By Robert Forto
The other day I was at a clients home doing a behavioral modification session for a dog that “barks, jumps, and lunges” at the door, particularly at the mailman and the pizza guy. About fifteen minutes into the session guess who shows up, our boys in blue. No, not the cops but the local mail carrier. It was a sight that I have never seen in my entire life and I will do my best to describe it here.
The door bell rings and the owner answers the door. It is a mailman with a couple of packages and a bundle of mail. The dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, greets the mailman with his tail wagging. The mailman freaks out and starts dancing with the dog with the packages out in front of him like a shield. The mailman proceeds to drop the mail bundle and the packages and literally runs, well it was a fast walk really, away.
There was no biting, lunging, barking or even sniffing. The dog was just curious at who was at the door. I can understand the mailman’s apprehension of course, but this dramatic display was off the charts! I just wish I was fast enough to have my iPhone camera on and recording so I could post it to YouTube, but as you know we are never fast enough to capture these moments on film.
I can also remember when I was a kid our local mailman would carry a three huge cans of, I guess it was Mace, on his bag and one at the ready, and he would spray every dog that came within twenty feet of him. This guy looked like Clint Eastwood in a Western movie and the Quick-Draw McGraw was a sight to see for a 6-year old with his cap gun on his waste, like me.
I am not making light of this situation. On the contrary, there is full justification for mailmen, or are they mail-persons in this politically correct world?, to be apprehensive and as I note below, legal authority:
The United States Postal Service, whose mail carriers are plagued by dog bites, is fighting back. Its dog-bite awareness program, aimed at getting owners to keep their pets from bothering mail carriers, has reduced bites to about 3,000 a year. The Postal Service also encourages its carries to sue if they are bitten.
Source: Every Dog’s Legal Guide, Mary Randolph, JD, Nolo Press (2007)
I am writing this article today for the dog owners out there to give them a few tips on how to deal with the mailman and your dog.
- Teach your dog sit and to accept a friendly stranger at all times. The AKC Canine Good Citizen Test is a great training routine for this exercise;
- Your dog thinks it is a game when the mailman comes to the door and look at it this way: the big scary mailman comes to the door and makes a lot of noise, your dog barks and the mailman walks away. This is self-reinforcing to the dog. He barked and the mailman walked away. Train your dog not to bark at strangers at the door but rather to accept them by sitting politely for petting. Now, getting your mailman to pet your dog is a different story;
- Hey if all else fails, put your mailbox on the street instead of the porch, or better yet get a P.O. Box at your local Post Office. (My tongue firmly in cheek of course…)
If you do need help in this training regimen I would suggest contacting a canine trainer or behaviorist and they will develop a training routine based on counter conditioning and desensitization. If you have questions please feel free to give us a call anytime at 907-841-1603.
Robert Forto is the training director for Alaska Dog Works and the host of a weekly radio program, Dog Works Radio.