The time of day approaches and your canine companion grows restless, agitated. It’s like they know: something wicked this way comes.
They’re scratching at the door, or pacing at the fence, awaiting an inevitable intruder. When the aggressor appears—pulling foreign objects from that ominous bag—your dog goes ballistic, barking and growling until the enemy strategically retreats.
Why do some dogs hate the mailman so much? What causes that aggressive behavior directed at your friendly neighborhood postal worker? (Hint: it’s not their uniforms!) We’ve rounded up the top three reasons, plus helpful tips to help your dog learn to love the mail carrier.
Why Do Dogs Bark at Postal Workers?
1. Territorial behavior
The postal worker isn’t just a foreign creature—they’re encroaching on your dog’s territory.
Your home is your dog’s home, and natural defense instincts kick in.
“Dogs are protective in nature and may view our letter carriers handing mail to their owner as a threat,” said the United States Postal Service’s Safety Director Linda DeCarlo, in a statement about the problem.
2. Stranger danger
Your dog might not understand that the postal worker—or UPS, or FedEx delivery person—is harmless, and her barking at one can be a sign of stress.
Even if it’s the same carrier day in and day out, this person has none of the validation that other visitors get upon entering and interacting in the home—like the friends you welcome in, or the even the cable guy who comes by to troubleshoot a problem with your TV. The postal worker remains an enigma, and is an eternal stranger, and your dog might be confused or stressed about their daily visits.
3. Reinforced behavior
Barking or no barking, your dog doesn’t know that the mail carrier was going to leave. Instead, your dog thinks their threatening strategy helps to scare off the invader, applies it every time with vigor, and it works.
If Your Dog Is Going Postal, Here Are a Few Ideas to Help
If you can be home and present when the mail is delivered, you can help establish the carrier as a friendly presence.
This might mean going out and greeting them, and letting your dog know you don’t perceive them as a threat. If you can foster the notion that they’re a daily visitor versus an invader, it may dial down the defensive posturing. (Don’t forget to reward your dog’s good behavior with a treat!)
2. General socialization
The postal worker might be the tip of the anxiety iceberg, so acclimating your dog to the idea of strangers will make things better all around.
Left unchecked, the postal problem could extend to other strangers, at home or on a walk. Socialization, and finding ways to let your dog interact with a variety of people—men, women, different shapes and sizes, in various settings—may help.
The best way to turn around your dog’s view of the postal worker? Train your pet not to bark at the mailman with positive reinforcement training.
You can find a training class lead by a professional dog trainer who can help, or you can try to work with your dog yourself with the help of one of these highly-recommended dog training books.
Who knows? It’s possible that by spending time with your dog to reinforce positive behavior, that both your pup and your postal worker may wind up looking forward to seeing each other!