LOS ANGELES — Many neighborhood feuds in the United States are caused by barking and parking. When it comes to barking, animal trainers say dogs are usually bored, scared or anxious, so they shouldn't be blamed for fights that involve their masters.
Incessant barking has stirred neighborhood violence and bred an industry of shock and sound devices promoted as solutions by their makers but decried as hurtful by others. Ultimately, owners need to take responsibility for devoting enough time to pet care, experts say. They urge people to get to the root of the problem before boredom, anxiety or fear turn into shredded bedspreads, puddles in the house or escape attempts. Make sure bored animals get plenty of exercise, and find out what's upsetting them — maybe it's just a car's backfire.
"Barking definitely affects people's lives," said Sgt. Dustin Delridge, an officer for the Missoula (Mont.) Police Department who deals with quality-of-life issues, including barking. By the time he gets involved, bad feelings usually are brewing. Sometimes solutions are as simple as moving a kennel to the other side of a yard or asking an owner to keep a dog inside.
"Most of the time, we can come up with a solution," he said. "Once in a while, we can't make anybody happy."
Lori Weise, founder of Downtown Dog Rescue in South Gate, a city just south of Los Angeles, knows barking can be an adoption deal-breaker. So she's training her rescue's 17 dogs to bark and go silent on command.
Experts say problems could be avoided if potential pet owners think ahead before they bring a dog home.
"It's really important to 'think before you adopt' and determine if you have the time, the lifestyle and the schedule to give a dog the kind of care he or she needs," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles.
And while barking can grate on neighbors' nerves, it can also be rough on animals, said Mychelle Blake, CEO of the South Carolina-based Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
They can get hurt misbehaving, by jumping over fences or barking themselves hoarse, she said.
If a dog is bored, increase its exercise. "If you don't give them something to do, they will find something, and it's not always what you want," Blake said.
If a dog stays out all day, sprinkle its kibble around so it has to hunt for food, she suggested.
Anxiety and fear are harder to deal with, and the problems get worse the longer they go on, Blake said. Sometimes they require vet care and medication.
There are also sound, shock and scent devices that promise to curb barking. Sound devices, the most popular, include whistles, collars and remotes that emit high-pitched, ultrasonic tones only dogs can hear.
Manufacturer First Alert for Pets makes devices that are harmless and disrupt unwanted behavior, spokesman Ryan Brooks said. He said "it is a safe sound that won't hurt the dog's ears and is undetectable by humans."
But Blake said the collars teach dogs not to bark at all and warned that they can make anxiety and fear worse.
"They get rid of the symptoms but not the cause of barking. And the emissions are not pleasant sensations for the dogs either," she said.
You don't want to stop barking but control it, Blake said.
Barking can even be a good thing, and it's often a neighbor who benefits when a dog warns of a fire or an intruder.