Etiquette expert Catherine Newman advises a reader on how to ask her neighbors to keep their dogs out of her yard.

Rita Maas

Q. All our neighbors have dogs, which they allow to wander freely. These pets often end up in my backyard, where they leave me “surprises.” I am forced to dispose of the waste, which seems unfair, since I don’t have a dog. How can I ask my neighbors to keep their animals off my property without souring relations? 

Amy Sandberg

Troy, Missouri

A. That stinks in more ways than one. Yes, if you don’t own a dog, you shouldn’t have to wield a pooper-scooper.

In some towns where dogs are forbidden from going off-leash, these neighbors wouldn’t just be thoughtless—they would also be breaking the law. But of course you want to keep your neighborly relations neighborly, so it’s best not to get the local animal-control authorities involved if you can avoid it.

Rather than assigning blame, approach these remiss pet owners in the spirit of information-sharing. Drop by next door and say, “I love your pups, but they have been leaving their poop on my lawn. Please, could you keep them out of my yard?”

You can also convey this message in an e-mail, but be extra careful to sound polite, since the tone of e-mails can be misinterpreted. If this doesn’t work, bring up the issue again, more forcefully. And if the dogs are still invading your space? Well, then you may need to contact your local animal-control department to learn what your options are. Despite the old saying, it’s considerate people, not fences, who make the best neighbors. Fingers crossed that you have the former so you won’t need the latter.

Catherine Newman