Originally Publish in the November 15th, 2010 In The Field Magazine
Why Dogs Hate the Mailman...
By Johnny Cone
Have you ever noticed that many dogs do not like Mail Carriers very much? At times it goes even farther than that, to include parcel delivery drivers, garbage collectors, meter readers and just about anyone that enters your property briefly and leaves quickly. The reason dogs do not like mail carriers and others with similar habits is that people in these professions inadvertently teach dogs not to like them. Dogs are instinctively pack driven, territorial predators. They feel it is their duty to warn strangers off of their turf and defend their territory if necessary. What we see and what the dog sees are two completely different things. We see the mail carrier approach our mailbox, drop our mail, and then move on down the street. Our dogs see a stranger approaching the edge of his turf. So the dog gives a warning to the intruder in the form of barks and growls. The dog then sees the intruder immediately leave after his warning. In the dog’s mind he just successfully drove away an intruder.
This behavior is repeated every day. The garbage collectors come by, the dog barks and they leave. The meter reader comes by, the dog barks and they leave. The mail carrier comes by, the dog barks and they leave. It does not matter that the barking dog has nothing to do with these people vacating the area. The dog sees it that way. Over time he becomes bolder and bolder. Some dogs become obsessive over it. Remaining is a constant semi agitated state, ever vigilant for the evil intruders. This can cause multiple issues. The dog’s mind will become so focused on guarding against “intruders”, they lose focus on everything else. They begin ignoring commands they once obeyed. The guarding behavior the dog is displaying towards “intruders” may expand into other guarding behaviors. It even progress to guarding household objects and space against family members. And of course it is likely that once this behavior develops should the dog ever gain access to the mail carrier or other visitor they will bite them.
While the thought of owning a dog that warns off strangers may sound appealing, allowing the behavior to go too far can have serious consequences. Most people would not like to see their dog injure someone. There is also the potential of civil suit and losing your dog. Territorial behaviors can easily be brought under control through proper socialization. It is best to begin socialization as puppies but no dog is too old to be socialized. With puppies, I like to begin socialization once the course of puppy vaccinations are complete. This will ensure the puppy is well protected from diseases such as parvo, distemper, and the like. I like to use a socialization process I call One Hundred, One Hundred, in One Hundred. (100/100 in 100) The way this process works is simple. You introduce the dog to one hundred different people and one hundred different experiences in one hundred days.
It is best to introduce the dog to as wide a variety of people as possible. Tall, short, old, young, people with glasses, people wearing hats, coats, etc. You want this introduction to be as friendly and as casual as possible. If the dog is shy or submissive, do not force the issue. Instead encourage the dog to approach the strangers. Handing the stranger a treat is a good way to encourage a quiet natured dog to approach strangers. The dog will come to enjoy meeting strangers and look forward to greeting them rather than driving them away. Exposing the dog to new experiences will help the dog remain calm in new situations. Riding in various vehicles, walking on different types of surfaces, going in and out of different types of buildings, are all good experiences. And do not forget stairs. The worst time to realize that your dog has a fear of stairs is when you need to walk up a long flight of stairs with a large dog. This can be very frustrating and potentially dangerous. So work on short flights of stairs and work up from there. Something to add to this is to go to vets office just for a visit. Of course you want to check with your vet first. But if you explain what you are working on, most Vets probably will not mind. Just walk into the waiting room with the dog. Having some treats for the staff to give the dog also helps. Doing this will make visits for checkup and vaccinations much more pleasant.
With a little time and work, we can help our “guardians welcome meeting friends and strangers alike. Our dogs will be friendly, social and eager to meet new people. This greatly reduces the chance of having an unfortunate bite incident. It also makes taking your dog out in public a relaxing stress free event for you, the dog and folks you may meet in your travels.