barking at postman

POSTMAN PROBLEMS

HELP! MY DOG BARKS AT THE POSTMAN!

Barking at the postman is one of the most common behaviour ‘problems’ we’re asked about. So why is the Postie such a problem and what can you do about it?

(I’m going to use ‘Postman/Postmen’ throughout to make for easier reading, but please accept I’m writing about all postal and parcel delivery people).

 

THE PROBLEM WITH POSTMEN…

Most dogs are at least a little bit protective, especially of their homes. We’ve bred them for this trait since the dawn of domestication. Guarding the den is a juvenile wolf behaviour, and domestic dogs share many of their behaviours with juvenile wolves…including guarding. Many dog breeds have been specifically bred to enhance the guarding tendency… both obvious ‘guard dog’ breeds like German Shepherds and Rottweilers, but also the livestock guarding breeds like Maremmas, Dalmatians which guarded carriages, and small breeds like Shih Tzus which, according to the breed lore, guarded temples.

Dogs can learn to be calm when visitors come. With patience it is possible to train them to run to their bed when the doorbell goes, and wait for you to invite the guest in. But often this approach fails with the Postie…why?

Think like a dog for a minute. The Postie usually comes when the owner is out. The Postie approaches the door…and rattles the letterbox. Is he trying to get in? The dog feels that his territory is under threat, and the human isn’t here to deal with it…so… the dog runs to the door barking. The Postie turns and leaves. RESULT! The dog has got rid of the ‘threat’ and feels very relieved. Relief feels very good and makes it more likely that the next time the threatening Postie approaches the door the dog will go through his run and bark routine.

WE known that Postmen approach out front door, put the letters in the postbox, and then leave no matter what the ‘guard dog’ does…but the dog doesn’t.

Barking dogs can be a nuisance to neighbours, and there have been cases of Postmen’s fingers being bitten through the letter box so the Postman Problem needs to be solved…

THE SOLUTION TO THE POSTMAN PROBLEM…

In theory we can treat the Postie like any other visitor…asking the dog to go to bed, and giving a high value reward there. Over time the approach of the Postie should become a trigger for going to bed. But…you will need a Postie with some spare time, or friends willing to be pretend Postmen until the new behaviour is learned. This training often falls apart because the owner isn’t around enough to reward for the correct behaviour.

My usual recommendation then is to avoid the problem! If it is possible to leave the dog in a room where he can’t see or hear people approaching the door this can be enough to solve the problem. Where that isn’t practical a letter box on the wall (out of sight of the dog) or at the end of the drive offers a cheap and easy solution.