The bark stops here...
Some canine behaviour problems, such as house soiling, affect only a dogís owners. However, a problem such as excessive barking can result in neighbourhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances. Barking dogs can also become an agility problem when clubs lose their training or show venues when the locals object to the noise. As well as being an agility handler, Stephanie King is an environmental health officer, responsible for enforcing local byelaws on noise. She provides a unique insight into the issues and practical aspects of noisy dogs.
I do think that some dog venues and some dogs in agility are incredibly noisy and have thanked all the gods that Iím not the enforcement officer for the area, as I would not be able to defend them to a complainant. As a sport we have a case to answer as to what face we present to the outside, very noise sensitive, world.
Complaints from neighbours are usually the key noise issue, but if a club has a serious noise problem it can lead to internal problems such as more sensitive dogs being intimidated or distressed by the Ďshoutersí and the prevention of effective teaching if classes canít hear the instructor.
When a club has received complaints and the Council has become involved, it is useful to speak to the noise control officer and establish what they think is reasonable under the circumstances. It is important to try to be co-operative, because a noise source being argumentative and difficult makes enforcement much easier, It becomes much more clear cut when someone acts into the role of the Ďbad guyí.
The club will need to prove that they have taken every reasonable precaution to prevent training being noisy. For example:-
A few of my own noise control officer Ďred ragsí are a dog barking itís head off on the end of a lead while the owner does nothing and vehicles containing dogs barking at an external trigger with no effort made to relocate the trigger or the vehicle or otherwise remove the stimulus. If a visiting noise control officer sees something like that it will not help a dog club trying to prove they are making all reasonable efforts Ė the whole club needs to get involved with training for quiet with as much effort as they put into training to get their touch points.
noise is investigated
There will be a review of whether the noise is reasonable and controllable. For example, it has been defined by past court cases that it is reasonable to practice playing musical instruments at home, and because it isnít possible to play an instrument silently in most cases, it is necessary to set times and durations where it can take place. If agreement cannot be reached, this may eventually fall to a court to decide. The courtís opinion on how much is reasonable is rarely agreed with by either party in the dispute.
This then begs the question, can agility training take place quietly and if so, is it reasonable to ask that to be the case, and can it be controlled? My personal opinion, which has not been tested in court, is that we are in the business of training dogs, and I doubt that a court is going to accept a plea that noise from dogs canít be controlled by a group of dog trainers.
There is legal precedent that it isnít reasonable to put such severe controls on a business that they would go out of business. However, hobby groups are in legal 'no manís land' there because they are neither a business nor residents with a right to use their home as they see fit. A solicitorís opinion could be sought on this point if a club has serious noise problems that have resulted in them being served with a Notice by the council.
The Notice will normally require the nuisance to be abated and will leave a degree of flexibility in how this is achieved. It would not normally state that a club must leave a venue, but if the problem cannot be controlled that may be the ultimate outcome. A Notice is, therefore, not the end of the world, but it is certainly an uncomfortable position to be in. Some very serious work will need to go into solving the noise problem in order to avoid the next stage, which is prosecution.
If the terms of the Abatement Notice are breached, the Council have the power to prosecute in the Magistrates Court. The maximum fine is £5,000 for a nuisance on a residential premises or £20,000 for a nuisance on an industrial, trade or business premises.
It is very likely that if there is a statutory nuisance, the owner of the venue will receive an Abatement Notice requiring them to sort the problem out. This may be as well as or instead of one being served on the club. An easy way for the venue owner to comply with the notice will be to ask the club to leave, so this scenario should be taken just as seriously as a Notice being served directly on the club.
Complainants donít often take their own case to court, but a prolonged period of frequent complaints and investigations can still make life extremely difficult. It is therefore imperative to make conciliatory approaches to a complainant wherever possible. Find out what their primary issues are and make sure that you are dealing with them. Give them the option to come over and speak to you when things are bad Ė develop a relationship. Some complainants can be directly unreasonable but others get that way when they feel that their concerns are being ignored or they arenít directly interacting with the other party. Itís harder to be unfair and abusive to someone thatís smiling at you and offering you a cup of tea and inviting you to discuss a solution to whatís bothering you.
Ultimately, a good relationship with the neighbours is by far the best way to deal with noise issues and is worth striving for, even if it requires concessions and compromises you would initially prefer to avoid.
Steph currently works as an acoustic consultant for BRE. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of BRE or the London Borough of Harrow.