Does your dog freak out and bark like crazy every time the mail or delivery person comes? Contrary to popular belief, this sort of over-reaction (referred to as #reactivity) is usually due to fear rather than them “hating” the mailman.
What often happens is a scary stranger comes to the door for the first time, the dog
barks out of fear, the person proceeds to deliver the package or mail and leaves. To the dog, this probably seems like the person approached the house, the dog barked and scared the person away. The barking seemingly worked to drive the scary person away, so they will repeat this behaviour anytime anyone who resembles a mailman (sometimes anyone who wears a uniform) approaches their home. Sometimes this translates to unease of anyone resembling the mailman even off of the property and you may find yourself with a dog who barks at anyone in uniform.
To train your dog to stop barking completely, you need to fix the underlying issue (fear of the mailman) instead of the symptom (barking). If your dog’s reactivity is so overwhelming that they won’t take treats and you can’t distract them until the mailman is long gone, you may need to consult with a certified trainer. However, if your dog’s fear isn’t too overwhelming and they will take treats, you can try turning the delivery of items into a fun event instead of a scary one. Here are a few things you can try:
Giving your dog some treats whenever someone approaches your house. Try to time it so that you give them treats BEFORE they start barking.
Send them to their bed and give them a stuffed Kong or their favorite chew when the mailman comes.
You can teach them a “quiet” cue. Let them bark a few times, then put a treat right up to their nose and say “quiet”. When they stop barking to sniff the treat, give them the treat. Repeat, gradually increasing the time between the “quiet” cue and when you give them the treat. Once they are being quiet for about 5 seconds, start gradually increasing the distance from them when you give the cue one step at a time.
You will also need to prevent the behaviour from occurring because the barking itself can be rewarding to the dog. If you know what time the mailman comes, you can put the dog in a back room with a Kong, distract them with some training, put them in the backyard if it prevents them from seeing people approaching the house. You should also try blocking the view where your dog can observe people approaching the house. There are many ways of doing this depending on how your house is set-up, including:
Closing the curtains or blinds
Blocking the windows with furniture
Blocking furniture that they use to look out the window
Applying a frosted window film to the portion of the window that your dog can see out of
Punishing the barking is never a good idea. If you just punish the barking, which is a warning signal, your dog will still fear the mailman. Then your dog may not give any warning signals when someone they fear approaches them. The unsuspecting stranger thinks your dog is friendly because they aren’t barking and decides to try to pet your dog, who is getting more and more stressed as the scary person reaches out to touch them. Thinking they need to defend themselves, they bite the encroaching hand. Many owners say their dog’s bite “came out of nowhere” and this is one of the main reasons why. Therefore, it is very important to treat the underlying fear and NEVER punish the warning signal.
Ultimately the best way to stop your dog from barking is to prevent it in the first place. If you have a puppy, you can either give your puppy a treat every time someone delivers something, or better yet have the delivery person give your puppy a treat. If the mail or delivery person is a friend, there will be no need to scare them away. If you have an adult dog who isn’t reactive to the mailman, it may be worthwhile to give them a treat or praise whenever they don’t react to the mailman to prevent any fear from developing.
The main thing to remember is to try to make the mail or delivery person approaching a fun event rather than a scary one. Be creative and do something enjoyable or fun for your dog whenever the mail or delivery person approaches. If you can’t be there every time someone delivers something, find ways to prevent your dog from seeing the approaching person so it doesn’t scare them. Consistency and patience is key, this will not happen overnight. If you are consistent and manage to decrease their reactivity, it can improve both yours and your dog’s quality of life.