The image of a postman running out of a garden gate with a dog hanging on to the seat of his pants has been the inspiration for many cartoons and jokes over the years. However, in the cold light of day being confronted by an aggressive looking dog is not a joke and causes huge distress to the postman, the dog’s owner and to the dog itself. With higher density housing, more dogs and more deliveries this continues to be a serious problem and needs to be addressed.
So what is it with deliverymen and dogs and what can we do to reduce the risks?
Deliverymen through a dogs ears, eyes and nose.
Dogs will usually bark at strangers who sound, look, and smell unfamiliar coming to their home and this is normal dog behaviour. They may see the intruder as a threat, warn others of their approach and may try and physically get rid of them. It is often what owners expect as it helps to safeguard their family and property. However, unless a dog has already learned to trust someone he or she will not be able to tell the difference between a deliveryman and someone more sinister. Therefore, it is important that we teach our dogs that deliverymen are actually really nice and good things happen when they arrive.
Shouting at your dog or use punishing techniques will only serve to increase the negative emotions your dog may be feeling and may intensify aggressive behaviour.
Changing your dogs mind about deliverymen.
As they arrive (listen out for the van or the crunch on the driveway) and before your dog reacts say something like “post” and throw some really tasty treats or a favourite toy onto the floor. Then leave the dog and collect your mail before the postman has time to reach the letterbox. If your dog is barking as you come in don’t react and stay calm.
Gradually using small steps allow the postman to get nearer and nearer to the house and continue to throw treats or the toy onto the floor.
At the same time begin to work with your dog’s reaction to the noise of the letterbox. Begin by gently touching the letterbox and throwing some treats or a favourite toy in the opposite direction. Repeat this a few times daily until your dog begins to expect a reward every time you touch the letterbox. You can now add the word “post” as you throw the treats or the toy. The next stage is to open the letterbox and shut it quietly and then throw the treats or the toy as you say “post”. Once your dog is expecting a reward as you open the letterbox you can begin to make a slightly louder sound and once your dog is happy at this stage make a slightly louder one and so on and so forth. Eventually the noise of the letterbox will indicate that something fun will appear at a certain place. This helps your dog to associate the noise of the letterbox with a really positive experience and when you say “post” great things happen. If at any stage your dog reacts to the letterbox by barking then go back a few stages.
It is now time to post some letters so ask someone to stand at the other side of the door and post a very small letter as you play the “post” game on the other side. Gradually over days and weeks the letters can get bigger and you can add more of them. Then if your dog is calm allow your postman to actually post the letters.
Once your dog is now more relaxed around the noise of the van, the crunching on the driveway and the letters coming through the post-box you can meet and greet the postman. Take your dog for a short walk along the road as your postman arrives and walk back in together and offer a few tasty treats to your dog as you are doing this whilst your dog is calm. Repeat this a few times and if your dog is relaxed with this (nice open mouth and lollopy tongue rather than closed mouth, lip licking, head turned away, shaking, panting, ears flat, body posture stiff or growling) then you can ask your postman to throw a few treats onto the ground and eventually he or she will be able to offer one.
Once your dog has stopped responding to the letters arriving and has begun to look for treats or a toy you can now reduce the amount of treats given or begin to use a handful of their own food instead. And then after a few more days you can reduce the times you give the treats to every other day and after a few weeks to just a few times weekly.
Now you are already thinking blimey that’s going to take a long time and yes it does and this is why the promise of a quick fix, which often makes the situation much worse in the long run, is so tempting. But there is another short-term solution and whilst it won’t change your dog’s mind about how it is feeling towards unfamiliar folk coming up to your house it may give you more time to work on the issues and reduce the risk for your deliveryman and that is:
- Put up an outside letter box
- Make sure you have clear notices NOT to enter as you have a dog.
Make sure your dog is NOT allowed free unsupervised access to yards and gardens.
Talk to your postman and delivery companies and explain that you have a dog and where to safely put the parcels when you are not in.
- Make sure your dog is placed into a secure room with something nice to do if you have to open the door to sign for a parcel.
Keep calm and don’t get cross. I know it’s a really human response to want to shout ”SHUT UP” but ask yourself does it work, does shouting stop your dog from barking the next time and the answer will be “No”.
- If you feel you need more help with your dog and how it is feeling towards unfamiliar people coming to your house then seek advice from a qualified dog behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) or a clinical behaviourist (CCAB) via referral from your vet.
Tips for deliverymen:
- Learn as much as you can about dog body language and how to respond: A good place to start is to take a look at some of the links approved here: http://www.apbc.org.uk/info/dog_safety_information
- Keep a bag of different doggy treats with you and throw them onto the floor rather than approaching the dog directly.
- Do not stare or speak directly at the dog or try to approach.
- Talk to the owner about how they can help you and their dog feel safe.
- Ask the company you work for to gather more information regarding dog ownership in the homes you are delivering to. Perhaps a signed agreement that the owners make sure you are kept safe would be a useful strategy.
- There are many professional dog behavioural organisations such as the http://www.apbc.org.uk/ where individuals may be willing to offer guidance on dog behaviour that could be included within risk assessment courses.
Meanwhile, keep safe and let’s get on with changing our dog’s minds about how they view deliverymen so no more ripped backsides.