Dr Trudie Prinsloo is a qualified veterinarian and lawyer. In 2015, she started Legalvet services in order to provide legal advice to the animal and veterinary industries in South Africa.
We’ve teamed up with her to get insight into unique situations that only someone with her specialized experience and knowledge can answer.
This month, we asked Dr Prinsloo about the new law that means dog owners could be fined up to R20,000 if their dog causes a noise disturbance. You can read Dr Prinsloo’s previous post on the legalities of who gets to keep pets in a divorce here.
The language of “bark”
We talk, laugh, cry, scream and make other sounds to communicate while dogs bark, howl, whine, growl and even sigh to communicate.
We may not understand the language of “bark”, but that’s a dog’s language and an important way for them to communicate with each other and with us. What do we, as humans, do if someone does not listen to us or does not understand what we are saying? We talk louder.
Dogs are no different in this regard, they will also try harder to tell us that there is a problem, and they will keep on telling us until we finally hear.
Unfortunately, this can cause problems with the neighbours – and it can also mean that a constantly barking dog may become unwanted by its owners.
What does the law say about barking dogs?
Noise control is regulated on a provincial and municipal level, so there is no national regulation applicable to the entire country. This means that there may be differences in how noise is defined in different areas and what the penalties for excessive noise will be.
It is safe to assume that in all cases, an owner or person in control of an animal will be responsible for the noise made by that animal.
Can you be fined R20,000 because your dog is barking?
The “new” law that’s making headline across South Africa defines excessive barking as “any dog that barks for more than six minutes in an hour or more than three minutes in any half-hour.”
According to the headlines, dog owners can be fined a maximum of R20,000 if their dog’s barking exceeds the threshold.
In fact, this law and its six-minute provision was enacted in The City of Cape Town in 2011.
At the time, Cape Town councillor, JP Smith, said they had many cases of people complaining about their neighbour’s dogs as a form of “revenge”, and this new bylaw would help curb malicious or vexatious complaints by placing the onus on complainants. He also points out that many dogs don’t bark beyond the six-minute threshold.
Because noise control is not regulated on a national level, this law may not necessarily apply to other municipalities outside Cape Town.
While the maximum fine that can be given is R20,000, there haven’t yet been any publicly reported cases where dog owners have received such hefty fines. In general, owners of dogs who bark excessively would be looking at fines ranging from R200 – R2,000.
How to handle a neighbour’s barking dog
While excessive barking can certainly disturb the peace of your neighbourhood, it’s also important to consider the value of maintaining good relationships within your community and with your neighbours.
Don’t complain if it was a once-off event or if the dog had good reason to bark, such as an incident where there was an attempted break-in.
If it becomes intolerable, speak to your neighbour on an amicable basis. If you can provide any proof (for example, a voice recording of the dog’s behaviour), it would be helpful to show that you are not just difficult.
Try to suggest positive solutions and give the neighbour some time to resolve the issue. If this fails and the neighbour is unwilling to try other options, you can report it to the local authorities to deal with it in terms of the relevant local by-laws.
As a last resort, you could also approach a court for relief with the assistance of an attorney. This will be a very costly exercise and will lead to a very strained relationship with your neighbours in the future, so it should only be done if all else fails.
Dogs bark for different reasons, but if you notice that the barking is due to a dog that is left without water, food, or shelter, or is mistreated in any other way, please report it to the local SPCA as soon as possible.
What should you do if your dog barks excessively?
The first thing you should do is to find out why your dog is barking. There are many reasons why a dog barks excessively, but some of the most common reasons are:
- A dog that is bored or lonely: Give the dog lots of interesting toys to play with or even get another dog that can be a friend for your dog. Take your dog for walks when you are at home and make sure it gets enough exercise.
- A dog that suffers from separation anxiety: Typically, this will be a dog that barks when you are not at home, and you will only know about the problem when a neighbour tells you or if you have a video monitor to see the dog’s behaviour. If this is the case, please consult your veterinarian or an animal behaviour specialist to correct the behaviour and treat the dog. It can be treated successfully with a little bit of patience.
- A scared dog: Dogs may bark at things they cannot see but can hear, or specific noises such as fireworks or thunder. If this is the case, please also consult your veterinarian or animal behaviour specialist.
What not to do with a barking dog
Don’t ignore the problem, even if nobody complains. It’s not normal for a dog to bark excessively without good reason, so it’s important that you find the reason and resolve the problem. Try to understand what your dog is saying to you in “bark”.
Do not yell at the dog. The dog will most likely see that as encouragement and think you are joining in the conversation. Rather distract the dog and reward it with a treat when it stops barking. If you yell at an already anxious or fearful dog, you will also make the situation worse. Rather calm down the dog in a gentle manner.
Please do not use an anti-barking collar unless it is used as a tool to correct the behaviour under the supervision of an animal behaviourist or veterinarian. It doesn’t solve the underlying cause, and it may do more harm than good.
It’s always best to find the real reason for the barking and work on resolving it without quick fixes. That way everyone, including your dog, will be happy.