Sometimes we forget that dogs are… well dogs. We often inadvertently nurture their neediness, reward their anxieties and enable their bad habits. Dogs are in essence mirrors to the behaviours we reinforce, and this can include the behaviours we do want, but also the behaviours we don’t. One of the less common but equally distressing behavioural ‘issues’ observed in dogs, is territorial aggression. This is defined by a dog’s motivation to fend for and protect the boundaries they consider to be their territory. But, this can be a very natural behaviour. In fact, every living being on earth bears some aspect of territorial behaviour. If we didn’t, food would be scarcer, mates would be rarer and protection from predators would be futile. Territories are essential to survival. But why pick on the Postie? What has he or she ever done to your dog?
The Postie is a perfect representative of an animal who routinely imposes on your dog’s territory, and often, this occurs when you are not home. When you leave the house, dogs can become distressed, and even protective of their surrounds, making them more reactive to people or other animals who enter their grounds. Equally, if you are home, some dogs can be highly motivated to guard not only your home, but those who are existing within it. To a dog, this can be a very natural and important job. To me, if your dog barks a few times and shows interest in whoever comes to visit, this is a good thing and one to be reinforced at this point. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the dog’s behaviour does not get reinforced until they reach a heightened level of anxiety and distress, leaving them more likely to feel that way the next time.
Not always, but often, the Postie enters your property uninvited (from your dog’s perspective), ignores your dog’s subtle and moderate cues to back away, and rarely makes the experience positive. What I mean by making the experience positive, is that the dog is most likely not rewarded for the Postie’s presence. Instead, the imposition can reinforce anxiety and territorial aggression, making these emotions and behaviours more likely to present the next time.
It may sound counterintuitive, but often, it is wise to reward your dog in times of uncertainty instead of cueing them to sit, or back away. If they are showing signs of anxiety such as body stiffening, tail between legs, ears pinned back and body low, or even tail high and ears forward, it is worth considering reinforcing your dog with high value rewards, such as roast chicken and toys. If your dog shows signs of nervousness around the Postie, reward your dog in the presence of them. Ensure you, your dog and postie are safe at all times, and never enforce your dog to approach anyone they are not comfortable around. It is imperative you always give your dog choice, in times of anxiety!
If you are not present when the postie visits, consider a different way for them to deliver your mail, and block the area for your dog. I recommend this because if you are not there, you cannot train your dog. The safest and most logical means to make everyone feel safe, is to keep your dog separated from the mail man.
Consider increasing your dog’s mental stimulation each day. Despite what many say, an hour long walk over a 24 hour period rarely suffices for a dogs mental and physical wellbeing. Every opportunity you can seize to give your dog work to do, is well spent. This doesn’t have to be overly time consuming. It can be simply scattering your dog’s food, instead o using a dog bowl, hiding their toys and asking them to search for them, teaching them a few tricks during TV add breaks and best of all, turning your phone off for 15 minutes a day and replacing that time with some valuable puppy-time play.
In essence, dogs do what they do for a reason. If you can understand the motivation, you can manage the problem. Making the Postie a positive experience is easy and can be fun when you are home. Otherwise, keep your dog away, and ensure their brain is focused on equally important roles at home. The more purpose your dog has, the less they are inclined to divert that energy onto that kind person bringing your latest online shopping items to your door!