Taking a Bite Out of Biting the Mailman
When Kathleen Winn's lab mix, Licky, would see a new mail carrier in his Prairie Village, Kansas neighborhood, he would start barking.
"Each time we had a new mail carrier, I had to take him out and introduce them," says Winn. "I would tell the mail carrier, 'All you have to do is say his name, and you're his friend for life.'"
But for many dog families, the cliché of the dog chasing the mailman has more serious outcomes. More than 6,000 American postal workers were attacked by dogs in 2015, an increase from more than 5,000 the previous year. Here, we explore why dogs are so often alarmed by these benevolent daily visitors and what their families can do to curb their behavior.
What Is It With Postal Workers?
Some people incorrectly believe dogs attack postal workers because of their uniform, says Michael Schaier, a dog trainer and founder of Michael's Pack in Mineola, New York. "There are a lot of people who wear a uniform, and dogs don't always bark or become aggressive with them," he says.
Instead, Andrew Horan, a dog trainer and owner of Citizen K9 in Gainesville, Virginia, says a dog's reaction to the mail carrier begins with excitement. "When you have a mail carrier or another delivery person coming, the dog gets very excited and often wants attention from them," says Horan. "The carrier then drops off the package and leaves. The dog doesn't get any attention or play, and that excitement turns to frustration."
Another reason for the barking may simply be that the dog is doing what she is supposed to do, which is to protect her owners and territory. "It just depends on the dog," says Horan. "When a dog is viewing the mail carrier as a threat, and he or she barks and the mail carrier leaves, in the dog's mind, the barking has worked."
Regardless of why it begins, barking can turn into aggression. And that's why a little training can save you, your dog and your mail carrier a lot of grief.
How Do I Stop the Barking?
In Winn's experience, Licky just wanted to be acknowledged, and when he got attention from the mail carrier, he was happy.
Schaier says teaching the "quiet" command is the best way to teach a dog to not react to mail carriers or anyone coming to your home. He gives these tips for teaching the quiet command:
Don't yell at your dog, as this only increases barking.
Develop a hand signal for quiet. Schaier makes a talking hand signal with closed fingers and moving thumb, like a puppet.
When your dog barks uncontrollably, use something the dog wants, like Pup-Peroni® Filet Mignon & Bacon Flavors dog snacks, as an incentive. Give the hand signal with one hand, and say "quiet" while giving a treat with the other hand. When your dog starts barking again, redirect her focus by holding the treat next to her nose, this time not giving the treat right away. Hold it for 10-15 seconds. Schaier says it's important to extend the length of time each time before giving the treat or your dog will think she is getting a treat for barking.
Ask someone who is a stranger to the dog to help by coming to your home and ringing the doorbell while you practice the command inside.
Do I Need More Help?
Schaier says it is very rare to have a truly aggressive dog. However, if you see signs that your dog is aggressive with the mail carrier, experts recommend you seek professional help immediately from a trainer who works with positive reinforcement.
Those signs include:
- Biting without provocation
"Dogs need to be socialized and worked with at the earliest possible age to avoid issues," says Schaier.
Does your dog go crazy when the mail carrier comes to your house? Tell us about how you inspire your best friend to calm down in the comments section.
Photo Credit: "Watching for the mailman," by jill, jellidonut... whatever via Flickr. License info.
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