Frequently Asked Questions: Paul, My Farm Dog Barks a Lot and the Neighbors Complain. Do I Have a Defense?
This is not a substitute for legal advice. Contact the author before reposting in any form.
I have gotten a few questions involving farm dogs here lately and thought I would take a moment to provide information here on the issues. If you have livestock, you may have a dog to scares away predators that might injure or kill the livestock. This dog may bark throughout the night, which may cause an issue for your neighbors. And although your neighbors may find this a nuisance, many Maryland counties specifically exempt dogs used on farms from county ordinances limiting dogs from being a nuisance. You should check your county code to determine if farm dogs are exempt from the nuisance limitations in your county. For those in counties without a code provision for farm dogs, the county’s right-to-farm ordinance and state’s right-to-farm law potentially provide protections.
What is a Nuisance?
The basic definition of a nuisance is any continuing action that causes an annoyance, inconveniences, discomfort, injury, or does damage to another or another’s property — for example if your neighbor holds loud parties weekly which impact use of your property (preventing you and your kids from sleeping, etc.). Nuisance is easy to define but can be, at times, hard to determine. What is a nuisance often depends on where the action is taking place. If you live in an area with a lot of evening entertainment options, the neighbor example of holding loud parties may not be a nuisance.
Farm Dogs as a Nuisance
As mentioned earlier, a farm dog could be a nuisance because the dog might be barking all hours of the day and thus preventing your neighbors from enjoying his/her property. Your county code may specifically exempt farm dogs from ordinances preventing pet owners from allowing dogs from disturbing neighbors. For example, Carroll County in § 90.09(B) explicitly limits dogs on a working farm from creating a nuisance. Many county codes do not exempt farm dogs from barking restrictions. In all cases, check with the county to make sure a farm dog is exempt and get that exemption in writing.
Right to Farm Law
Even if the county code does not provide an exemption for farm dogs, the county’s right-to-farm ordinance may provide an exemption for the farm dog. In Queen Anne’s and Howard counties, for example, a farm using generally accepted agricultural practices would not be considered a nuisance. These practices are typically defined by the University of Maryland Extension, the local soil conservation district, or the Maryland Department of Agriculture. In some cases, a farm dog watching over livestock could be considered a generally accepted agriculture practice. The majority of Maryland counties offer this defense to nuisance law in their county codes which could provide protections to a farm dog. It is important to note that the argument of a farm dog as a generally accepted agriculture practice has not been tested in a Maryland court based on a review of reported decisions.
Wise men once wrote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you’ll find you get what you need.” (Jagger and Richards, 1969). Although the law may potentially offer protection, it’s worth noting that you should consider working with your neighbors on these issues. Possible solutions could arise that prevent your farm dog from being a potential nuisance to the neighbors. Your county codes may offer legal protections, but may not keep neighbors from complaining and causing other issues. You may be able to work out a long-term solution that gets you and your neighbors what you all need for the situation.