Many of us have experienced the cheeky, sometimes misguided behaviour of our dogs. Some pooches may have barked incessantly while we were out, while others may have taken themselves for a walk, jumping or digging under the fence to escape.
While this is commonly seen as boredom, anxiety or fearful behaviour by trained dog behaviourists, many councils will not accept it and if repeated, owners can end up with a hefty fine.
So how can this be avoided? Dog behaviourist Laura Vissaritis says it all comes down to respecting the rules and being a responsible pet owner. “If I had a wish list, I would want dog owners to complete a course that challenged their understanding of what responsible pet ownership is,” she says. “Owning a dog doesn’t just involve feeding and picking up after them on walks. It involves a lifelong commitment, and this is something that can come as a surprise to many.”
Laura believes that current council regulations don’t actually prevent or stop nuisance dog behaviour from occurring. If anything, she thinks they can lead to dogs being surrendered as owners become stressed and overwhelmed with the situation.
“I can understand why there needs to be regulations, but at the same time I feel regulations would be relaxed if there was a consistent responsibility across dog ownership,” she says. “Unfortunately, the regulations don’t prevent many dogs from escaping and getting injured or lost, nor does it necessarily curb the issue of barking. Sadly, many dogs are surrendered because of this reason. Many of these ‘nuisance’ behaviours are generally a reflection of a dog’s emotional state and could be managed, if not prevented.”
MINIMISING THE FALLOUT
If you’ve had complaints about your dog’s nuisance behaviour from either a neighbour or the council, what should you do? Laura recommends speaking with your neighbours first “If you know and feel comfortable with your neighbours, get in touch with them and discuss possible reasons for your dog’s behaviour. There may be a simple explanation for the relentless escaping, such as a female dog being on heat. Having your dog desexed will show responsibility for your pet’s safety and wellbeing, plus it will prevent any unwanted pregnancies,” she says.
“You can also contact your local dog obedience club and ask for help. Your dog could be behaving destructively because of either an illness or underlying anxiety and frustration. Ensure the club does not practise harsh punishment strategies and that it is well respected in the community.” It is also worth engaging in a vet check-up regularly to ensure your dog is healthy and that incessant barking isn’t a symptom of pain and discomfort.
If you have received a fine from the council, do not get angry at your dog, Laura emphasises. “Don’t get upset with your dog. It is just a reflection of your dog’s lifestyle. Make changes to give your dog what it needs. If you don’t take action and don’t provide your dog with a happy and safe environment, it will most likely continue to bark or escape and that means it can eventually be taken from your care. This is obviously a very distressing outcome and something that can easily be prevented,” she says.
PREVENTING NUISANCE BEHAVIOUR
To prevent your dog from getting into trouble in the first place, Laura recommends thinking from your dog’s perspective. “You need to ensure your dog is desexed for a start. Then you need to provide sufficient mental and physical exercise each day. This means your dog not only expends physical energy until it is exhausted, but also mental energy,” she says.
“Problem-solving activities such as finding food, playing games and cooperating with you really help to make your dog feel fulfilled. Try to set your dog up to accept it must be alone for a few hours each day – dogs are social beings and depend on our companionship. However, if you do need to leave the house, create a safe place for your canine (preferably inside) and ensure he has plenty of food and games to explore.”
Laura also recommends dog owners complete a set of training sessions.
“I would expect all dog owners to participate in training sessions before and during their time as dog owners and that they also embark on socialisation skills education – helping their dog learn how to cope with new environments, especially when around dogs,” she says.
Make sure to visit your local council’s website or headquarters to find out more information on council regulations and responsible dog ownership.
PROBLEM POOCHES AND PESKY NEIGHBOURS
Renae is a full-time mum with two senior Miniature Poodles and a Border Collie. She never had any problems with her dogs, which occasionally barked at passers-by, until her new neighbours moved in.
“My poodles are 12 and 10 years of age and my Border Collie is eight. The eldest Poodle is totally blind and the other Poodle doesn’t leave her side,” Renae says. “The dogs are in the house most of the time but have access to outdoors if they wish. If someone walks past our house with a dog it will get my dogs barking, but not out of control.”
When Renae’s neighbours of 16 years sold their house and moved out, the house next door was rented out to a couple with cats. “The first lot of renters were cat owners who were not responsible, so we had two cats on our property – on our roof, on the fence, tormenting the dogs continuously. The house was rented with a ‘no pet’ stipulation,” says Renae. “We have always had dogs since we moved in and we have never had complaints until these troublesome renters arrived. All our neighbours are dog lovers/owners and when I approached every neighbour after the renters complained about our dogs, not one of them ever had a complaint or were disturbed or offended by our dogs.”
After receiving a letter from the council about the complaint, which was then followed up with a random visit by the council, Renae was obviously distressed. “When the council came out they explained to me that it takes more than one complaint to take any action, but they had to follow it up.
After I explained the neighbourhood situation and the arrangements for my dogs, they were happy to leave it,” says Renae. “However, some six months later, I received a random phone call one evening ‘allegedly’ from the council telling me there was another complaint about a Labrador (which we don’t own) and two small dogs that bark excessively. I never got a follow-up after this, however, and there was no warning or fine.”
Overall, the situation with the neighbours and the council made Renae feel violated, nervous and very upset, to the point where she ended up installing security cameras and microphones outdoors. “I was scared my dogs would be poisoned or come into harm’s way. I was very unsettled during the whole ordeal,” she says.
Luckily for Renae, she was able to avoid a fine from the council and the renters eventually moved out. The new ones have been supportive and have made no complaints. “The council clearly had to act on a complaint and follow it up, so they did their job,” recalls Renae. “However, they should have given the previous neighbours some rules about responsible cat ownership and what was expected.”
Thanks Kylie Baracz.