Help! My Dog Hates the Mail Carrier!
Top Five Training Do’s and Don’t’s
Unknowingly, we humans reinforce the exact behaviors we want our dogs to stop doing. And there is no greater example of this than the dog who has taken on the role of the official greeter. Greeters are dogs who madly run to the door, bark, jump and sometimes nip anyone who comes to the house.
These behaviors are not only annoying, left unchecked, they can grow into safety and liability issues, as big dogs can knock people over and all dogs can use their teeth. But it’s also stressful for the dogs themselves, especially around Halloween and other holidays because they are in a perpetual state of adrenaline-infused vigilance. It’s exhausting and can affect their health.
There are five things humans do that actually teach their dog the unwanted greeting behavior: people give their dogs free access to the door, people stand behind their dog, people hold their dog by the collar, people bark at their dog, people reach over their dog’s head.
So DON’T do these things:
1. Allow the dog free access to the door
There’s nothing worse than self-reinforced behavior. Bell rings, dog barks, mail carrier leaves, ta da! In the dog’s mind, she chased mail carrier away.
2. Stand behind your dog
Someone knocks and the dog is already at the door barking. You arrive and stand behind the dog (because there’s no room) and now the dog is between you and the “intruder.” What’s the dog’s natural reaction?
3. Hold or pull your dog by the collar
As you open the door, you’ve got to grab the dog by the collar and hold her back. This triggers her “oppositional reflex,” that is, when you pull a dog back, Mother Nature says, “pull the other way.” So in essence, pulling on the collar is a message to the dog go towards the person standing outside!
4. Bark at your dog
The now lunging, barking dog is out of control and you start barking “stop,” “be quiet,” “sit.” Now you’re both barking. From your dog’s point of view, a really negative association is made. The dog thinks, “my human only wigs out this way when this particular person shows up. This person must really be a threat!”
5. Reach over your dog’s head to shake hands or take a package
Dogs have an inherent dislike of people reaching over their head. Many dogs view this as threat. So if you add this to the all of the other signals you’ve been giving your dog, you’ve made a bad situation worse. The dog’s been giving all these signals to the person to go away, and now the person reaches over the dog’s head!
These are the five things To DO:
1. Practice Prevention and Management.
No dog should have free access to run to the door unless they have proper social skills. Set up the home environment for safety and success by properly using leashes (tethers), baby gates and exercise pens.
2. Change the way your dog feels about guests.
This is done by using counter-conditioning. One example would be to give your dog the greatest treat you have like chicken and cheese every time the door bell rings, somebody knocks on the door or someone comes in the door. Combine this with a happy attitude and and the dog will learn to love the person coming in the door.
3. Give your dog a job to do.
If you don’t know what you want your dog to do, the dog can’t figure it out either! Not only do dogs become official greeters, they often become self-employed gardeners and home decorators!
The trick is to teach your dog to do something else whenever the doorbell rings or someone knocks like: go to their bed, pick up a toy, bark three times and then come to you and lie down, run in the kitchen and sit, and so on. Here’s an example:
4. Hire a Professional (positive) Trainer
You’ll often hear professional dog trainers say that training a dog is like anything else in life, “the devil’s in the details.” When working with a reactive or aggressive dog, hiring a professional trainer who can demonstrate exactly what to do and how to do it is critical.
For example, I mentioned earlier that standing behind a dog is not something you want to do when people come to your house. Where you stand, proper training distance and how you move while training are all important considerations. Timing and consistency are also critical for success. The professional trainer can evaluate your individual situation and set up a step-by-step program for you and your dog and walk you through all this in a safe way. In the meantime, use good old common sense and keep everyone safe.
5. Be Kind
One final note: the next time someone comes to your house and your greeter dog runs to the door and barks and jumps, don’t beat yourself up because you made the mistake of allowing it to happen. Take a breath and be as kind to yourself as you are to your dog. The whole process of forming new habits and behaviors takes two to twelve months and that means that both of you have to practice!