Attacking the Mailman

It’s a common cliché: the mailman arrives every morning and Rover starts viciously barking, snarling and bunging at the gate. The cliché is so common that mail men have started attending seminars on how to deal with the issue, and began carrying products to keep dogs away, though the use of these products seem to make the aggression worse. But what triggers this reaction in dogs and why do so many dogs (even the seemingly friendly breeds) seem to hate the mailman?

The anger is often not strictly reserved to the mailman… The Fedex and UPS guys are affected as well, and so are plumbers, gardeners, pizza delivery guys and many other employees who routinely visit your home. What do all these people have in common? And most of all, what can be done to reduce this behavior? Let’s start by taking a look at why dogs don’t like these people to start with.

  The sight of the USPS van is enough to send some dogs into a frenzy.  

Five Reasons Why Dogs Hate the Mailman

Insider story: We live in an era where dogs can be a big liability, and a dog bite can easily cost your home, the life of your dog and your reputation. My two big Rottweilers weighing over 90 pounds are very fond of our mailman and have even licked and greeted my landlord who one day just popped into our property out of nowhere, climbed over the fence and started painting our home! Things could have gone really, really bad if I didn’t train my dogs to accept the mailman and visitors coming to the home. But shhhh.. Don’t tell anyone! While my dogs are two big love babies, their size and black and tan suit is only a deterrent; we have an ADT home security system to take care of the rest!

Issue 1: Trespassing Territory

For starters, from a dog’s perspective, mail men, pizza guys and plumbers are all people trespassing property. Many dogs (especially certain breeds) have a predisposition for passively alert barking or engaging in actively protecting territory. While the dog may appear for the most part angry, there may be a base of fear. This tendency possibly dates back to a dog’s past in the wild when the dog’s ancestors formed packs and perceiv’ed any invaders as a threat to their resources. They had to protect the pack’s resources such as food, sexual mates ana newDom pups from invading animals. Urine marking was one way to mark the area with a sniffable “do not trespass sign”. Trespassers who ignored the scent markings, were alerted to back off through barks, and then if this did not work, a more active form of aggression took place, leading to an attack.

When dogs were domesticated, the dog’s protective nature was further appreciated. These dogs alerted people in villages about dangers such as predator animals or enemies. Nowadays, many dogs are still appreciated for their alarm barks. Yet, a more active role is often frowned upon due to its potential for liability.

Note: Never try to train a dog to become a guardian dog on your own; the issue may backfire fhe day you are hurt in your home and paramedics cannot access your home without facing Cujo. Rather, accept a few alert barks, thank your dog and then take over. Let your dog know that it’s not his responsibility to decide who enters or exits your property, the decision is yours.

Issue 2: Mailmen Keep Coming Back!

The whole barking behavior is highly reinforcing for the dog. If every time Rover barks, the mailman leaves (most do sooner or later) he gets relief. Put yourself in Rover’s shoes: let’s say you don’t like cats around your property, so every time you see one coming, you make a hissing sound. Most fike)y, since the cat leaves, you’ll feel compelled to repeat the hissing sound. But what happens that day you deal with a bolder

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6/17/2020                                                                                   Attacking the Mailman | Brain Training for Oogs

cat that cares less about your hissing sound? Most likely, you’ll try something else, you’ll hiss and stomp your feet loudly as you move in the cat’s direction. Tada! So, now, you’ll hiss and stomp next time.

So don’t expect the initial barking to just stop there! Since the mailman keeps coming back day after day, don*t feel surprised if Rover starts thinking: what part of my barking you don’t understand? I’m telling you to go away. Ok, let me start showing my teeth too and see if it works!

Issue 3: Release oT Addicting Chemicals

You may not be aware of this, but fear or anger in your dog causes the release of several chemicals in the dog*s brain. The whole experience can be highly reinforcing and even physiologically addictive. Fear is known for producing adrenal›n, whereas, anger causes the secretion of adrenalin and another hormone known as noradrenalin, explains James O’ Heare in his book “The Canine Aggression Workbook.” This chemical bath can be quite addicting, which is also a contributing factor to why you see aggressive behaviors repeat over and over.

Issue 4: The Behavior Becomes Habitual

What happens when the dogs get to rehearse this behavior over and over? It becomes a habit. Dogs are habitual creatures and they engage in behaviors that work. If you combine the three issues mentioned above together, you’ll understand why the behavior of barking at the mailman becomes almost reflexive. Your dog doesn’t seem to think twice about it; just the sight or the voice of the mai1 carrier is enough to send him into a frenzy.

Issue 5: The Behavior Generali2es

Dogs can generalize fear and aggression quite easily. Your dog starts barking at the maiiman, then as days go by, your dog starts barking at the sound of the truck honking, and then he’ll bark at the mere sound of the truck approaching your property. Soon you’ll have a dog that not only barks at the mailman, but also barks to all the cues suggestine his arrival. As we discussed before, he may also decide one day to generalize further and bark even at the plumber, the gardener and the firefighters coming to save your cat from the tree. Just as a tiny spark can create a big fire, your dog*s behavior can really get out of hand. So Iet*s take a look at how to tackle this issue.

How to  Train Your Dog to Accept the Mailman

As you can see, postal workers have thelr own very good reasons for being concerned when they come by your house. If Rover turns into Cujo the moment you’ve got mail, these tips may be quite helpful.

Start Early

You can’t start early enough for this type of training. Place a nice cookie into your mail box and tell your mailman to deliver it to your dog every morning. This will create positive associations towards the mailman. This way, your pup will grow to love him and will be eager to see him each day!

Prevent Rehearsai of Behavior

If you missed the boat, and failed to make your mailman the perfect representation of a friendly man, then you have some b’e homework to do. The first step is to prevent a rehearsal of aggressive behavior. As mentioned, aggressive behavior is reinforcing, and on top of that addicting and habitual. The more your dog rehearses the behavior, the more it will grow roots. Stop letting your dog out to send the mailman away. Start keeping him in your home in the farthest room possible when you know it’s time for mail delivery.

Go Gradually and Create Positive Associations

Of course, sec!uding your dog in a room while the mailman arrives does nothing to fix the behavior, but at least it prevents your dog from https://www.braintraining4dogs.œm/members/archive/attacking-the-mailman/             

rehearsing it. This is a big start. Your next step is to then create positive associations so that your dog starts to associate anything about mail men with good things, which is explained below.

In short, you’ll first have to first find a distance from which your dog doesn’t react to the mailman’s truck noises (in dog training terms this is known as “keeping the dog under threshold“). You may have to experiment with this at first to find the best area where your dog hears the noise but doesn’t get overly excited about it. Often this may mean using the farthest room in your house.

Secondly, you*tl have to gradually and systematically work on the issue through gradual exposure (a process Mown as desensitization). This means that you will need to take baby-steps in teaching your dog to accept the presence of the mailman on your property. It’s important to slowly and incrementally introduce the mailman under controlled settings.

Third, you’ll have to change your dog’s emotions about the mailman using what’s known as classical counterconditioning. Don’t let this term intimidate you, all it means is that you create positive associations with the mailman’s arrival.

So every time your dog hears the mailman’s truck arriving you will feed treats, once the mailman drives away you will feed no more treats. With time, the mailman becomes a strong predictor of treats, just like the ice-cream truck’s music announces the arrival of your favorite sundae. Then you would move on and start feeding treats every time your dog sees the mailman from behind the window, and then finally when he sees the mailman arriving from outside (with your dog safely leashed).

Einstein’s Tip: If you catch your dog barking during these training sessions, most likely you are too close to the trigger (be it the sound of the mailman’s truck, or the sight of the mailman) and need to increase the distance.

Once those positive associations with the mailman are made, you can shift into goerant counterconditioning (differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors). This simply means that you can get your dog to perform a behavior when he spots the mailman instead of just giving him treats for seeing him. A “sit” works fine in this scenario. Basically, with time, your dog may learn to sit instead of barking the moment he spots the mailman.

This system works because from being a foe, the mailman, gardener or pizza guy becomes your dog’s best friend. Instead of feeling threatened by somebody entering the premises, your mailman becomes more welcomed, as he/she becomes a predictor of good things.

Patricia McConnell in fler book “The Cautious Canine” suggests having the pizza delivery guy come to your home and deliver a slice of pizza just for your dog. As your dog’s emotions change internally, you’ll also sem the outward manifestations of aggression gradually vanish. This means that with time, your dog will no longer feel the need to bark/growl/lunge.

While in the wild dogs acted territorial to protect resources such as food, now your maifman has become an actual source for resources!

However, make safety your top priority, don’t let your dog loose and risk potentially hurting your mailman. If you have given your dog treats every time he sees the mailman and you want to progress into having your mailman try to give them directly to your dog, it’s better to have your mailman toss a cookie safely through the fence, rather than risk being bit from direct exposure.

Einstein Says: Some dogs that appear to act out of territoriality are actually frustrated greeters. These are dogs who lack self-control and will bark because they are frustrated by the fence. If there was no fence, these dogs would run straight towards the mailman and greet him as a long lost friend. If your dog is a 1Tustrated greeter, work on establishing self-control through the Premack principle. In other words, ask your dog to “sit” before he goes towards the mailman, then once he sits, the mailman can toss him a stuffed Kong or a bone you have left in the mail box for the mailman to deliver.
Disclaimer: Please make safety your top priority. Behavior modification comes with some risks. This article is not to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is aggressive in any way, please consult with a veterinary behaviorist, a certified applied animal behaviorist, or a force-free trainer well-versed in dog behavior modification. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer and agree not to hold the author of this liable for any accidents or wrongdoing.

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