When Your Dog Wants to Eat the Mail Carrier

Liz Palika
Dogs and Postal WorkersKeep your dog and your mail carrier safe - take precautions.

The photographs on the television news a few days ago were graphic and horrid. A mail carrier in San Diego had been delivering mail last year in a residential neighborhood when a dog got through a gate. The dog jumped for the mail carrier’s neck and face; injuring the man severely. Even now, a year later, the scars on his face and neck are horrible. He still needs medical care before his broken and missing teeth can be replaced. The mail carrier admits the mental anguish is bad, too.

The United States Postal Service statistics for 2012 showed that 5,879 mail carriers were bit by dogs. UPS, FedEx, and other delivery services face the same issues. A driver shows up at the door to make a delivery and is met by an angry dog. It’s a problem that is both growing and serious.

Explanations are Many

Many dog owners explain bad behavior toward mail carriers or delivery drivers by saying the dog hates uniforms. However, in reality, dogs rarely pay attention to what people wear. Hats and sunglasses can sometimes cause problems because they get in the way of communication. But other items of wear usually don’t bother dogs unless the dog has been treated badly by a person wearing the same clothes.

Other dog owners have told me their dogs hate delivery drivers because of the sound of the truck, or because the mail carrier is walking around the neighborhood, or because the delivery driver rings the doorbell. Others have said the dogs are suspicious of boxes being left at the front door.

All of these could have some impact on canine behavior, but the plain and simple reason why so many dogs dislike the mail carrier or delivery driver is because this is a battle that occurs every day that the dog can win. Look at this from the dog’s point of view. He’s at home where life is calm, quiet and secure. He’s in his territory. Then the mail carrier or delivery driver comes to the door, drops something through the slot, or rings the bell and delivers a box. The dog barks ferociously and the mail carrier or delivery driver leaves.

In the dog’s mind, his barking and defense of his home is what has caused the trespasser to leave. He has won again.

Managing the Situation

Dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them and this one is a biggie. When your dog barks ferociously at the mail carrier, his body reacts by producing hormones and other chemicals to combat this stress. When the mail carrier leaves and your dog “wins” the daily battle, he’s on a mental and physical high. This guarantees he’s going to do it again whenever the mail carrier approaches your house.

Counteracting this is tough. Many experts recommend giving the mail carrier or delivery driver a box of dog treats and asking them to give your dog a treat every time they come to the house. I’ve recommended this, too, depending on the dog and how ferociously he tries to defend his house and chase off the intruder. Sometimes it works.

Other recommendations have included praising the dog for being quiet, distracting the dog, and redirecting his attention to you when someone comes to the house. For example, if you teach the dog to come find you when someone comes to the house, this can change his focus from the delivery person to you. This is tough to train though, unless you begin teaching it when the dog is a puppy. Even then, unfortunately, the excitement most dogs have for chasing off the potential intruder tends to override training.

The best recommendation to keep mail carriers, delivery people, and your dog safe is to simply practice safety. Keep doors closed (and locked if needed), keep gates locked, and the dog securely confined when mail carriers are due and deliveries expected. Make sure your fence is safe and secure and check it often for any weaknesses. If your dog has jumped through a screen, a window or a door, keep him in another room.

Professional Help

Training and behavior modification can sometimes alleviate some of the ferociousness of those dogs who are focused on mail carriers and delivery drivers. If your dog’s reactions are such that you are really worried, call a professional trainer or behaviorist for help. He or she can also take a look at your house and yard and make some safety recommendations.

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