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How to Alter Your Home and Adjust Your Life So You Suffer Less From Exposure to Barking

The House of Happy Walls

I was trying to get some writing done, holding three thoughts in my head when the answer came to me. I'd spent the last hour trying to combine several drafts into one coherent document when I saw how it could be done. I could suddenly conceptualize the structure of the thing. It took my total concentration to hold that vision and I was just beginning to write it down, hoping to capture it on paper before it slipped away when Ghengis, the neighbor's enormous mutt, blasted me with a sudden vocalization. I had been so absorbed in thought that I flinched, tensed and straightened in my chair, spilling my coffee and losing the image I'd worked the last hour to form. I closed the windows and doors and had just gone back to work when he started again. I put in foam earplugs and placed plastic headset-type ear protectors on over them. Five minutes later he was still barking so I turned on the central fan and the fan near my desk and, a few minutes after that, turned on my nature sounds recording and snapped on the white noise machine. When the other neighbor's dog joined in I turned on the TV, then turned it up and tried to write through the roar, but I could still hear them. They were barking at a PG&E crew who were there for the day, so I drove to Jack London State Park, and stood in the House of Happy Walls, where Jack sat in silence, and wrote wonderful books about dogs.

Advice for Folks With the Bucks to Cope in Style

Your best chance for a bark-free environment is to buy a home in a neighborhood in which all the neighbors have signed onto a Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions agreement (CC&R) that says all residents must control the barking of their dog. Even then you need to be careful, because a CC&R doesn't mean a thing unless the neighborhood has an active homeowner's association ready to enforce the terms of the document.

If you can't get into a place like that, try to situate in a house that is set-up to defend against intrusive sounds. Avoid houses with multiple stories. Sound travels up, so outside sounds you can barely hear on the first floor will ring out clearly on the second or third floors of the same building. Also, if you are on the first floor, a good brick or cinderblock fence will often cut down on the noise because it will prevent the sound waves from traveling in a direct line from the mouth of the dog to your ear. However, people located on the higher floors will hear the dog more clearly because the sound will travel over the top of the fence, along an unobstructed line, straight to the ears of the denizens of the upper levels.

Look for a home with a central air conditioning system that has a fan only function. A central system has the advantage of setting off a hum and a slight vibration throughout the house that will help to cover up the telltale manifestations of your neighbor's lack of self discipline. The fan only function will allow you to create the masking vibration of the system at those in-between temperatures when it is too warm to turn on the heater and not warm enough to run the air conditioner.

The perfect home would have at least one thick walled room with forced air and no windows, a room that could function as a bastion wherein even Rin Tin Tin could not produce a vocalization capable of penetrating its diameter. A well-decorated basement with a bed, computer, telephone and television would fit the bill nicely. That way, no matter how restless grow the hounds of hell, you would know there would always be at least one place you could go to rest, relax or get some work done.

Moving into a house with storm windows will help, as will insulating your house as thoroughly as possible. You might want to have a sit down with some local contractors to learn about your other options for making your house more noise resistant.

For renters and gypsies and others forever on the move, making sweeping changes to the house is not an option. Such folks must find other ways to lessen the impact of the noise emanating from the other side of the fence. Unfortunately, outside of living in a windowless basement there isn't much you can do to eliminate the sound of a dog barking nearby. But there are some tricks you can use to cover up the report of a barker in the distance, and there are a few things you can do to take some of the edge off the noise of a dog in close proximity.

Closing Things Up - The First Line of Defense

For those who can't afford to either live in a CC&R community or make sweeping changes to their house, the first line of defense is to keep your doors and windows closed. Closing the place up does more to shield you against the noise than any other single piece-meal measure you might take. Sorry to say, it also creates a health hazard. Pollution exists on the inside of our homes just as it does on the outside.

Indoor pollutants accumulate due to the outgassing of objects, the cumulative effect of small releases of chemicals, and the release of other contaminants created by our daily indoor activities. Almost anywhere in the world, indoor pollutants pose a health risk that is greater than that posed by outdoor pollutants. The bottom line is that it is healthier for you to ventilate your house well. By opening up, you allow external pollutants to enter, but the net result will be a home with better air quality since good ventilation also allows the more numerous home-generated pollutants to exit. All the same, if you find exposure to barking abuse to be an ordeal beyond the pale, you may still opt for closing things up.

It's easy enough to keep your windows and doors closed during the winter. But if you don't have air conditioning, how can you close the place up in the summer without sweltering? There's a trick for that, using something called convection cooling. If you live in an area with hot days and cool nights, you can open the house during the night and trap the cold air inside by closing all the windows and doors early in the morning. You'll need to experiment to find the optimal time to close the place up. As a rule, if you step outside at some point in the morning, and realize that it is cooler outside your house than it is inside, you'll know you closed up too soon. If you live in a two-story house, keep the door to the stairwell open and leave the upstairs doors and windows open throughout the day. That will allow the warmer air to rise and escape while the heavier, colder air will remain pooled in the downstairs area. Even with poor insulation, that should keep the downstairs comfortably cool and provide you with a modicum of relief from the heat and the neighbor's dog, until well into the afternoon, providing that the temperature drops into the fifties or lower during the night.


One of the most basic techniques for minimizing externally generated noise is to wear earplugs. They can be found at any drug store. On the box you will find a rating that indicates the degree of noise reduction you can expect from that particular type of plug. The ratings run from zero to thirty. The higher the rating the more effective the plug. If you have any fantasies about earplugs completely blocking out the sound of a dog barking nearby, forget it. Earplugs by themselves only make a little bit of difference, but they do make some difference and, when used in conjunction with some of the other techniques listed here, they can lessen your suffering. You may also want to try wearing the kind of ear protectors they make for people working with loud machinery. They can cut the noise down quite a bit, but you can't sleep with them on and they tend to become uncomfortable in a short time, especially if you wear glasses.

White Noise

The noise produced by the vocal mechanism of a barking dog travels to your ear in waves of sound. The pitch of a given sound is determined by the frequency with which the sound wave repeats itself in a given period of time.

When we listen to the sound of falling water or the whir of an electric fan, we are hearing the report of a great many frequencies sounding simultaneously. Those sorts of sounds are referred to as white noise. When white noise is present, it fills the room with a broad spectrum of frequencies. Sound waves produced by barking and other noises vibrate at the same rate as some of the frequencies already being produced by the fan. Therefore, before they arrive at your ear, they tend to blend into and be somewhat masked by the sound of the fan.

Some catalogs and specialty stores sell what are called "white noise machines." They are usually about the size of an alarm clock/radio, and many of them can produce white noise in a number of forms including ocean waves and several variations of rain, babbling brooks and water falls. With some of them, you can set the machine to turn itself off at a specified time or you can just flip the switch and it will continue playing on indefinitely

White noise machines have the advantage of an incremental volume switch that lets you set the sound at exactly the level you desire. Fans, on the other hand, usually have only three settings which often makes it impossible to produce just the right volume of white noise you require to cover the dog of the moment.

Piling On the Shit to Cover Up the Stink

White noise becomes wearing after a while. It produces a sort of acoustic fatigue that leaves you yearning for silence. Unfortunately, for many of us, silence is not an option. And at least the white noise takes some of the edge off the slings and arrows of outrageous barking. Still, I curse the thousands of hours I have sat indoors with my doors and windows closed, earplugs inserted, ear protectors in place, roaring a fan a few away while playing the sounds of rain falling on the other side of the room, sucking up copious indoor air pollution, and still the sound of the neighbor's dog rings too loudly through the room to let me get my work done. I find myself getting up to turn on the TV in the hope that will be the final touch that will cover the piercing sounds of a nearby dog crying out. It is ludicrous to be forced to live one's life that way when the neighbor could so quickly and easily train or otherwise quiet his dog.

The Barking-Laws-That-Don't-Work Shuffle

It is common to encounter situations where there are several chronic barkers in a given neighborhood. Because of the casting of acoustic shadows, dog one can be heard only in the rooms on the south side of the house while dog two can be heard in every room except the south side bedroom. In contrast, dog three can be heard in every room except the family room on the eastside of the house. For that reason, if possible, it's a good idea to equip your home with multiple beds.

I have a bed on the north side of the house and another on the south. Our refrigerator produces a nice white noise hum that does much to cover the sound of a hyper-vocal fleabag, so I also keep a small mattress in the family room/kitchen. The only thing worse than being awakened by a barking dog is lying awake waiting for him to stop so you can go back to sleep. I find it much easier to just get up and walk to whichever part of the homestead is barkless at the moment, and sleep there until the dog in charge of that part of my house decides it's time for me to move again. There have been times in warm weather when I've had to change beds three or four times each night. You might call it musical beds. I call it the barking-laws-that-don't-work shuffle.

This page is part of Section Six:
the More Information section of