How to keep a dog left at home all day quiet?
November 8, 2005 9:59 AM   Subscribe

I live in an apartment building next to a couple who have a dog. This dog is left alone most of the time, and to express his frustration, repeatedly scratches and runs into the apartment door, which creates a loud, annoying noise which I can hear in most of my small apartment. This regularly happens from about 8 in the morning until 9 pm or later. I work every weekday morning at home, so this is particularily irritating. It sounds like they leave NPR running all day, but either the pooch is reacting negatively to Terry Gross, or maybe he's not into talk radio. I left a note for the neighbors several months ago, which they did not respond to. I recently sent them a longer letter explaining that they were violating the house rules of the building and that I would like to meet with them to discuss the matter. Now I have received a note from them saying that they are ready to talk about it. My question: Is there anything I can sugggest to them to reduce the dog's noise, even if they continue to leave the poor thing alone most of the time? I would like to be able to make a constructive suggestion besides "stay home with the dog" or "get rid of the dog". At any rate, if the noise continues, I will be contacting the building's board of directors and pursuing the matter until the dog's noise stops. It just doesn't seem like there is much they can do besides "take care of it or get rid of it" Any info. appreciated!
posted by pantufla to Human Relations (45 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could the dog hang out with you when you're at home?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:06 AM on November 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

If it is separation anxiety, there are all sorts of things they can do for the dog. There is even doggie prozac nowadays. They need to speak to their vet.

If it is just an anxious/neurotic dog, they should consider confining the dog to one room or even a kennel while they are gone.

Finally, dropping the dog off at a dog daycare center might be the best thing for the poor guy if he is alone for such long hours.
posted by necessitas at 10:08 AM on November 8, 2005

confining the dog to one room or even a kennel while they are gone.

While having one of those "the word escapes me" moments, I used kennel when I meant crate.
posted by necessitas at 10:09 AM on November 8, 2005

I'll second crating. Alternately, maybe you could offer to take the dog for a walk a couple of times a day or find a service or neighbor that could.
posted by pieoverdone at 10:13 AM on November 8, 2005

Crate training sounds like it would be a great idea for this dog. I would recommend reading up on it a bit and maybe getting a book about it which you could show them since many people react to the idea of putting their dog in a crate quite negatively. You can point out, for starters, that even if they think the dog will be unhappy in a crate, you know that the dog is unhappy out of a crate. Good luck.

(Also, you can use the [more inside] function to put more of your question after the link so that it's easier to read the front page of AskMe. If you write the first few lines of your question well people will still click through.)
posted by OmieWise at 10:17 AM on November 8, 2005

pantufla, you're the patient one! I would have called the RSPCA by now, myself. If I were in the position they decided they wanted to talk about it, I'd let them know that's the step I'd be taking next month if I still heard the noise.
posted by shepd at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2005

Perhaps looking up some sources for dog training organizations to provide to them as well. Good on you for being such a good neighbor as to contact them to work this out and being interested in providing them ways to make things better. You're the kind of neighbor I wish I'd had and been in the past...
posted by phearlez at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2005

I work at a doggie daycare, I think it's a great help to dogs with seperation anxiety.
posted by yodelingisfun at 10:21 AM on November 8, 2005

Crating sounds like a terible idea to me. 13 hours in a crate? That's barbaric, especially for a dog with separation anxiety (I'm assuming the dog is adult and has not previously been crated).

Tell them to take him to daycare (though I've never heard of one from 8 am to 9 pm) or hire a sitter. It's costly, but there are few alternatives.

One of those few is to hire a professional trainer who can work with them if it's Separation Anxiety. Basically, they have to train the dog to understand that they will return. There are many methods to do this but they take time and dedication.
posted by Manhasset at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2005

Crating is a great idea. If the neighbors seem upset about it, an exercise pen (like a playpen) might be easier for them to handle at first. Pens come in all kinds of sizes and materials and can be set up wherever -- just add toys and dog and you should be all set. Note: if the dog is likely to be scratching at or running into it, plastic might be quieter than metal.
posted by picopebbles at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2005

I've never owned a pet (with the exception of goldfish and a hamster when I was 10), but the idea of crating sounds a bit harsh to me. I'm surprised to see so many people advocating for it. While I don't wish to derail the thread here, is there something about it that we're not understanding? How is it anything other than cruel for the dog?

I rather like the idea of your offering to take the dog out a couple of times while they're away. It'd be a neighborly thing to do, would be nice for the dog, and would get you out of the house a bit (everyone needs a little fresh air during the workday). And as you'd be providing a service for them, perhaps they'd be willing to help you out with something else.

Whatever you do, I think it'd be better for you to work it out without the tenant rulebook and without getting the "authorities" involved. Otherwise you'll end up hating each other for the rest of your stay in the building. Not a pleasant experience.

Good luck!
posted by aladfar at 10:35 AM on November 8, 2005

It's too late for you, but in case anyone else is ever involved in a similar situation:


Trudge yourself next door, knock and say, "Hi, you probably don't know this, but your dog is [insert whatever]."

It is highly likely they *don't* know what their dog is doing when they're not there, but leaving a note, no matter how nicely worded, says to an unsuspecting recipient: "Just how stupid are you to not know how pissed off I am about [whatever]??!!??"

You must give the other person the chance to say, "Oh, my god, I had no idea, I'm so sorry, I'll do whatever is necessary." By leaving a note, you only make them think you are too angry to be reasonable.
posted by sageleaf at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2005

Personally, I think ThePinkSuperhero's suggestion is worth a try, but I love dogs, so I'm rather biased. But really--they're pack animals, and 13 hours is a long time to go without interaction, much less potty breaks. Your neighbors should hire a dogwalker, at the least.

Rather than confining the dog to one room, they could try putting up a gate to keep him/her out of the livingroom or whatever room the apartment door is in. Unless the dog likes to jump over gates, at least. Also, leaving interactive toys can help stave off boredom--something like a Kong filled with dry dog treats, which the dog will try to get out.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:39 AM on November 8, 2005

I do not concur. A note with an invitation to talk allows the person time to ponder rather than being ambushed with a "here's something that sucks and it's your fault!"
posted by phearlez at 10:40 AM on November 8, 2005

About crating and it being cruel...

Depending on the dog's personality it might be the best thing for the dog. Believe it or not, dogs like small, enclosed places when they're sleeping/resting. Most dogs aren't that active without a person around to keep them company, or they are the exact opposite: angsty and anxious.

I started crate training my puppy as soon as we got him. He says out over night, but during the day when nobody else is around (from about 9-4) he is crated. Do I feel horribly guilty? Of course I do. I can't help it, it just feels wrong to me. The best solution, of course, would be for me to stay at home with him, but that isn't an option. Am I worried about him making a mess? A little... he isn't the smartest little guy and I could see him getting into things he shouldn't. Not only that, but my dog is nervous - when someone shows up while I'm at home he is anxious for the rest of the day, barking at anything he might hear. Heck, yesterday I was bringing my laundry into the bedroom and dropped a shirt, he saw it and started barking his head off. So, I do it both to calm him (he doesn't bark in his cage) and to make sure I never have issues with neighbors.
posted by sporky at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2005

aladfar-I've never actually crate trained a dog, but have many friends who swear by it. The theory is that, rather than being cruel, a crate provides a dog with a safe and secure area that is uniquley theirs, that in essence it becomes a den. Here is a short page from a local humane society extolling some of the virtues. The 13 hours alone is a problem any way you slice it.
posted by OmieWise at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2005

An owner shouldn't leave the dogs alone any longer than 10 hours a day MAX. However, crating the dog (or an Ex_pen as was also suggested) is the way to go if the animall has issues with separation or acts out when they are left allone. The crate should be the dog's safe place. Where thy go when they need to calm down or to get special treats. It certainly helps with separation anxiety.

Good luck though. It is never easy to have to confront someone about things like this.
posted by terrapin at 10:57 AM on November 8, 2005

I'll second the Kong. I have a neurotic Wheaton terrier who has finally been settled down by his new Kong. We fill it with peanut butter and instead of howling pitiably all afternoon he'll settle down to try to lick all that peanutty goodness out.
Perhaps you can gift it to your neighbors as a way to begin the conversation about the dog. Come in not with a "you have to fix this" but with a practical step.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:58 AM on November 8, 2005

Actually, aladfar, even though my dog is oddly claustrophobic (and has been since she was a pup), most dogs actually *enjoy* crates if they are trained to use them. It's a territorial thing, as I understand it. THEIR space. Their safe spot. I know dogs who will go to their crates even if not encouraged to do so, just because it's their special place to hang out. As long as it's appropriately sized and they have toys,'s a fine thing to do, dog-wise.
posted by at 11:25 AM on November 8, 2005

Well...seems everyone chimed in at once on crating...but I'll third the Kong as another option -- keeps every dog I've ever met busy, that's for sure!
posted by at 11:26 AM on November 8, 2005

13 hours is too long for the dog to be alone. They need to hire a walker, at least. You could offer to walk the dog for them, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:37 AM on November 8, 2005

I wouldn't recommend walking their dog -- if you need to eventually go to building management, it's best if you don't get involved in their personal lives. (If you were that chummy with them, you'd already be walking their dog. )
posted by desuetude at 11:48 AM on November 8, 2005

Response by poster: thanks all, interesting responses..anyone know how to add (more inside) to shorten my post on the main page? thanks
posted by pantufla at 11:54 AM on November 8, 2005

That's what the 'extended explanation' box is for on the posting page. It notes on the posting page (which you won't be able to see again for a week):
This will be the "more inside" area where you explain additional details about the question if necessary. If you use this space, don't write "more inside" to the question area, it will automatically be added for you.

posted by jacquilynne at 12:10 PM on November 8, 2005

Crating is good for a dog when properly done. We use an exercise pen for our dog, but she's small so she doesn't push it around or jump out of it - might not work for larger dogs. If they really are gone for 13 hours, they definitely need doggie day care or a dog-walker.
posted by MrZero at 12:32 PM on November 8, 2005

Offer to help them set up a puppy cam if they're not convinced the problem is as serious as you suggest. When we introduced a new dog to our house the puppy cam (which served pics to a web-accessible directory upon motion or every 5 minutes, whichever came first) gave us a really good idea of how they were getting along when we weren't there.

It also gave us a great stop-motion video of two dogs who managed to knock a green pepper off the counter while we were gone. They didn't eat it - they licked it and didn't like it and so proceeded to knock it around for much of the day - when they weren't sleeping.
posted by mikel at 12:36 PM on November 8, 2005

Fourth on the Kong, or really any 'doggie puzzle' that will distract the dog for a bit. There are tons of them these days. Here's some examples.
posted by Gilbert at 1:03 PM on November 8, 2005

Echoing what everyone else says about 13 hours being too long, crating, getting a dogwalker, and kongs.

Since you asked for concrete suggestions, let me point you to this book on dealing with separation anxiety in dogs. Disclaimer: I haven't read this particular book (my dog doesn't have separation anxiety), but I have read other dog training books by Patricia McConnell and they have been extremely helpful. Hell, it's $7, it might be worth just buying it and giving it to them.

From your website I'm assuming you're still in San Francisco. Dogwalkers are thick on the ground here, it shouldn't be hard for them to find a good one. I don't think that you ought to take on walking the dog, it's their responsbility, not yours, and it blurs things too much.
posted by ambrosia at 2:01 PM on November 8, 2005

Response by poster: wow! thanks for all the info. Great suggestions. So here are my thoughts:

1. I ain't walking their dog as it is their dog and they have allowed it to bother me. It would be as if they had left their garbage in the hallway and I decided to bring it to the dumpster for them. It's their responsibility.

2. I use direct knocking on the door as my first couple of attempts at contact, and written notes only later. I guess both have +s and -s.

3. I am going to suggest to them getting the kong, as well as confining the dog away from the front door. I thought about recording the audio of the door bashing but thought that wouldn't be "objective" enough (i.e. how loud should it be played back to be accurate) The web cam is a cool idea, maybe they don't understand the extent of doggie distress. Ultimately the best thing would be for them to be home with the dog, get him some sep. anxiety training, hire someone to walk him, or send him to day care. There are lots of things they can do to help quiet this dog and it's their pick. I don't care what they do, just as long as the noise stops. Thanks a lot!
posted by pantufla at 2:32 PM on November 8, 2005

I'm glad it doesn't sound like you're suggesting crating.

Crating a dog for 13 hours is just freaking evil.

Pets are animals and family members, not things you keep in a goddamn box while you're gone. If you don't view it this way, you shouldn't have a freakin' pet.
posted by twiggy at 2:40 PM on November 8, 2005

Personally I think having a dog in an apartment is evil and wrong. About as unnatural as you can get. And the best thing for everyone would be for the dog to find a home with a garden. But I guess this wouldn't necessarily go down too well with the neighbours.
posted by wilful at 3:34 PM on November 8, 2005

Response by poster: I may crate my neighbors ; )
posted by pantufla at 4:05 PM on November 8, 2005

Twiggy: Have you ever *had* an indoor dog? While I'll agree that 13 hours is far too long to leave a dog alone, crating is comforting for many dogs.

Heck, our dog has "her" spot in the house, and when Mr R isn't home she spends most of her time in her spot. This is when the rest of the famly is home, so it's not like there's nobody for her to interact with. She likes it there, and that's where she's comfortable. If I wasn't a SAHM, her comfy place would be in a crate next to Mr R's side of the bed. Since I am a SAHM, her comfy place is the doggy bed next to Mr R's side of the bed.
posted by jlkr at 4:34 PM on November 8, 2005

Crating a dog is fine, and even helps some dogs feel safe. Crating for 13 hours is bad. And some dogs are fine in apartments. The key is that the owner needs to be involved: exercise, play, secondary caregivers if necessary. My dog naps ALL DAY when I'm gone. She loves the apartment.
posted by MrZero at 4:36 PM on November 8, 2005

13 hours isn't too long for a dog old enough to hold its bladder/bowels that long.

That type of doggy behavior comes from one thing and one thing only: Dominance confusion. That dog thinks it's the boss, the big mommy/daddy. When the owners go away, the dog thinks "What? Where the hell did my kids go? HOWL! *scratch scratch* I gotta find 'em!"

Seriously. I'll guarantee it.

Dogs experience separation anxiety when they think of their humans as their "charges" in the pack. What the owners need to do is teach the dog who's boss. Don't make a big deal of leaving. IGNORE the dog when they get home (don't pet, don't make eye contact), until the dog seems to ignore them back. THEN, they can call her over, and say hello. DON'T let the dog go up/down stairs until the HUMANS have gone up/down the stairs.

Once that dog realizes that her people are the alphas, she'll be a *LOT* more relaxed. She'll be confident that her masters have it all under control, that THEY can come and go as they please, thankyouverymuch, and she'll settle into a much happier routine.

When I come home, my dog doesn't bat an eyelash. When I leave, she doesn't even see me off. When I call her, she comes a runnin', though! She's happy to understand her place in the world, and that all she needs to worry about is eating when there's food in front of her, playing when I call her to play, and receiving lots and lots of affection (on my terms, not hers). People rave constantly about how well-behaved our dog is.

Sorry for the long post, but I'll bet a steak dinner at Morton's that if they solve the dominance problem, they'll solve the separation anxiety.
posted by Merdryn at 5:29 PM on November 8, 2005

Remember: Dogs (all of them, just about) are pack animals. If they believe they are the head of their pack, and their pack has gone missing (out of sight), they panic. If they believe their ALPHAS have gone, they'll assume it's for a good reason, and won't think twice about it.
posted by Merdryn at 5:33 PM on November 8, 2005

Merdryn: That dominance-based behavioral theory has been pretty much debunked. Believe it or not, they don't think you're a dog.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:56 PM on November 8, 2005

Yeah, as mr_roboto says, it's not dominance, dominance is a really misused term for a generally very misunderstood thing, and the general public's idea of what dominance is is based on completely inaccurate interpretations of wild canid behaviour - read a book written by someone who's read some of the research done in the last 15-20 years and you'll be surprised at just how wildly inaccurate dominance theory (as it's commonly understood) is - many of the people who used to be the biggest proponents of dominance theory-based training no longer support it (at least those who've bothered to keep up with their research, anyway). This dog doesn't think it's the boss, the dog is lonely and bored, dogs are pack animals, keep a dog separated from its pack for too long and it distresses the dog on a very deep level - in the wild, being alone means being dead for most canids. It has nothing to do with not knowing who is alpha or assuming that the alphas are gone for a good reason or anything remotely like that. The dog's not being dominant, the dog is distressed.

Crating is great for many dogs, but as others have said, crating for 13 hours is too much and borders on inhumane, no dog would be happy with that, no matter how much they liked their crate. The dog needs a dogwalker or to go to daycare (which can raise other problems with some dogs, but anything is better than the current situation). I would approach the people and first of all explain that the dog is disturbing you, then explain that part of what's disturbing you is that the dog is clearly distressed (they may actually not be aware of this, although how people can own dogs and not learn even the basics about them is beyond me) - then politely suggest a dog walker or doggy day care.
posted by biscotti at 8:06 PM on November 8, 2005

Leaving a dog alone for thirteen hours in an apartment is totally inhumane, crated or not. Dogs don't have to eliminate as often as humans do, but an animal shouldn't have to hold it for more than six or eight hours MAX. People who don't have time for their animals shouldn't have one.
posted by radioamy at 1:30 AM on November 9, 2005

Funny, most of the books I've read on dominance theory are recent, and speaking for my dog and dogs of friends who have followed my advice, it's pretty spot-on.

I have cameras in the house that record when there's motion, and I've seen what my dog does when there's nobody home during the day. She sleeps, eats, throws her ball around, and plays with her stuffed toys.

Then again, perhaps my dog is a genius. I'd believe that the way she's been trained has something to do with it.
posted by Merdryn at 6:38 AM on November 9, 2005

And for the folks that say that doggy dominance theory has been debunked: Quote your (reliable) sources.
posted by Merdryn at 6:39 AM on November 9, 2005

Here are some reliable sources of information about dominance theory:
The History and Misconceptions of Dominance Theory, which includes Dr. Ian Dunbar's work and Dr. Frank Beach's 30 year study of dog packs.

More Ian Dunbar.

James O'Heare.

General discussion.

General discussion

A Fresh Look at the Wolf-Pack Theory of Companion-Animal Dog Social Behavior

And Jean Donaldson's The Culture Clash, which is a book every dog owner should read.

The books you've read may be recent, but they're based on outdated information, we now know that what we used to think about how dogs interact and learn is historically mostly incorrect (because it's generally based on faulty information about wolf pack behaviour, like the "alpha roll", which doesn't actually exist - the subordinate wolf rolls itself over, the dominant wolf doesn't do the rolling at all). Often dogs learn in spite of how we choose to train them, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't re-evaluate our training methods in light of new evidence. Just because something has worked in the past doesn't mean it's the only thing that works, nor does it mean that it's the best method.
posted by biscotti at 7:27 AM on November 9, 2005

For the record, the books I've read and trainers I've spoken to rely more heavily on the control of resources to enforce dominance, not physically towering over your dog. FYI. :)
posted by Merdryn at 8:23 AM on November 9, 2005

So far, and I haven't read all that you linked, the only think they're debunking is the "alpha roll". The rest of them continue to support the tenets of "dominance" theory that I spoke of in my reply to the poster: Psychological enforcement of "who's boss". Every article I've read so far, of the ones you've linked, say the same thing: Be the boss, the way dogs expect a dog boss to be.

So I guess I don't see how these articles make me wrong, or suggest that I need to change the way I train my dog or the advice I give to others. :) Of course, I will continue to read the links you gave (which seem somewhat religious in their persecution of dominance theory subscribers, so far). I'm capable of allowing new information to change my mind on any topic, this included. But, honestly, it'll take more than "rolling dogs is stupid" to tell me that dominance theory doesn't have a secure place in the dog training world. Any trainer who tells you that manhandling your dog is the only way to enforce your position in the dog pack is setting you up to be bitten by a dog who eventually has enough of your abuse.
posted by Merdryn at 8:36 AM on November 9, 2005

Your specific advice was that the dog's behaviour is because he doesn't know who is alpha, and that the behaviour would stop if he did, because then he'd know that the alphas were gone for a good reason. Personally, I think this is reaching pretty far, and stretching the concept of "knowing who's alpha" well past a reasonable limit (and a pretty classic misuse of dominance theory, attributing behaviour to dominance which is more likely attributable to normal behaviour of pack animals). The dog is most likely distressed because he is lonely and bored, this has nothing to do with "knowing who's boss" and everything to do with being in a situation which a pack animal will naturally find distressing (i.e. being isolated from the pack). And I'll also point out that in a wild situation, there's almost never a case where a canid would be completely alone for any length of time, even if the alpha animals are gone, there will be other pack members around.

I'm glad you agree about alpha rolling. I suspect the issue we're having here is that people tend to think that "being the boss" means being harsh toward the dog, and dominance theory is often cited (by many professional trainers) as the support for this kind of treatment. People also overestimate how useful things like dominance are, and attribute all kinds of problems to dominance which are more often completely unrelated - dog hierarchical behaviours are in fairly constant flux, we don't read it well, we assume it's static and simple, and I don't see that it's very useful in terms of training. Control of resources is one thing, "dominance" in the way most people use the term, is something else entirely. I also don't think that trying to act like a dog is beneficial (not that you're espousing that), since I think it can encourage the dog to think that all it has to do in order to move up in the world is take you down. Finding ways to communicate with dogs which are both meaningful to them, and useful to us, is the best method in my opinion, and it's becoming more and more apparent that the way to accomplish both these things is through appropriate use of operant conditioning, and sensible management (Patricia McConnell's book How To Be The Leader Of The Pack is a great book for helping people learn how to establish appropriate relationships with their dogs).

There are plenty of ways to live with dogs where the dog views you as the leader which don't involve harsh treatment (or much thinking about "dominance" at all) - my dog has been raised on clicker training and positive methods since day one (note that positive does not mean permissive) and I assure you that he absolutely views me as leader - I am benevolent, fair and reasonable, but I am the leader. This is the first of my dogs to be raised this way, and it is by far a more pleasant and successful method than anything I have used in the past, and is having a much better long-term effect.
posted by biscotti at 9:20 AM on November 9, 2005

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