting to emergency impounds in those situations in which there is a distressed victim and no other way to quiet the barking dog in a timely fashion.

It might seem that, with so many barking dogs out there, a quick impound policy would result in legions of police officers besieging judge's chambers in a never-ending parade of law enforcers seeking barking-related court orders. But I doubt that would happen. It's true, there are enormous numbers of people with barking dogs, but quieting a dog is an easy, simple process. People don't do it because there is no penalty of any consequence for not doing it. However, with a quick impound policy in place, those who fail to train or otherwise quiet their dogs may find that they have to pay police and court costs (for expenses related to the issuance of the court order), plus impound fees and the cost of a ticket. It won't take much of that before people will be motivated to quiet their dogs and, certainly, to leave a number where they can be reached when they leave a problematic dog unsupervised. Soon after that incentive is established, there will be so few barking dogs that it will only occasionally be necessary to impound one.

The issuance of a dog owner's license should be contingent upon the licensee's written consent for the city to immediately remove his dog from the property should he grow disruptive. That would save the city the trouble of seeking a court order prior to the impoundment, and save the dog owner the expense of having to repay local government for court-related costs. There is at least one other alternative.

A San Francisco ordinance stipulates that police officers can take whatever action is necessary to silence the noise of a continually ringing car alarm. They can rip out the battery cables, tow the vehicle or, in general, do whatever is required to restore domestic tranquility. As was pointed out to me, the SF ordinance would be an excellent model on which to structure an effective anti-barking law. Certainly, there is a great parallel between the two. It makes no sense to allow a car alarm to ring on indefinitely, disrupting the lives of the neighbors, and a dog's bark is also a type of alarm, only worse. Eventually the automobile battery will wear down and the car's siren will stop. But a dog can continue on interminably.

Allowing the city's bark alarms to roar on incessantly, year after year, while local government tap dances furiously, assuring us they are powerless to remedy the problem, is ridiculous. It is bullshit of the first order. If you want to put a stop to it you pass laws that allow you to take action and, then, when the disruption occurs, you send some officers out right now to bring it to a halt. That's how you deal with a problem when you're serious about bringing it to an end.

Reducing the Number of Dog Bites

The response of barking at people in a belligerent fashion is an approximation of the response of biting people. They are just two parts of the same continuum. That is why, when a threatening barker is allowed to do the one, it increases the chances that he will continue on along the continuum until, eventually, he also does the other. Therefore, to a significant extent, the biting problem exists because the barking problem is allowed to continue. If you stand idly by and let belligerent barking get started, you shouldn't be surprised when it rolls on to its conclusion.

Also, you need to be mindful that, for a belligerent dog, barking and biting are part of the same response cluster of canine aggression. By allowing one component of the cluster to exist (barking), we increase the chances that the other responses in the cluster (like biting) will also be emitted by the dog. Therefore, one of the hidden benefits of barking enforcement is that we can expect it to decrease the number of dog bites.

Achieving a General Reduction in Irresponsible and Neglectful Behavior

It is part of human nature, if behaving irresponsibly proves more rewarding than fulfilling one's obligations, then irresponsible behavior is sure to follow. Furthermore, if behaving irresponsibly continues to be the path of least resistance, then, over time, the subject (in this case the dog owner) will grow increasingly irresponsible as he progresses along the continuum of irresponsible behavior.

The best way to stop that from happening is to cut the process short by making sure that people never find it a rewarding experience to neglect their dogs. On the first day the new owner leaves his dog to bark unattended, an officer should arrive in haste to write a ticket and prevent the neglectful soul from starting down the path of irresponsible ownership. That's a good strategic move, because the easiest way to prevent a progression of irresponsible behavior is to punish the first irresponsible response.

In the Way of Solving the Problem

It is human nature (canine nature, too) to behave in the way that, in the short term, is the most rewarding and the least aversive. Therefore, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. For many people, allowing their dog to bark is easier than taking responsibility for the animal, so, that's what they do. They let their dogs bark. It is a logical, predictable adaptation to the situation in which they find themselves.

The culprit is government, which has created a legal environment in which it is easier for people to ignore their noisy dogs than to take responsibility for them. In so doing, government has created and now perpetuates the barking epidemic. That's the key, then. We're going to have to get our legislators to behave in a responsible manner before we'll be able to get individual citizens to do the same.

In the way of solving the problem, let's start by talking about what people have a right to expect from government when it comes to dogs.

The Citizen's Bill of Canine-Related Rights:

We have, or should have:

  • The right to assume that government will promptly take whatever action is necessary, both proactive and reactive, to assure that we are not disturbed, endangered, or inconvenienced in any way by someone else's dog

  • The right to assume that every dog owner who appears in public with his charge is knowledgeable about dogs and is able to, and committed to, controlling the animal in a responsible fashion

  • The right to assume that every dog that appears in public will behave in a friendly fashion, without belligerence to ourselves or our pets

  • The right to earn the privilege of owning a dog

  • The right to earn the privilege of moving freely with our dogs

Seven Dog-Related Services Local Government Should be Providing with an Eye to Eliminating the Barking & Biting Epidemics:

  1. Sponsoring mandatory, pre-licensing dog owner education classes designed to prevent potential problems and weed-out unfit owners.

  2. Maintaining a multi-level, performance-based dog owner licensing program to ensure that all dogs appearing in public are safe, competently supervised and under control.

  3. Ensuring the licensing of dogs to assure that immunizations are given and to make it possible to identify dogs and link them to their owners.

  4. Energetically enforcing all licensing requirements.

  5. Maintaining a vigorous proactive program of citing dog owners for every barking dog violation observed by authorities.

  6. Arranging for the availability of monitors who can come out by appointment, or on a moment's notice, and stay for a period of time to verify a barking problem and issue a citation.

  7. Removing any continually noisy dog from the property, or taking other steps to quiet the animal within four hours of receiving a telephone complaint.

We're certainly not getting those services now. When you point the accusing finger at your elected representative, he'll tell you it's not his fault, because, "There are just too many dogs and too little money to provide services at that level," which is true. The other part, about it not being his fault, that's not true.

Our legislators passed the laws that allowed this enormous number of dogs to come in and live among us. Then they failed to pass dog food taxes and/or neglected to establish licensing fees in amounts sufficient to pay for the services necessitated by the presence of the large canine population that they allowed in. The city fathers need to either raise enough money to provide first-rate dog-related services for the current population of canines, or restrict the size of the dog population so their number is consistent with the city's capacity to provide services. The way things are now, they're dancing to the tune of industry, and burning the candle at both ends in the bargain, an act that is scorching dogs and humans alike.

We need to stop asking how cheap we can go and start asking how good we can get. Let's begin by deciding what services we require and determining how much that will cost. Then we'll raise that much money, instead of allowing a shortfall to exist and then using that as an excuse for providing inadequate services.

There is an awakening stirring. The powers that be should not expect the citizenry to go on indefinitely accepting the notion that government is an innocent bystander in all this when the behavior of government officials has clearly created and now perpetuates the sweep of our dog related problems.

A Cash Cow, Waiting to be Milked

The truth be told, the politicians long ago sold us out to special interest lobbyists representing elements of the dog service and supply industries, who were ready and willing to supply the lawmakers with whatever incentives were necessary to ensure that dog ownership would remain as hassle-free as possible. That's why we have a set of laws that serve to protect problematic dog owners at the expense of any disgruntled neighbors who might attempt to use the legal system to force them to behave responsibily.

So to explain away their refusal to assist the victims of barking abuse, government trots out the old excuse that they can't afford to provide noise abatement services. But that is just a laughably transparent smokescreen intended to shield their betrayal of the public trust.

There is no reason why noise abatement services should cost the city any money at all. On the contrary, noise enforcement could be an enormous source of revenue for local government. The city doesn't lose money by enforcing the speed laws, nor do they come out behind by funding vigorous programs of parking enforcement. In fact, they make a fortune on those efforts.

Try this for yourself. Go out your front door and walk in any direction. Within ten minutes you will walk by at least four dogs that bark at every pedestrian that passes. (If you take a dog with you on your walk you will find that three times that number of canines bark as you pass by.) In twenty minutes on the job a noise enforcement officer could write a one-hundred-dollar ticket to each of those irresponsible dog owners. That's four hundred dollars he could bring in in twenty minutes. In a single day he could easily generate thousands of dollars for the city coffers.

Now, in addition to citing irresponsible dog owners, imagine that your town also assigned officers to write tickets for motorized skateboards, car alarms, insanely loud car engines, blaring music systems and motorcycles that can be heard from blocks away. That could add up to a considerable sum for the city. It should easily be enough to hire back some of the teachers that have been laid off, or open some of the parks, playgrounds and clinics that have been closed in these times of budget cuts.

The choice is simple. We can choose to instate vigorous programs of noise enforcement, which will put money in the public treasury and allow people to live peacefully in their homes. Or we can continue on as we are, awash in noise while we slash important public programs for lack of funds.

In any case, government really needs to come up with a better excuse for not enforcing the noise laws than to claim that they can't afford it.

The Solution

All it would really take to clear-up the barking epidemic is some good laws and a vigorous program of monitoring and writing parking-ticket-like citations, in combination with a swift impound policy. But if we took it a step further and insisted that government afford us the Seven Dog-Related Services discussed earlier, we could all but eliminate both the barking and the biting epidemics while, in the process, vanquishing the puppy mills, saving the lives of tens of millions of dogs, and ensuring a better quality of life for countless others.

Why the System Remains As It Is

Okay, here's an imaginary conversation that didn't take place, but should have, and probably will, eventually.

"So, why not dump the current animal control system in the trash heap of anachronism and replace it with something that will get the job done?"

"Because there isn't enough money to create and operate a new, highly efficient animal control system."

"And why isn't there enough money?"

"Because licensing fees are too low and largely uncollected, and it's extremely difficult to assess taxes on dog food."

"And why is it so difficult to levy a tax on dog food?"

"Because the dog industry lobbies against it."

"Well, why would they do that?"

"Because, if the dog food tax is insufficient to provide adequate dog-related services, a shortfall is created that must be made-up by the non-dog-owning public, as their taxes are siphoned-off to provide those services. In that way the cost of dog ownership is artificially lowered and the general public is forced to pick up the slack, thus creating a de facto public subsidy of private dog ownership. With no dog food tax, or an inadequate dog food tax in place, then, one way or the other, the public is forced to subsidize the dog industry, either through their pocketbooks or through the suffering they endure because there is no money available for the services that would have brought them relief from the abusive behavior of the poorly regulated dog owners who live near them."

It's a calamity for canines and hell on the humans who, as a result, are forced to suffer helplessly at the hands of irresponsible dog owners. But it makes it cheaper to possess a dog. And if it's cheaper to keep a dog, there are going to be more dog owners and more people buying dog food and veterinary services and all the rest of it. What's more, by ensuring a deficit in animal control funding, there is created a deficiency in governmentally-administered dog-related services, which also works to the advantage of industry."

"Okay, I can understand why an industry group would want to create a situation in which they receive an unofficial subsidy. But why would they want there to be deficiencies in government-provided dog services?"

"Because a high level of dog-related services would mean increased accountability for dog owners, which would translate to increased responsibility, which would result in fewer people keeping dogs, with a corresponding drop in revenue for the dog industry."

That's the problem, then: increasing public services and providing strict accountability for dog owners is in the canine interest and in the public interest of humans, but it is not in the corporate interest.

Assessing the Right to Claim the Moral High Ground

We pay gasoline taxes as a way of financing the highways and other infrastructure required to support automobile traffic. What could be more fair than to provide the services necessitated by the presence of canines, by taxing dog food?

Beverly Stein, then chairwoman of the county commission in Multnomah County, Oregon, wondered that same thing. In her neck of the woods, only sixty percent of the animal control budget was derived from dog and cat licenses. The rest was drawn from the county's general fund. That came to $1.2 million dollars a year; money that should have and, otherwise, would have gone for social services to be used to relieve human suffering. To top it off, even after bleeding the social service funds, there still wasn't nearly enough money to fully meet the county's animal control needs.

To correct the problem, Commissioner Stein proposed a five percent user fee in the form of a sales tax on pet food. Her plan was to eliminate the licensing fee altogether and run animal control on a break-even basis, using the increased revenue to extend operating hours as well as to hire more animal control officers to deal with the countless animal-related complaints that could not be attended-to under the old budget.

But when the county began holding public workshops on the proposed tax, pet owners and industry representatives came out of the woodwork and beat the proposal to death. In the process, Ms. Stein discovered why pressure groups are called that, as opposed to being called friendly, cooperative, working for the good of the public groups.

Local political experts noted that Chairwoman Stein's support of a sales tax on pet food may have seriously damaged her chances to move on to higher political office. They say it creates for her a great political vulnerability, because it positions her to be portrayed by her opponents as a heartless ogre who tried to levy a special tariff on little old ladies on fixed incomes who would have no longer been able to afford to feed their faithful old dogs because of her hard-heartedness.

It's a common enough sentiment, that those trying to maintain the status quo are the righteous guardians of the moral high ground while those working for change are dog-hating demons who oppose children, old people and all things good.

But Beverly Stein was just trying to stop the plunder of the county's general fund by supporting equitable and adequate funding for animal control services. Whoever dreamed-up the idea of portraying her as the enemy of the elderly and their faithful dogs is a master of cynicism, but it's typical of what politicians encounter when they champion meaningful animal control reform.

It is possible that, somewhere in Multnomah County, there is an elderly woman whose only joy in life is her dog. And maybe she's so hard pressed that a five percent sales tax on dog food will push her over the edge, and she will no longer be able to make ends meet. But how about the elderly lady whose Welsh Corgi is ripped apart before her eyes because there isn't enough money for the pre-licensing class that would have screened-out the unfit person who lost control of the Rottweiler that killed her devoted companion? How about the child in the playground whose face is ripped-off by a Pit Bull because there are no funds for the kind of performance-based dog-owner licensing exams that would have prevented the dog from being taken out in public? How about the countless dogs that suffer through miserable lives and die young because there are no funds with which to ensure that they are better treated? How about the lonely old man whose grown children refuse to come to his house to visit because they find the barking of his neighbor's dogs to be unbearably annoying? How about the disabled lady who yearns to spend time in her garden, but is afraid to go there because of the vicious dogs in his neighbor's yard that bark incessantly and throw themselves against the chain-link fence trying to get at her? How about the dogs that were eventually put to death because they were acquired by people who were unprepared for the responsibilities of ownership? How about the school kids savaged by Dobermans on their way home from school because the county couldn't afford to hire an extra animal control officer who could have picked the dogs up before they did the damage? How about all the desperately sick people who can't rest or sleep in their own homes because there are no funds for barking enforcement? How about the homeless people down to their last hope, the battered women and the sick, indigent children who can't get medical care? Think of all the vulnerable people who won't be helped because the money that would have gone to social services has been drained away by animal control to provide a subsidy for the pet industry, and for dog and cat owners who don't want to carry their weight.

Does anybody really think the executives in the pet food industry lie awake at night worrying about how the old people are going to come up with the cash to pay their dog food tax? If they were that concerned, they'd lower the cost of dog food. Moral high ground? Surely that coveted piece of real estate belongs to those working for change.

To Stand on the Side of the Angels

To work to change the system is to stand on the side of the angels. True enough, if these reforms are implemented, many irresponsible people will be deprived of the joys of dog ownership. But I'm proud to be among those saying that's a good thing. Dogs are living creatures, with needs, emotions, and a tremendous capacity for suffering. Every dog drawing breath deserves better than life at the mercy of an irresponsible guardian.

It's not only their dogs that suffer at the hands of such people, though. Irresponsible owners cause their dogs to behave in ways that sour the public on canines and result in the placement of ever-increasing restrictions on where dogs are allowed to go, and the degree of restraint that must be placed upon them. Curbing the behavior of irresponsible dog owners is the first step in creating a new ethic of dog ownership, and the start of restructuring the place of canines in human society. So that the conscientious among us might enjoy their companionship more frequently in a greater variety of settings, and in a less restricted manner.

Beyond a doubt, it makes life more complicated if we are required to take full responsibility for our dogs and to establish to the satisfaction of the authorities that we have done so. But that's the reality of life in a world where the population is growing dramatically. The more people there are, the more everybody's behavior must be regulated.

If you only have one automobile in your town, you don't need a traffic cop or so much as a single stop sign. But when you have a million cars you need a street department, a criminal justice system, and a supporting bureaucracy. Similarly, if you have a total of three dogs in your area, all you need is a can opener and enough dog food to go around. But when you have five thousand dogs, dog laws and a bureaucratic infrastructure become indispensable. That's just the way it is. Having an increased number of people and dogs necessitates tighter controls. We now have more of both than at any previous time in history, and that number is rising. Therefore, it is inevitable that someone's behavior is going to have to be regulated more rigorously than ever before. But whose?

These are the choices: Either we stringently regulate the behavior of malicious and irresponsible dog owners, or we will find that there will be ever-greater restrictions placed on all dogs and all dog owners.

It is time to end dog ownership as we have known it, and take our interactions with the canine species to a higher level. As a society, let us cultivate responsible owners and well-controlled, responsive dogs that are prepared to assume their rightful roles as well-integrated participants in the public life of humans.

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

This page is part of Section Nine:
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