Our U.P.S. delivery dude is pretty hot.
He’s a total sweetheart, too. And our mailman is adorable as well. He sings songs so loudly from his postal vehicle I can hear him from inside my house. It always makes me giggle and smile. But what I think of our postal and package delivery people doesn’t matter.
What does matter is what our dog thinks of them.
Now that the holidays are here, I am unbelievable grateful that our dog adores the Dude That Brings The Package. In fact, our dog thinks the UPS dude and his sleigh are hawt-doggity-dawg.
But she didn’t always love him.
In fact, she used to go absolutely insane when the postal people came; you would have thought our house was being invaded by a SWAT team every time the truck pulled up to our house, or when he came to the door.
Imagine what it must feel like to your canine companion: You are resting comfortably on your cushion in your canine castle, and all of a sudden a loud, intrusive rumbling sound comes racing down your street.
Rumble! Bang! Boom! Metal clangs and rattles. Door slams.
Is that thunder!?? Take Cover!!! HIDE!!
No. Wait. It’s just a car.
Now the doors are slamming!! Someone is here!!!
I will alert my people with my canine call! They will be so glad I told them!
Do I know this person?!!?
NO! Agh! It’s a stranger!! DANGER!
All canines on deck!!!
Oh noooo! He is getting out of his monster machine and coming up to our house!!! MY CASTLE!
Must alert my people more loudly! They don’t understand the danger!
Knock-Knock. Doorbell rings.
AGH!!! The Chimes of Doom! People …. HELP!!!!!
Now he’s banging on the door!!! He’s coming in! OMG! I must defend my canine castle!!!
All life forms in your home either flee the scene or do the opposite: They go after your invisibly-caped canine crusader to make her shut-the-heck-up and calm-the-heck-down.
Does this sound familiar? As chaotic as that scene sounds, it’s all too common in family homes, but it can and should be prevented.
We prevent this by removing fear.
Think about it: Everyone’s response in that moment was based on fear. If you have a cat or dog that flees (or fights) the dog when she goes nuts, it’s a behavior that stems from fear. The other animal is either trying to keep themselves safe from the threat, or he/she is trying to eliminate the threat. If you go after or scream at your dog when he/she is screaming at the perceived threat, you are experiencing anger (which is actually just a mask for fear). And, anyone or animal that goes after the dog when the dog is in the middle of a full-on-freak-out, that animal or person is only adding more fear and frustration to the already out of control fire.
Let me repeat that: If you are reactive to your reactive dog, you are adding fear-fuel to the fear-fire.
Hollering and forcing a dog into a position to make them “behave” isn’t going to help. This approach can backfire. It’s very dangerous and honestly, very irresponsible. And it’s only teaching your dog (and any other animal or child in the house) that there is something to be afraid of when the “stranger-danger” appears. If you are reacting angrily when your dog reacts, what are you teaching them?
The flawed idea that a dog will only learn to behave through force and fear is sad and misguided, but people are still misled into thinking that these methods are the right way to go. This leads to elevated stress levels that could be avoided if time was taken to understand how dogs’ learn and how they can be taught effectively. Choice training is a beacon of hope in what is still a dominating world. -Victoria Stilwell, world-renowned humane dog trainer
So, what do we do instead of screaming “SHUT UP!” or wrestling the dog away from the door or window?
–> We teach the dog that the approaching monster man in his monster machine is A MA Z I N G, and something to look forward to!
Here are a few (very simplified) steps to get you started:
1.Form a friendly relationship with your postal service people. These people have a very exhausting job this time of year, so go out of your way to have some compassion for them. Find out their names. Ask them how their day is going. Maybe even ask how their family is doing. Care about them, instead of seeing them as the people who drop off the-item-you-have-been-waiting-for-forever. Not only is doing this a kind gesture, but it will pay off tremendously when you ask for their help with calming your chaotic canine!
2. Explain to your postal person that your dog is having a hard time with him/her coming to your house. Just take a few minutes to let them know that you are working on helping your dog to be more calm around them. They might appreciate that you are making their life easier! They may even have some suggestions or offer ways to help you.
3. Ask them how they feel about dogs. –If you know their perspective on dogs, you can know whether you need to keep your dog away from them, or allow your dog to eventually say hello calmly. Remember that some postal people may be just as fearful of, or frustrated with dogs as your dog is to them! Learn what their comfort level is and be respectful of it.
4. Change how your dog feels about the postal people. –Many dogs who lunge or bark have been “corrected” (punished) for their behavior. This kind of reaction has only added to their fear or frustration. If your dog has never been corrected in any form, congrats to you, but your dog’s fear or frustration about the postal people is still present, so we need to address it. We do this by changing the association that the dog has with the perceived threat. We use food to transform the dog’s negative emotions to positive emotions by pairing pleasant things with the appearance of the unpleasant thing (Mr. Postman). When done correctly, this results in a dog who turns and looks happily and expectantly at his person as soon as the dog spies the stranger-danger that used to elicit a reactive outburst.
Ever since Hocus became reactive (barking and going berserk) around the UPS and mailman vehicles I decided to rain down delicious treats when they approached. Note: The key word is DELICIOUS. Don’t grab a dog biscuit. Get the bacon, people.
If we were in the house I calmly presented any one of Hocus’ favorite treats (like bacon, cheese, cat food, or chicken) to Hocus when she heard them pull up; I did this on our walks when they rumbled by; I did this when she saw them in the window; I did this anytime she heard or spied them coming. (This video from Urban Dogs is a great example of how this can be done outside.) Eventually her fear and frustration turned to glad, calm anticipation.
5. Change how YOU feel about your dog going berserk. Folks, you are the adults here. You can see the full picture. Have compassion for your canine. Learn to control your reaction to your dog. Take a deep breath and remember that your dog truly believes he/she is doing their job! Thank them for doing such a good job of letting you know the postal person is here! Remove your frustration! Don’t allow yourself to go into your own fear or reactivity. That only creates more confusion, fear, and frustration.
6. Help your dog to focus on something else. If you are inside and the monster machine arrives, tell your dog you will take over from here, and ask them to focus on something else that they do really well. We call this an incompatible behavior. Identify a behavior that’s incompatible with, or cannot occur at the same time as, the problem behavior. For example, your dog can’t be at the door barking if she’s going to get her favorite toy.
My husband and I (literally) say, “Hocus, you did a great job letting us know they’re here. We will take over from here. You are safe. We are all safe! Now go get your Kong and bring it to me!”. Once she brings us the Kong or squeaky toy, she gets rewarded with something that will keep her attention and focus for a while (usually via frozen stuffed Kong or pig ear).
Remember to stay calm. Take deep breaths! Be easy. Think about what you want your dog to do instead! By the way, “not barking” doesn’t count. What could your dog be taught to do instead of her self-assigned job of Caped Canine Crusader? Be playful and easy about all of this while helping your dog to move her energy into something healthier, and more peaceful and fun!
7. Ask the postal people for their permission. If they are comfortable with it, and you have already been working on counter conditioning your dog to the sights and sounds of them from a distance, bring your dog out on a secure leash and harness. Then offer irresistible treats to your dog. You don’t need to be close to the postal person at this point. Merely standing on the doorstep while they are at the street can be too much for some dogs. Just let your dog see them while you offer the tasty treats.
8. Ask the postal people for their participation. Not only is our UPS dude a hottie, but he is well prepared for pooches. He has a huge bag of dog treats that he drives around with, ready to offer to dogs at the houses he visits. All of the dogs on our block love him! All the pups know that whenever a package arrives, a treat will be arriving too! Our dog learned very quickly that the stranger-danger coming to the door was not only bringing a boxed goodie for her people, but she gets goodies too!
9. Make safety a priority. Always err on the side of caution, and if you are not sure about these steps, hire a force-free professional to help you. If your dog is displaying aggressive behavior, please consult a force-free animal behavior consultant . Don’t try to fix this on your own.
I need to make note: Hocus Pocus is not aggressive towards humans. She adores people, but can become quite frustrated and vocal when she cannot get to the person. She has a history of reactivate to loud, unexpected sounds, and to some dogs.
Don’t let the fear of the postal people be the Fear Grinch that steals your holiday cheer. Show your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of. Teach your dog that all is well, and that he/she is safe.
🎄Merry Christmas and Holiday Blessings to you and yours! ⛄❄️
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- Care for Reactive Dogs
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- Practice Makes Perfect: Managing Your Dog’s Reactivity
- Aggression and reactivity