It’s a familiar tale- my dog hates the postman. With Australia Post reporting nearly one dog attack on their posties per working day last year, it’s important for dog lovers to understand the reasons for their dog’s behaviour, and to implement training and safety measures to keep posties and pooches protected.
Even the most placid of dogs can become aggressive and stressed out in some circumstances, barking (and even attacking) when the friendly neighbourhood postie makes the rounds. There are complex behavioural reasons why even the best-behaved pooch might bark or bite, so understanding is key! Aggression (or simple overexcitement) can pose a risk of accident or injury to posties and other visitors. In these situations, you could be legally liable, and consequences for your postman and your dog can be severe, so we’re going to cover why your dog barks at the mailman and what you can do to prevent attacks and accidents.
Territorial by nature
Dogs are defensive and territorial creatures by nature. They protect their home and their humans from outsiders. Your pup might view the postie as a trespasser on their territory. The natural reaction is to bark to warn you of the ‘threat’ and chase them away. Every time your dog barks at the postie (who eventually always leaves), he learns that barking is an effective scare tactic, which leads to habituation and reinforcement of the aggressive behaviour.
Your dog may seem angry, but according to canine experts there could also be a strong element of fear. If you look at it from your dog’s perspective, he’s already chased the intruder away on previous days, but he keeps coming back! This can be confusing and stressful for your dog, so there’s a risk that barking may escalate to more extreme behaviour (like biting) to vanquish the invader. Your dog may also learn to associate the sounds of the delivery van or knocks on the door with the intruder, leading your dog to be triggered by a whole range of cues.
Training and conditioning
With this in mind, it’s important to start training when your pup is still young. Behavioural experts suggest that methods such as using treats at delivery time to condition your dog to have positive feelings associated with the postie. If your postie agrees, you can even lead up to having the postie throw your pup a treat on arrival. You can try something like these.
If your dog is older and has already developed a negative pattern of behaviour, you should prevent them reinforcing their negative behaviour by keeping them as far from the postie as possible. You can try distracting them with toys and keeping the postie out of view. Even friendly dogs can be a risk if they get too enthusiastic greeting the postie at the door or mailbox. Employ behaviour training to establish good behaviour. You can try training aids such as the Spotty Training Clicker to help. Remember that consultation with a professional trainer is best. You can also chat to your postie about the best way to approach your dog to minimise risk.
Remember, it’s safety first! Try to minimise contact between your pup and the postie. Create a safe space (and limit your legal liability) by using ‘beware of dog’ stickers, repairing any damaged fencing so your dog can’t reach the postie, and positioning your mailbox somewhere safe and easily accessible. If your pup has access to the front yard that you can’t block off during delivery times, consider using a wire receptacle around your mailbox that provides safe access for your postie to reach over without your dog being able to jump up.
But what do you do if your dog ever does bite the postie?
Firstly, make sure you’re covered by insurance. Some home insurance will cover you against such incidents, but policies vary, so it’s important to check your coverage and purchase additional dog bite insurance if you need it. Liability varies from state to state, but in some cases you may be liable for thousands of dollars of fines, as well as compensation for medical costs, loss of earnings and damages. In some cases (for example, those involving restricted breeds or dogs with a history of attacks), your dog may even be in danger of seizure and euthanisation, and you may face criminal charges. Of course, this is very distressing, and laws can be complicated, so you should also seek professional legal advice.
The best option is prevention! Get started with proper behaviour training to stop aggressive and fearful behaviour. Back it up by creating as safe an environment as possible for the postie to do their job. When things go wrong it can be very stressful for all involved, so follow these tips and consult with professionals to keep your pooch and postie happy and safe.