This post is actually prompted by something I hear every day. We live in a City where many of us have mail slots in their doors. Every day, I hear the mailman drop our mail, Luna and Nero are typically sleeping and could care less. Like clockwork, I hear him drop the mail into our neighbors mail slot and it’s like somebody released the Kraken. Their dog goes ballistic, barking frantically and running through their home.
So, what’s the deal with this? Why do dogs bark at the mail man? The old wives tales would have you believe it’s the uniform, but in fact, it’s a form of aggression called Territorial Aggression. Territorial aggression can be seen in association with either dominance or in association with fearful dogs.
When Territorial Aggression is found in the case of a dominant dog, the dog has learned, over time, that he is the leader in the household and it’s his job to stand guard and protect his property from the stranger. In extreme cases and when the owners have little to no leadership, the dog is so dominant that not even the owner can get the dog to back down. This can be a serious and frightening issue.
When we see Territorial Aggression in less confident dogs, these behaviors stem from a place of insecurity and fearfulness. This “aggression” is really a fear-based response that is a learned behavior. Over time, they have learned that their barking and aggressive behaviors (which may include nipping), gets the scary person to leave…and often leave in a hurry. The louder and scarier they are, the quicker the person will leave. And so, the behavior has been rewarded time and time again.
Let’s take a look at the case of our neighbor’s dog. Based on what we have seen, he’s a fearful dog. But behind the closed door of his home, he’s the big dog on campus! Normally unconfident, he gains a confidence boost from being behind the closed door. In addition, he has learned that his aggressive barking and frantic behavior cause the mailman to go away. Every day the mailman comes, every day he barks and every day the mailman goes away. SCORE for the little dog…his behavior was just rewarded! And he’ll do it again every day because, in his mind, this is what made the scary man go away.
Let’s say your dog happens to bark at the mailman…what should you do?
It all starts with recognizing the problem and realizing that something needs to be done to address the territorial aggression. This behavior, whether associated with dominance or lack of confidence will not just go away and can compound into other unwanted problem behaviors down the road, if it hasn’t already. You cannot love away these bad behaviors, nor can you use a “band-aid” approach to get just one behavior to go away. Dealing with problem behaviors is like peeling away layers of an onion. When we see one behavior, like barking at the mailman, often times there are several other problem behaviors. Rather than treat each individual problem, we approach things holistically. Taking a look at everything that goes on in your home and in the dog’s life to find out the root cause of the unwanted behavior.
First things first, in either case, you must establish yourself as the pack leader within your home. Coupling leadership in the home with obedience training are two of the first steps that we take to help you gain control over your dominant dog or to help your fearful dog gain confidence and figure out where he fits into your home. Obedience training will also help to bring the dog’s focus back on you and will provide you and your dog with an effective way to communicate.
If your dog barks at the mailman, or exhibits other signs of dominance, aggression or fearfulness and you need help…give us a call.