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Dogs and Delivery Drivers

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A mixed breed dog sitting on a mat in front of a door.

It’s a rivalry as old as time—dog vs. mail carrier. Each year, over 5,300 USPS mail carriers are involved in dog attacks, and this number is even higher when you add in other delivery services such as UPS, FedEx, and Amazon. With the holidays approaching and package deliveries revving up, let’s look at why dogs dislike delivery drivers and mail carriers, and what we can do to prevent issues and injuries.

Triggers of Territorial Barking and Barrier Aggression

Before we get into the stigma between the mail carrier and your dog, let’s break down exactly what causes barrier aggression.

Does your dog absolutely lose their mind when someone knocks? Territorial barking, as it’s called, is frequently observed in dogs when someone approaches the door. It arises from a dog’s inherent, instinctual drive to protect their territory and notify their humans of potential dangers. When a dog is aware of someone approaching the door, they often interpret it as an invasion of their space. This can elicit a defensive reaction, resulting in barking.

Or what about when your dog aggressively rushes the fence as the mail carrier approaches? When a dog is reacting to something from behind a barrier, that’s considered barrier frustration or barrier aggression. The gate, fence, door, or window acts as a barrier separating the dog from the trigger to which they're reacting. That trigger could be a variety of things — a human (either someone familiar or a stranger), another dog, a passing vehicle, a particular sound, or even something flapping in the breeze. While this may seem like aggression, much of the time it is rooted in fear, overexcitement, stress, anxiety, or frustration.

Dealing with barrier aggression and the consequent behavior problems can pose a significant challenge for pet parents, causing stress and worry. It’s smart to consult with your veterinarian to diagnose any potential underlying health issues or seek guidance from a certified animal behavior professional for effective solutions.

The Threat of The Mail Carrier

Since the mail person typically doesn't establish a friendly relationship with you or your dog inside the house, your dog may perceive them as a potential threat. When they bark at the unfamiliar person approaching their territory and then observe them leaving afterwards, your dog will feel a sense of accomplishment because they’ll believe the barking worked to drive the person away. The nature of mail and package delivery, which involves a person coming onto the property or into your yard, dropping off the package, then turning and leaving once the dog has given the person a good talking to, provides the perfect scenario to reinforce this barking behavior. The pattern teaches your dog that when they bark, the intruder leaves. But what’s most frustrating to your dog is that it isn’t working long-term -- the mail carriers and random deliveries continue to happen despite all their hard work to keep them away. Unfortunately, this can lead to your dog “stepping up their game” and moving past just barking. It is important to let your dog know that you are the one to decide who can come in versus who you want to keep out, not them.

Managing Barrier Aggression

To avoid barrier aggression, it's important to take a proactive approach from an early stage in your dog's life. Socialization and introducing them to new things in a positive way are essential. Make sure to spend time with your pup, let them meet different people and animals, experience various sounds and smells, and explore different environments. Don't forget to keep them physically and mentally active to prevent boredom and restlessness. Proper training from an early age is just as crucial in managing territorial behavior. Teaching your dog basic obedience cues such as "quiet" or "stay" can help redirect their focus and reduce excessive barking.

One common and effective practice to help heal the relationship between your dog and delivery driver is to give your pup a "job" when the delivery person comes to the door. Some people train their dogs to grab a toy and go to another room when someone delivers a package. It’s also helpful to create a safe space for your pup and then teach him to go to this space when a delivery person arrives. Give them a corner of your closet with a comfortable blanket or make a fort for them with blankets that block out the outside world. You can even make their crate extra cozy with pillows and comforting blankets.

Counterconditioning is another technique used to modify behavior by associating something that triggers a negative emotional response with something that brings about positive emotions in your dog. Often, delicious food treats are used to create a positive state of mind. In this case, the trigger (mail carrier) elicits a negative, reactive response. Each time your dog is exposed to the mail carrier, they are also given their favorite rewards, such as tasty treats. This way, the negative stimulus becomes associated with something enjoyable and pleasant for your pup.

How to Create a Positive Environment for Dogs During Deliveries

If you want to stop your dog from barking at the mail carrier, it's important to create a positive connection between them. This can help ease your dog's anxiety and prevent territorial behavior. While it's natural for dogs to alert you to potential threats, it's crucial to teach them that the mail carrier is not a threat. The goal is to help your dog differentiate between who poses a threat and who doesn't.

As we mentioned above, your first step will be making sure that your dog is well socialized, regardless of their age. A dog that is predisposed to seek positive attention from other people can be taught who and what they need to alert to. Part of your training will be to specifically teach your dog the mail carrier is not a threat, which will often involve introducing your mailperson to your dog and creating a positive association. However, we know that’s not always possible, and there may also be some liability issues that prevent doing a meet-and-greet. Anything you can do to socialize your dog can impact their reaction to strangers later, so even if you’re unable to include your mailperson, any new people and new sounds can better prepare your dog.

Start by reducing your dog's reaction toward the mail carrier. If you’re out for a walk or in front of your home and see your mail carrier or delivery person coming, it’s a perfect opportunity to train and reward your dog for good behavior. Practice behaviors that your dog already knows like sitting, heeling, and lying down. Reward your dog with a treat for a job well done, so they’ll have a positive experience in the presence of the carrier, as opposed to feeling anxious, fearful, or unsure when they’re around. However, note that your dog may still bark to protect you. Always keep safety in mind, and make sure you have a restraint or barrier in place, like a leash or fence.

If your mail person is willing, have them provide treats to your dog. They can start by dropping treats as they deliver your mail so your dog can retrieve them once the mail carrier has departed your property. Later, if your dog is calm and not aggressive, the mail person can give your dog treats directly if they’re comfortable doing so. Once a positive association has been created with the mail carrier, wait in your home for the mail person's delivery each day. When the mail person approaches your home, provide treats and praise to your dog for being quiet. If your dog barks, give an obedience cue to distract them, and reward obedience and quiet.

Remember, dogs are constantly learning from their experiences and interactions. Each time they encounter a trigger or something that causes them to react, such barking at the mail carrier- they are practicing that behavior and becoming more proficient at it. When you're focusing on management, the aim is to create situations where your dog can succeed by not reacting to the trigger.

How Do Delivery Drivers Handle Dogs?

When it comes to delivering packages to homes with dogs, delivery drivers understand the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of both the canine and themselves. They undergo specific training on how to interact with dogs they may encounter on their routes. Delivery drivers are instructed to approach homes cautiously, always keeping an eye out for any signs of a dog's presence. If a dog is present and appears friendly, they may gently offer a treat or a friendly pat with the consent of the pet parent. However, if a dog seems agitated or aggressive, drivers are trained to prioritize their own safety and avoid any direct contact. The well-being of all animals encountered during deliveries is taken seriously, and delivery drivers always strive to handle these situations with care and understanding.

The Unlikely Bond Between Dogs and Delivery Drivers

It’s not all fear and aggression though. Despite their hectic schedules, mail carriers and delivery drivers have managed to forge an unexpected connection with the dogs they encounter daily along their routes. In fact, many drivers look forward to the pups they encounter every day, getting to know the different names and personalities and often going out of their way to interact. Despite their busy schedules, many drivers take a moment to brighten the day of their four-legged customers, offering chin scratches and belly rubs. From playful barks to friendly licks, these dogs bring joy and a sense of companionship to the often-solitary life of a mail carrier and in turn, they have become familiar human faces, bringing treats and smiles along with the daily mail or special package.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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