This one particular council receives literally hundreds of similar complaints every year. The issue is described as a 'Statutory Nuisance' under the Environmental Protection Act. Although it is a criminal matter, the problems are enforced by Councils rather than the Police.
There are lots and lots of reasons for dogs barking, with the major one being that the owners are just not aware of them barking. Many owners are out & don't hear the noise. However, there are also a large proportion of cases where the owner just does not care!
As he says, in the first instance the Council usually asks the complainant to speak to & try to reason with the neighbour. Usually when a formal complaint goes in, 'the gloves come off' and generally the matter gets worse.
So there lies our problem . . how do you approach the subject with a neighbour whom you have a friendly & neighbourly relationship with?
The 'prior to formal complaint grey area'
Based on the comments we had on Twitter and the conversations I've had with the council, I know that there's quite a few people in my situation, racking their brains on what to do next!
However, the local council can only really get involved when a 'formal complaint' is made. So there's this real 'grey area' between where, although the barking is annoying,you can just about tolerate it but ideally would much prefer the owners to act responsibly with their dog and; making a formal complaint.
I just wanted something to give the owners a gentle & clear 'hint' that the barking is becoming a little unacceptable and for them to think about seeking some help, advice or training to help them stop the dog from barking. In my case, I'd even help them personally with the issue if they asked me!
So I Googled information on the issue to see if there were any leaflets etc I could obtain to pop 'annonymously' through their door. However, it took me an absolute age to sift through various sites in a bid to find something useful. I managed to get a couple of leaflets which will 'polietly' highlight the issue & by posting them through the letterbox it lets the owners know that people are a little unhappy about the dog barking.
Hopefully this gives them enough of a 'wake up call' to act responsibly with their dog's issue.
If you've tried resolving the problem amicably then you're left with no other option than to report the issue to your local Environmental Health Office at your local council.
I really feel for the team that deal with this type of social issue. It really is a thankless task on both fronts. They get it in the neck from the complainant and also in the neck from the person being complained about! Double barrelled!!
The Council's always have to remain transparent, so although it is kept anonymous, they always write out to both parties.
For the Council to be able to take action, they have to witness the nuisance. This involves the team having to sit in your home or nearby and listen & very often with the cases they deal with this would be at night. A thankless task indeed!
If the council witnesses the 'persistent public nuisance' they serve a Statutory Abatement Notice. This requires the owner to abate the nuisance and ensure they act to quieten the dog.
If the problem persists, the Environmental Health team once again have to gather & witness these incidents, before they are then able to go to Magistrates Court with 'several witnessed breaches of the Notice.' So there's more 'listening' needed by the Council.
Once they issue the Notice the owners would be summoned to court.
However, once the case goes to court, often the owner doesn't turn up or simply goes, pays the fine & the process starts all over again!!
That said, they do have good results and in many cases the process works.
Problems for the Council
In defence of the Councils, their work is extremely difficult in matters such as these. I asked about whether they could install noise monitors or other recording devices to 'witness' the noise issue. However, in many cases where these have been installed, the complainants are prone to falsify the recordings by making noise of their own!
Very often complaints are also made in spite, so very often the complaint is made just to get an official involved. There's a real catch 22 situation occurring.
Before Councils can act they have to be 110% sure of what is going on before they can take hard action to punish persistent noise.
What is Statutory Nuisance
If you are in this situation, first off, you have my sympathy. I'm a dog lover, but owners do need to be responsible and aware of their responsibilities as dog owners. As I say it all boils down to this term . . .responsible owners.
So in defence of dogs & owners, and before anyone starts going out posting things through people's door or contacting councils to complain, lets just understand what is classed as a Statutory Nuisance, in my eyes.
As I said, just because a dog barks now & again throughout the day I wouldn't personally say it's a nuisance. My dogs will bark a handful of times, like when the postman comes, or the bins are emptied, a delivery comes etc.
What we're talking about when we say Statutory Nuisance is persistent barking for prolonged periods of time.
In legal terms, the barking would have to be "excessive & unreasonable whilst interfering significantly with how someone uses & enjoys their home"
Where to go for help
We ended up printing off this leaflet from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and then posted the leaflet through the door.
In fact, if you Google 'Statutory Nuisance - Dog Barking' and then your local council - many of them also have a leaflet too. East Northamptonshire Council have some great information & leaflets available on their website.
Making a Complaint Leaflet
Does Your Dog Bark Too Much
So I would suggest that a good approach would be to get the DEFRA leaflet along with your local council leaflet (if they have them) - if they don't you could always use these above - and pop them both through the neighbour's door.
Hopefully this should be enough for the dog owner to start to make improvements in the dog's behaviour. Remember to stay patient, if there's a dog barking problem it's not going to be an over night fix.
But if the problem persists for a prolonged period and there's no imporvement it's the time to make your complaint official. But again, unfortauntely, it's a long and slow process - there's no quick fix!