So, your dog barks like mad at the postman, the window cleaner and even the bin men! But why does he hate them so much – he’s never even met them?
Lets start by clearing something up. Your dog does not actually hate the postman, the window cleaner or the bin men. He also doesn’t hate random passers-by, the Amazon man, the Avon lady or any other regular caller to your door, for that matter. What he does hate, is the way they behave. And, in particular, he hates the way they respond to him. Or, at least the way he thinks they respond to him.
The Bin Men
Let’s start with the bin men. They are a noisy bunch, they shout and they bang. They also bring a big loud lorry with them, with squeaky breaks and reversing alarms. They come fairly regularly so it won’t take long for your dog to learn their routine. He will hear them as soon as they turn into the street, and will listen as they work their way along. As they get closer he will start his guarding routine – first his stance will change, he will quicken in pace and the barking will follow. The bin men don’t come too close to the house though. That’s important, as it confirms to him that he has done a good job in keeping them at bay. He didn’t of course!
The postman comes every day, so it doesn’t take long for your dog to get used to his routine. He visits every house in the street, in order, so many dogs are well aware of his presence long before he actually arrives at your house. This gives your dog plenty of time to psych himself up and ready himself to guard the house. Guarding protocol will begin long before the barking will start, especially if your dog can see the postie too.
Of all your visitors, the postman is actually a bit of a coward – in your dogs eyes. After all, it only usually takes a few barks before he changes his mind and scoots on to the next house. He has no idea the postie would have left anyway!
The Window Cleaner
Window cleaners are infrequent visitors to our homes, but when they come they are the actually the most frightening. Out of everyone, he is the most threatening. He actually works his way around your house, banging on the the windows, one by one. It’s a good lot of minutes before he gives up and leaves.
If you think about it, that is exactly how a burglar might behave. It is no wonder your dog gets defensive. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t complain if he barked at someone that did exactly this at 3am!
These are frightening experiences for your dog. They will put him into an anxious state which means he will react instinctively. For some dogs that might mean hiding. But for most, it is time for action. So he initiates guarding protocol, his body will stiffen, his eyes will become more intense. His posture will change and his tail will twitch. If those signals are ignored he will start to bark, in most cases this is enough to get the threat to leave. When it isn’t, your dog may attack the door, growl and snap, and if he is really wired, he might even try to bite.
Making it worse
You can see that in all the situations we have described, nothing bad actually happened. He responded to a possible threat in the only way he knows, and every one lived to tell the tale. Of course, your dog will think that he was awesome at his duties and saved everyone from impending doom. We know different, of course. But, his perceived triumph will certainly be enough to ensure he does it again next time, and every time after that.
If you shout too, then the whole situation has gotten a whole lot worse. Not only does he think that you are concerned too and wish to help in ganging up on the poor postie, but he will also see it as a sign that you approve of his reaction. That will only reinforce his behaviour further. And, if you also rush to the door, just like he does, he will feel further empowered. Of course, we know that you reacted that way because of him, and not the threat at all, but how does he know that?
What’s your dogs most annoying habit?
I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.
I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.
In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.