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Sentinel Mode

Dogs aren’t hard-wired to hate the mailperson

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Every single day (except Sunday), an inevitable intruder sets foot in my yard, reaches into a satchel and pulls out small stacks of paper, prompting me to take immediate action. My undeniable bravery and courageous bark chases him away every time—only to come back the next day. And so begins the cycle anew.

Though you humans may be giddy with excitement when the mailperson arrives, your dogs are less enthusiastic and will certainly let you know with a bark or two—or five.

What is it about the postal delivery service personnel that drives dogs crazy?

If you want to dig to the root of the behavior, you must think like a dog. We are wired to be protective and instinctively suspicious of anyone who is not part of our pack. Anybody showing up at our doorstep is a potential threat, whether it’s the mailperson, a UPS driver or your favorite pizza delivery buddy. To protect ourselves and our families, we confront these perceived intruders with loud barking, growling, even snarling—a type of biological burglar alarm—to drive them out of our territory.

And it works! Every day, your dog’s space is threatened by the mailperson, leading Fido to let loose in an effort to shoo away the menace. The mailperson eventually leaves because they’re finished delivering the mail—that’s the job description: deliver mail, move on, repeat. For Fido, however, it’s another notch in the old collar. Your dog can rest easy for another 24 hours. Shooing away that person was a job well done, and that’s a great feeling!

Every instance of reward makes a behavior more likely to be repeated. And while we tend to think of rewards as treats, toys and affection, one reinforcer we don’t consider is when something threatening is removed from a situation. In this case, the barking behavior is rewarded, or reinforced, every time the trespasser leaves, so your dog continues to save the family home every day at mail time.

It can be useful to have a dog announce the arrival of a guest. However, having a dog go ballistic and act aggressively is neither safe nor pleasant.

If your dog is going postal, there are some simple steps you can take to make your pooch better adjusted to deal with strangers arriving at the door.

If you can be home when the mail is delivered, you can help establish the carrier as a friendly presence. Finding ways to let your dog interact with a variety of people—men and women of different shapes and sizes—may also help. But the best way to turn around your dog’s view of the postal worker is a treat exchange. If possible, slip your mailman some of your buddy’s favorite treats, and let them turn your defensive dog’s frown upside down.

With training, your dog can be taught to control or limit barking. Who knows? Dog and postal worker alike may wind up looking forward to their next encounter!

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Davi the Dachshund knows how to strike the right balance between warm and fuzzy, and fearless defender of home and hearth.

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