It was a hot summer. We had the windows open on many nights. Our neighbors, who live about 15’ from us, had a variety of dogs living at their house that summer.
This one particular week I think they had three dogs staying with them. One of the three was a near-constant and loud barker–especially at night. How nice.
My wife is not a great sleeper, even when it is quiet, and the barking dog was starting to drive us all crazy. So one night, at 11:30 pm, she said to me we the urgency of a five alarm fire, “Honey, you’ve got to shut that dog up!!” Having just enough chivalry in me to be dangerous I did the only thing a modern knight would do: I picked up the phone and called them. I dialed the cell for the man of the house because I knew they were not presently at home. I left a voicemail, something like “Hi there, it is your neighbor Tom. That visiting dog at your house won’t be quiet and we are having a hard time sleeping. I wonder if there is a way you can get the dog to stop barking.” Not my best intervention, but at least I made an attempt. I went to bed feeling pretty good about myself. I had not slain the enemy to the north, but I had fired a warning shot.
The next day I saw my neighbor up on a ladder. I began to unconsciously attempt a fake apology “I hope you got my voicemail, I know it was late…” when he interrupted me, yelling “I’m sick and tired of everyone telling me what to do with my dogs. If you can’t take a little barking why don’t you move to the f—ing country!!!!” I was shocked. I took a short breath and tried to calm myself. I said “Well maybe we should move to the country.” He said some other things but by then I couldn’t hear much. I added, attempting to use my training in conflict resolution: “I see you are on a ladder, so I will end this for now, but know that we didn’t sleep and we’re not real happy about that barking dog.”
For more than a week he and his wife did not make eye contact with us. I was bothered and mad at them. I thought, “They have dogs that make serious trouble and disturb us and then have the audacity to yell at us and then ignore us as it we had done something wrong.”
One of my teachers—Dr. Jan Dworkin, once said “If people are mad at you think about rank.” As my anger calmed I asked: why was he so mad at me? I thought about rank—the way I used my power with him. Was he was angry because I had called him so late at night? Or that I sounded so angry to him in my voicemail? Was it possible that he perceived me as a too-bold person, attempting to cause him problems by trying to work it out openly (not common in Minnesota)? Or maybe because I had the gall to talk to him while he was up on a ladder?
Yes, I concurred, all these things were possible and he was a person also experiencing stress related to dogs and dog behavior. So I did some soul searching and decided that the 11:30 pm call was out of line. It was too late to call a neighbor I barely knew and didn’t get along all that well with. It was also insensitive, and dangerous, to attempt a conversation about a delicate topic while the other person is up on a ladder. It was not easy to fully own this, but with some reflection I was able to feel remorse for my actions and some understanding for his experience.
I picked out a nice card and wrote a sincere apology for calling so late and for trying to have a conversation while he was up on the ladder. I said it would not happen again. This was not easy to do, but I was able to authentically do it. My wife dropped off the card.
About a week later he invited me over for a beer and to play our guitars together.
Why was this response effective? I was able to #1 get into his shoes, #2 reflect on my side of things #3 let go of my feelings of anger at the way he treated me. I was able to have awareness of my own rank and how my use of power impacted him. And the best part, for my wife, the dog barking has not been a problem since.
I hope you find creative ways to get along well with your neighbors this summer.