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Neighbors keep upsetting family’s dog. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(Nick Galifianakis/Illustration for The Washington Post)
6 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My family lives at the end of a short cul-de-sac in a small neighborhood. There’s rarely a reason for anyone to walk past our house, which is good because our dog cannot stop herself from barking hysterically any time she sees a human being who is not part of the family.

A new family moved into the neighborhood about a month ago. Every morning, after dropping the kids off at the school bus, the parents walk around the whole neighborhood, including our little cul-de-sac. The dog is inconsolable until we let her out to bark at them in person (we have an invisible fence so there is no danger of her getting hurt). She doesn’t calm down for a long time. This is annoying for us and our next-door neighbors, so I asked the walkers to please cut our cul-de-sac off their route. The said they understood but they have continued to walk by our house and upset our dog. I know not everyone is an animal lover, so how can I convince them to leave our poor dog alone?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: In short, you can’t. No matter how upsetting it is to your dog, they have a right to stroll past your house. You can’t change their behavior to protect your dog, but you can make changes to save her from this upset.

First, it seems like their walks are fairly predictable. Bring your dog into a room without a view of the street or put her in a crate (if she’s crate trained) and give her something to do. You can try a long-lasting chew like a bully stick or stuff a Kong toy with peanut butter, canned dog food, or something else your dog finds yummy and freeze it overnight to make it last longer. You could give her morning meal in a puzzle toy. You can also cover the front windows with blinds, curtains or decorative film, which allows light to come in but obscure the view. The key is to act before she sees or hears the neighbors. It will much easier to proactively prevent these big feelings than trying to calm her down.

Another option is to hire a qualified dog trainer to work on your dog’s reactivity — this will be more work and expense than managing her environment to avoid the trigger, but could provide a more lasting solution.

Lastly, please be aware that an invisible fence is not a fence. It’s just air with the threat of punishment. If the desire to chase the neighbors away ever exceeds your dog’s desire to avoid the shock, she can and will run right through that “fence.” This happens all the time to owners who were absolutely convinced their dog would never leave the yard.

Our wonderful, beloved dogs are not always as predictable as we think. Set her up for success by helping her avoid the trigger, and don’t give her the opportunity to make a bad decision with the neighbors. And kudos to you for having such incredible empathy for your dog — her barking is a sign of distress and it’s wonderful that you want to help her avoid those overwhelming feelings.

— Former dog trainer

Anonymous: Animal behaviorist here. Please consult a certified dog trainer to get help in training your dog. By letting her out to bark, you are rewarding and reinforcing the barking. Here’s advice on how to find a good trainer. This problem can be solved with patience and knowledge. Good luck!

— Anon

Anonymous: Oh my. You clearly sympathize with your dog, and want to reduce her stress, which is both understandable and admirable. What I find notable, however, is how you are quick to point fingers at the new neighbors for not changing their own actions — off your property! — to accommodate your pet, instead of you trying to train or help your pet to get over her excessive barking around strangers.

If you try to look at it from their perspective, they have moved into a new neighborhood, and within a month, one of their neighbors is taking them to task for taking a walk on public property in their own neighborhood. They are not trespassing on your property. They are not being aggressive. If your dog is barking excessively and the next-door neighbors are upset about it, then your pet is the cause of the problem, not the neighbors. You are the pet owner, and you are responsible for your pet’s actions. The new neighbors are not doing anything “to” your dog, contrary to your assertion that they are not leaving your poor dog alone.

It was not appropriate for you to ask the neighbors to avoid walking by your property. I also found it very telling that you said there is no danger of “her” — your dog — getting hurt, but you make no mention about whether the neighbors might be in danger of getting hurt, or be concerned that she will run past the invisible fence. Trying to reduce your pet’s anxiety and barking is an admirable goal, but you should consider taking responsibility for your dog’s behavior yourselves, instead of outsourcing that responsibility to the new neighbors.

I recommend looking online for methods to help train and assist your pet, to reduce her anxiety and barking around strangers. Her behavior is, and was, your responsibility, and it is possible that you have let your concern for her emotional well-being overwhelm your empathy for the other individuals in your neighborhood. Just letting her out to bark does not sound like the end of the world, but it sounds like something could be done to train her.

Finally, you may wish to apologize to your new neighbors for making the request in the first place, and even invite them over to meet your dog. In a manner of speaking, you yourself were “barking” at the neighbors by asking them to go away so as not to bother your dog. I wish you much success in helping your pooch address her stress, and I hope you can find a way to live harmoniously with your next-door neighbors and the new neighbors.

— Onica N.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.