Bark-Off Ethics

Bark-Off is a product you can see being pitched on cable TV almost any time of the day, a seemingly sinister gadget that allows you to stop your dog from barking, just like Adam Sandler does with his magic remote control in “Click.” The thing emits a high-pitched sound (“Not painful!” the commercial says) that only dogs can hear, and it distracts them enough to make them stop yapping.

As a dog owner, I find the Bark-Off vaguely creepy; I don’t like the idea off controlling the behavior of living creatures with electronic devices. Still, all the reviews of the product indicate that it isn’t painful and it does work for most dogs. Philosophically I object to it, because I think a dog owner should have more respect for his dog than to treat him like Christmas tree lights on a Clapper, but I can’t honestly say Bark-Off is unethical.

At least, it’s not unethical when you use it on your dog, but you better not try to use it on mine. The commercial also suggests that a Bark-Off owner use the sonic weapon to shut off the barking of neighbors’ dogs. That’s over the line—the property line, and the ethical line. You are invading my property with sonic waves to accomplish your objective on my possessions, which in the case of my Jack Russell Terrier also happens to be my friend and family member. That’s a violation of my property, authority and autonomy without permission.  You have no right to discipline my child, and you have no right to train my dog.

Is it my responsibility to make sure my dog’s barking doesn’t disrupt the peace and quiet of my neighbors? Sure it is. If I don’t do it, your options are to 1) call me and complain, 2) come over to the house and complain, 3) call the police, and 4) sue me. You may not ethically kill my dog or do anything to my property—my companion— at all.

For all you know, you gadget-obsessed, dog-hating neighbor, my dog is Lassie, and he’s trying to tell me something. Or I’m not home, and Professor Henry Louis Gates is breaking into it. Or my house is on fire, or my dog is a seizure- or cancer- sniffing dog and he’s trying to save my life.  Maybe the dog is trying to save his own life, because he is trapped somewhere. Or he’s telling me that Al Qaeda has stashed a bomb in my toilet, or that Lindsay Lohan snuck some pot into my pants pocket. The barking that is annoying you may have a purpose; barking is a form of communication, after all. Or maybe I just like to hear my dog bark. I do sometimes.

It’s unethical to use the Bark-Off on a dog that isn’t your own, without the owner’s permission. When you do this, you are no better than the unethical users of  TV-B-Gone. Maybe worse, because TV’s, unlike dogs, don’t get frustrated.

6 thoughts on “Bark-Off Ethics

  1. I know I’m going to get in trouble with this one, but . . .

    Doesn’t your analysis apply with almost equal force to the neighbor who plays loud rock music in his house and shatters my quiet meditation? When I was in college, students put huge speakers up to their windows to blast music that I found sickening all over the campus. It was like the U.S. military trying to drive Noriega out of the Vatican Embassy in Panama.

    I feel the same way about cars that pull up next to me at a stoplight with what appears to be a seismic testing generator going at full blast out the windows. I suppose living in a free society carries with it an implicit consent to bear up cheerfully amid the noises of common life, but there are many who seem to believe that the air around them is theirs to fill with sounds they like, and if somebody else doesn’t like it, that’s just tough.

    It’s undeniably rude. When does it become unethical?

    P.S. My own neighbor has taken to practicing the bagpipes on his back deck between 9 and 10 pm every day. There’s only so much skirling one can stand . . . .

    • I’d say it becomes unethical almost immediately, as soon as the intrusion becomes objectively obnoxious and unwelcome. A constantly barking dog allowed to disturb the neighborhood is, as you suggest, no different from the blaring speakers and the high-beams in the window.

  2. It is not the same thing. I have seen dog shake uncontrolably when this thing is used. Obviously the dog is in pain. A dog’s hearing is very sensitive and a high pitch sound can damage if used too frequently. An animal cannot speak but you can speak to your neighbor or call the local authorities to speak to them for you. It is unethical to do anything to someone’s elses family or property without their consent. People think they can do anything they want when they don’t have to account for their actions. They’re nothing but lame cowards.

    • I’m with you, Annie. The whole device gives me the creeps, frankly. If I can’t hear it, I can’t tell how it affects the dog. And anyone that dared to use such a device on my Jack Russell, Rugby, would be risking getting bitten—by ME.

  3. The gadget I want is one that will listen for the neighbors dog, and then replay that bark in a narrow laser-beam-like soundwave right at the neighbors bedroom window. Hey, if the house is on fire or something else is wrong I’ll be doing them a service by helping their loyal family canine wake everyone up. If the bark means something silly and intrusive to everyone else nearby, then the dog’s family deserves to be disturbed. Either way, it’s not the barking DOG that’s at fault, its their owner and the owner is the one upon whom consequences should fall.

  4. My county does not have a barking ordinance so police will not do a thing, they start @630am and bark at every walker,children, everything that moves. I asked her to more them to the backyard she told me to go and f myself, so will I use this,yes or strong,if I need to,don’t want to, hate it, but there is no other way.

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