The mailman has long been portrayed as the arch nemesis of the dog. Countless movies, cartoons, and jokes have revolved around the image of a ferocious pet dangling off the leg of a hapless postal worker. Is there any truth to this portrayal? Perhaps there might be. So, “Why do dogs love to hate the mailman?”
Dogs are notoriously territorial. Even the most passive pooch will pay attention to anyone that it thinks is an intruder. Dogs are instinctively suspicious of anyone that is not part of their pack. Even someone as seemingly innocent as the mailman can appear as a potential threat to a dog.
Body language is a tool dogs use to communicate. It is important to understand how dogs think. When your mailman, UPS driver or any other delivery driver approaches your home, they walk towards your house facing it with the front of their body. Your dog is inside the house observing this approach. Facing a dog with the front of your body is dominant body language to a dog.
The mailman comes to the door to deliver a package and instinctively your dog barks. Next, the delivery person leaves the item, turns around, and walks away from your house. Walking away with your back facing a dog is submissive body language in a dog’s mind. Your dog originally barked because someone was approaching your house. You dog now believes that his courageous barking scared the person away. When this occurs on a regular basis, several more things may evolve. Your dog will gain more confidence and his bark also may become deeper and sound more menacing.
The mailman who notices your dog’s threatening bark may unknowingly show additional body language that reveals discomfort or fear. Your dog will feed off of this and now a pattern or “learned behavior” has been established. Without any intervention from you the owner, this pattern will continue until there might be an actual problem between your dog and the mailman.
Another issue to remember is that dogs are very intelligent. Many dogs make the connection that when a person in uniform approaches your house the same thing occurs. The person in uniform approaches, your dog barks, and the uniformed person goes away. This is why the problem can escalate to include anyone in a uniform.
It is far less common for a dog to actually take it to the next level and aggressively pursue the mailman. Although it is not unheard of for a dog to bite a postal worker, the number of dogs that do not attack the letter carrier is much greater than the number of dogs that do. Relatively small as that number may be, this possibility has instilled a certain fear of dogs in your average mailman. If your dog is truly just barking with happy excitement, do not be offended if the mailman does not return the enthusiasm.
If your dog is the type that might legitimately attack a mailman that is on your property, then it is your responsibility as the dog owner to take the necessary precautions to keep your mailman safe. The first thing that you should consider doing is posting a warning somewhere visible that you have an aggressive dog. This will give the mailman or any other delivery person that needs to approach your door, adequate warning that your dog is not likely to appreciate their company. Additionally, you should make sure that your dog does not have access to the part of your home that the mailman would approach at the time that he typically delivers your mail.
There are severe penalties for owners who have dogs that attack the mailman. The dog owner can be fined, they may have delivery of their mail suspended and in extreme cases, they may also have to put their animal down. Nobody wants to have such radical measures taken against themselves or their pet, so the best bet is to protect your dog and the mailman from one another.
If your dog is beginning to take issue with your mailman or already has an issue, implement some obedience training to correct the barking. If you are confident that your animal would never do harm to your mailman or anyone else, it is a good idea to take the opportunity to socialize and introduce your pet to your mailman.
Smart letter carriers and delivery people are usually happy to make friends with dogs on their regular route. Do this in a controlled environment, do it outside of the house away from the door or entry area, always have your dog on a leash, and ask the delivery person’s permission before doing it so there are no unexpected surprises. If your mailman resists a “meet and greet” respect their wishes. There is no reason why your dog and the mailman cannot be friends, or at least co-exist, instead of being arch enemies. The choice rests with you.