Is Barking OK?

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole:

I know that my dogs’ voices carry over the pond, and I try to curb their barking, but if a neighbor is playing music and partying loudly enough to trigger said barking, should I worry about being inconsiderate?

Confidentially yours,

Dear Bark:

First, do not “WORRY about being inconsiderate.” That’s a cheap out. Inconsiderate people fall into four categories:

  1. Those who are, and remain, oblivious that they’re being inconsiderate;
  2. Those who upon realizing they are being inconsiderate, endeavor to change their behavior;
  3. Those who realize they are being inconsiderate, and don’t give a damn; and finally,
  4. Those who worry that they are being inconsiderate but do nothing about it.

While spiritually the No. 4s might like to align themselves with the No. 2s, functionally they are indistinguishable from the No. 3s, in that they know they’re doing something offensive but don’t change. No. 3s are generally jerks. Don’t be like No. 3. (That includes not being like No. 4.)

In an ideal world, of course, everybody would be considerate, which means you would stop your dogs from barking, and your neighbors would refrain from partying and playing loud music. (All the other neighbors would be very happy about both of these things, I’m sure.) It sounds as if you are trying to be considerate and these neighbors are not — and you’re wondering if in response to their inconsiderate behavior, you can be inconsiderate as well. The simple answer is no. Their lack of consideration does not release you from the obligation to be considerate. Their lack of consideration does not magically neutralize your inconsideration. If it did, that means that eventually, all inconsideration would cancel each other out, and Inconsiderate would become the new normal. That would be hard enough to live with in the world at large; on a small island with a supersaturated summer population, it would be unbearable.

So from a Doing, the Right Thing perspective, don’t be inconsiderate, period. Even if that neighbor doesn’t deserve your consideration, all the others do.

However: While I am a big fan of Doing the Right Thing, I’m also a big fan of the principle of cause and effect, occasionally known as the law of karma. But speaking of dogs, sometimes karma is a real “female canine.” Your situation is not tit-for-tat: Your dogs bark in response to the neighbor’s noise; the neighbors do not make noise in response to your barking dogs. (If they do, tell them to write me for help with that.) You are 100 percent responsible for curbing your dogs when the dog is barking for barking’s sake. But that’s not the case. Your neighbors are the catalyst for the barking. If it were just the two of you, I’d consider toughing it out to let them learn the law of karma, to wit:

Cause: They throw a rager.

Effect: Your dogs bark.

If they don’t want to change the cause, they have to live with the effect. To change the effect, they have to modify the cause.

If there were no other neighbors involved, I’d leave it with that, but I’m sure there are others afflicted by the dueling noises. Those others deserve consideration, from both of you, and shouldn’t be subjected to noise pollution if it’s possible to spare them. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s difficult for you to be proactive about that. You are not the cause of your neighbor’s loud partying, so you can’t really stop it; on the other hand, the neighbor is the cause of your dogs’ barking, so it’s hard for you to have control over your own role in the noise-pollution problem. The partiers have totally won the Passive-Aggressive Superpowers homecoming game, possibly without knowing they are playing (perhaps they are a No. 1, which I will remind you is those who are, and remain, oblivious that they’re being inconsiderate).

That doesn’t leave you a lot of options. If you get along with the party people generally, arrange a powwow to talk about the effect your dueling noise-delivery-systems are having on the neighborhood. Hopefully, you can have a reasonable conversation and make things better for the neighborhood overall.

If, however, the party people are oblivious or overtly hostile, or you fear a violent reaction to confronting them, try reaching out directly to your other neighbors. It’s a little lame to say, “Hi, I realize my dogs’ barking is driving you crazy, and I’m sorry, but I can’t stop it until the party people cooperate with me.” Perhaps your neighbors will have suggestions, or requests, that would allow you to maximize your considerate impulses. If you stay in isolation with your pooches just waiting for the party people to stop their partying ways, I suspect you’ll get nowhere.

That’s my take.

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse and is the author of “I, Iago.” Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to