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Mailmen, paper boys, garbage men, they’re all the same. What I call mailman syndrome is when a person appears at your door daily/weekly and drives your dog berserk! Why does your dog act like that?
It's times like this, that you wish you had a cat!
Most dogs do not start out doing this, but it is a learned behavior that can develop over time and get worse with each day. Why? Because the dog is being rewarded in some way! Always remember that dogs do what works for them.
When the Minister took his vacation, he would ask my son to take over his paper route while gone. The papers had to be delivered around 5 am, so that meant I was the driver! Let me tell ya, it ain’t easy to get a tween up at 4:30 AM to get ready for the daily 5 AM delivery, but who says no to a Minister? Since I didn’t want to end up in hell, we did it!
Back in the day, (Okay, okay, only about 10 years ago!) the paper had to be put in the exact spot that the customer wanted it, unlike today where everyone has a paper box on the street. On the Minister's route there was one customer that had a German Shepherd and this dog would go nuts inside the home as I approached. (yes, I helped deliver the papers) He would start at the front of the home and follow me, running window to window through the home to the back door where the customer wanted their paper placed. The dog sounded like Cujo, and I feared he wanted one of my body parts! Thankfully, I never found out if that was indeed his intention!
(How annoying for the people that lived there that had to listen to this mad dog every day at five AM all for the love of a newspaper that carried only the local news with a total number of pages being 5!)
Oh, but I digress, so back to the question, why do dogs act like this? Some breeds do this more than others because of the job they were bred to do, but any dog can come down with Mailman Syndrome at anytime .
Scenario: The mailman comes every day to deliver your mail and Fido starts to bark a little bit, the mailman then drives away from the property. Next day, mailman comes back; Fido barks a little more, mailman drives away. This repeats on a daily basis and suddenly Fido is baring teeth when he hears the mail truck coming up the road! In some cases Fido starts doing this to everyone who comes on or near the property.
If you think about how one trains a dog, each command is repeated on a daily basis. Repetition, that is the common element in these two scenarios, training and mailman syndrome, both happen everyday.
However, when you teach your dog a command and the dog listens he is rewarded with praise or a treat, but what is the reward a dog gets that keeps him barking at the mailman day after day? After all, he’s not getting praise or a food reward.
Remember what I said above? Dogs do what works for them. The reward with the mailman is that when Fido barks, eventually the mailman leaves the property! This is the dog’s reward. He starts out warning the owner and the intruder by giving a few barks, but over time, he believes his actions of barking and lunging made the mailman leave. Fido does not know that the mailman was going to leave anyway once the mail delivery was completed. Viola`! For Fido, mission accomplished!
Although this may not be a harmful situation in the beginning, it can escalate into one if the dog starts to view everyone who comes on or near the property as an intruder that needs to be chased away. So if Aunt Harriet is coming for tea and the dog is trying to chase her away, but Aunt Harriet continues to approach, the dog may bite her. In this situation, the dog is suddenly not being rewarded as the intruder is continuing to advance forward toward the dog. This leaves an uncertain dog only two choices, fight or flight.
So, what do you do about it? How do you stop the dog from going after the mailman in an aggressive manner? For this you may want to enlist the help of your mail person or other daily delivery person.
It’s five A.M. and I am asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. (Okay, okay, Reese’s candy)
“Woof, Woof.” says a 170 lb Chance.
“Shush, Chance.” I growl.
“Woof, Woof, Woof!” more deep barks advance from Chance’s throat.
“Chance! Shush!” I growl a bit louder to let him know I really mean business.
“Arf ,arf, arf.” Casey chimes in, and at that moment, I realize in my sleepy haze that it is Monday!
So, just as my little four year old friend Connor would say, from my lips spill these words, “Awright, Awright, awready! Come on, wet’s go. Huwwy, huwwy!” to both Chance and Casey as they are making a bee line toward the front door.
The other dogs just lie there with heads slightly raised watching as this early Monday episode plays out yet again.
I admit, I grumble a little hoping I will be able to get back to sleep for at least another hour before the alarm shouts at me to get up for work.
I make my way down the hall in careful tip toe movements over each dog that lay in my path, as Casey and Chance charge right atop of them to get through.
I sleepily open the den door which leads to the front door of the house and I hear it more clearly now.
Beep, beep, beep,. EERRR ERRRRER,. Crank, psssst, slosh, squeak and clunk! Another load goes in and the engine revs as the brakes squeak to the sound of metal on metal when the truck comes to a stop in front of my house.
I open the front door, and in my sad state of early morning attire I wave and say, “Good morning!” to the garbage man who is at this time standing at my gate as Chance and Casey whiz past me out the front door.
They are barking and running at him wildly. Casey’s tail is spinning in a circle like a batter warming up at home plate.
The Garbage man waves back at me. “Good morning.” He says cheerfully. (oh sure, he’s been up and has coffee under his belt!)
As I stand there in my doorway I can only imagine what I must look like in my smiley face Joe boxer pants and scraggly old tee shirt, but I really don’t care!
So as one garbage man empties my trash cans, the other stands at my front gate giving Casey and Chance treats that only a dog can enjoy. They are in heaven, standing there with tails wagging as they wait patiently for this new friend to plop yet another gift into their open mouths. They move even closer to the gate to get one last pat on the head before their friend departs in his truck, then watch him closely as he makes his next stop at the neighbor’s house.
Whoa! What just happened here? A garbage truck is loud, intrusive, and goes away if a dog barks at it long enough!
Yep you guessed it! This garbage man, in his interest to meet Chance, as most homes don’t brew dogs this big ‘round here, decided that the way he could show Chance he meant no harm, was to one day show up with treats! The rest as they say is history!
In the beginning of the treat escapade Chance did not trust him, he did not take the treat from this man who stood at the gate, but as time passed and for every treat Chance gathered up after the man left, his trust began to grow and he now started to view this once intruding person as a friend and as someone who treated him well. Not even the noise of the truck kept him barking in angst! And Casey? Heck, he was just along for the sweet ride as he loves everyone and was soon taken in by this stranger as well. Me? I have learned that getting a normal morning’s sleep on Monday morning is most impossible, but the barking is less. they no longer carry on before , during and long after the garbage man has left my home front. Now there are a few gentle woofs to tell me, "our friend is here" to be let out of the house and that's it.
Suffice it to say that the Grottini dogs now give their friendly neighborhood garbage men a Christmas card and bonus! After all, it costs money to constantly treat a dog as big as Chance!
If every delivery person would do this, many dogs would start being more delighted to see them and their bark would be one of delight instead of angst. I must say, I have also noticed a UPS man that does the same when a delivery has to be made here.
So even though Chance barks a little when he hears the truck coming up the street, he barks for me to get up and let him out so he can happily greet the garbage man and not to tear off a limb!
If you find that your dog does this same type of thing, especially if it is fence aggression toward any neighbor who passes, stick a bag of biscuits in a mailbox and ask them to gently toss the dog a biscuit each time they walk by. This should keep your dog from acting out and if you do it from the very minute you get the dog, that type of aggression may never start. Of course you want to keep the treats small or low in fat so your dog doesn’t blow up like a balloon and become unhealthy. Don’t be surprised if the dog does not take a treat at first, this is normal; just have the people toss it gently in the yard so the dog knows the gesture is there and eventually the dog will eat it. Ever hear that old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child?" Well same goes for a dog. In some cases , you just can't do it alone.
Of course if you hate your neighbors or your mailman, then let the dogs bark away!
Until next time, happy training!