Dogs are naturally protective. They see visitors as one of two things: friends or intruders. From a dog’s point of view, a postal worker/mailman who comes most days carrying packages with strange smells, and who is not introduced, is a trespasser! Their instinct kicks in and they start barking to eliminate the ‘threat’. Once the postal worker leaves, your dog feels relieved and like they have accomplished their task. This reinforces their behavior and they continue to repeat it.
Sometimes, a dog’s behavior toward those he feels are trespassing gets worse. Leading to growling at and even chasing postal workers. This is because the ‘threat’ that your dog thought he eliminated, keeps returning. Your dog starts growling, chasing, showing his teeth, to try harder to get the postal worker to stay away! This is such a common issue that some postal service employees attend seminars on safety around dogs. In 2016, the U.S Postal Services reported that 6,755 employees were bitten by dogs on the job. So, how do we fix this issue?
If you’re a new pet owner, the answer is simple(r). Make sure to socialize your puppy with new people. When you have company, reward your puppy for good behavior with a treat. Teach your pup that postal workers aren’t bad guys! You can introduce your puppy to your mailman at an early age, and even leave a treat in your mailbox every day and ask the mailman to give it to your pup. They will become friends!
If your dog has learned to bark at the mailman, can he unlearn that behavior? It will take some extra work, but this behavior can be controlled. Here are some tips from the non-profit organization, MSPCA-Angell:
- If your dog barks at intruders, like the mailman, delivery people, or neighbors walking by his property, his barking probably stems from territorial behavior. Alarm barking is a natural behavior that can’t be completely eliminated, but can be controlled.
- To deal with this type of barking you will need to teach your dog a “quiet” command. Set up scenarios whereby someone walks past your house and triggers your dog to bark. After 3-4 barks, show your dog a really special treat (hot dogs, chicken, or cheese). When he stops barking to retrieve the treat, say “quiet” and give him the treat.
- Repeat this until you have paired the word “quiet” with his silence a dozen or so times. Then try to use your quiet command to stop his barking without showing him the treat. If he learned the command, he will stop barking, and you can go ahead and give him the treat as a reward.
- After the 3-4 barks, say “quiet” and then blow a whistle, shake a penny can (empty soda can with some pennies inside), or squirt him in the face with a water gun. The idea is to startle him into being quiet. Once he stops barking, say “good boy” and give him a treat.
- When your dog barks at the mailman. He thinks he is doing his job of protecting his home because when he barks the intruder leaves. If this is the case, you must condition a new behavior when the mailman comes to the door.
- Set up scenarios whereby a friend “plays” the mailman and comes to your door and rattles the mailbox. Every time he comes to the door, have your dog sit quietly for a treat. A key component to this training is that the fake mailman should not leave until the dog is quiet. This way the barking is no longer “working” to drive off the intruder.
It’s not as hard as it sounds, and with some work and patience, your dog and your mailman can become the best of friends!