Does your dog seem to hate the mail? If so, you're not alone in this. Many dog owners know all too well when the mail arrives at their house because their dogs alert them to it. It can be a bit of a nuisance when your dog barks incessantly at the mail, but there are reasons he or she behaves this way. So, why do dogs bark at the mailman or mailwoman? Here's why and what you can do about it.
Why Dogs Bark At The Mail Carrier
1. Territorial Response
One of the most common reasons dogs bark at the mail carrier is as a territorial response. It's instinct for a dog to bark or howl to alert his or her pack of anyone approaching their domain. And because your dog doesn't get to know the mail carrier, he or she always seems like an intruder.
Dogs are unique individuals with their own personalities and some are more shy and timid than others. These dogs may be afraid of the mail carrier, resulting in a barking (or even growling) response to their fear.
On the other hand, some dogs are social and friendly and may bark out of frustration, as a result of not being able to meet the mail carrier. It's understandable that such a strong desire to say hello but constantly being thwarted by doors can cause frustration in social dogs.
Sometimes, the mail carrier may just bring about a state of high arousal for dogs, no matter their personality. Such a heightened state of arousal often manifests itself in barking.
Why The Behavior Continues
So we know why dogs bark at the mail carrier, but why do they continue to do it every time the mail arrives? The reason varies depending on why your dog barks at the mail carrier in the first place. If your dog is barking out of fear, frustration or arousal, they will continue to respond to their feelings in their natural or instinctual way (e.g. barking or growling). But if your dog is barking as a territorial response, they likely will continue to do so because of behavioral conditioning. This is because your dog sees his or her barking as successful - they bark and the mail carrier leaves their turf. Your dog learns that this behavior makes the intruder leave and thus continues to do it.
When It Becomes A Problem
In general, barking at the mail carrier is not a problem. But it can become one if your dog begins to generalize the behavior and react to certain triggers they associate with the mail, the carrier or the truck. For instance, some dogs may begin barking at anyone who looks, smells or is dressed similarly to the mail carrier. Or some dogs may begin barking at all trucks, not just the mail truck.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help your dog and improve the situation. You'll want to prevent your dog from exhibiting the problematic behavior (barking, howling, growling, etc.) and here are a couple ways to do so.
1. Separate Your Dog From The Carrier
One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is by keeping your dog in a part of your home where he or she can't see the mail carrier. This will eliminate the behavior altogether.
2. Train Your Dog To Have A New Association
Another solution is to train your dog to have a new response to the mail carrier by using positive reinforcement. Giving your dog a treat or toy (such as a tennis ball or squeaky toy) when the mail arrives will help change the association your dog makes with the carrier from negative to positive. You can also have your mail carrier toss treats to your dog to change the association, though this requires cooperation from them and they may not have the time or desire to do so.