Even the most mild-mannered of dogs may turn into a fierce barker with the mail carrier or other delivery workers come around — it’s in their nature. Dogs tend to be protective, and some breeds are naturally more territorial than others.
The problem is, the nature of mail and package delivery — come onto the property, drop off the package, then turn and leave once the dog has given you a good talking to — provides the perfect training stimulus to reinforce this behavior. The pattern teaches your dog that when they bark, the intruder leaves.
If that pattern of barking has become a problem, there are some things you can do to break it — or keep it from forming in the first place. The obvious solution may be to introduce your dog to the neighborhood postal worker. But Dr. Mary Burch, certified animal behaviorist and director of AKC Family Dog, points out that it’s unlikely most postal workers would have time for this. There may also be some liability issues that prevent doing a meet-and-greet.
But anything you can do to socialize your puppy can help improve their reaction to strangers later on. “Early socialization is important for all dogs, and socialization teaches your dog to respond to new sounds (such as the mail truck) and new people in the environment,” Dr. Burch explains.
You can also prepare your dog to better handle situations involving other people and animals — including squirrels, other dogs on the street, and the dreaded mail carrier who just keeps coming back day after day — by teaching them basic patience-building commands such as “sit” and “wait.”
Dr. Burch also suggests teaching your dog a “sit and watch” procedure. Your dog learns to sit quietly and observe what’s going on, then is rewarded with a treat for that quiet behavior. You may have to work up to this incrementally so that you can always reward the positive behavior you’re looking for: quiet waiting. It can be helpful to recruit a friend to play the part of the postal worker or other encroaching “intruder,” getting progressively closer to the door as you teach your dog that the reward of not responding is better than the satisfaction of barking the foe away.
Another common practice is giving your dog a “job” to do when the mail carrier comes up to the door. For example, some owners train their dogs to grab a toy and head into the other room when a delivery person approaches.
Of course, there are a few things you absolutely shouldn’t do when your dog barks at the delivery workers. Don’t yell, and don’t respond to your barking dog with attention — they’ll see that as a reward. Instead, provide positive reinforcement, whether it’s a treat or praise or a favorite toy, when they show the sort of quiet behavior you’re looking for.
What If Your Dog Keeps Barking?
There are other reasons your dog may bark, including boredom, an excess of energy, or a reaction to another stimulus like seeing a squirrel, a strange person or another dog. Ultimately, the cause of your dog’s barking will dictate your approach to quieting them.
One very useful trick is exercising your dog well, so they’re less inclined to bark out of boredom or restlessness. This goes double if you won’t be at home.
In a similar vein, offering a dog-friendly brain puzzle — which puts your dog to work extracting a treat — can help shift your dog’s focus when the dreaded delivery people approach. For a simple version of this, put some peanut butter inside a Kong or similar dog toy.
Leaving on a television or other familiar sounds may encourage your dog to bark less at unfamiliar stimuli — including the postal worker.
And finally, if you think more than a visiting delivery person is prompting your dog’s barking, a nanny cam or smartphone-compatible “pet surveillance” app can help you suss out the cause.
If your dog is showing physiological signs of stress in your absence, or if those stress signals — like whining and pacing — start as you’re getting ready to leave, they could be suffering from the very real stress of separation anxiety. You may need the help of a professional trainer, or even a veterinarian who can prescribe temporary medication for your dog, to unravel this complex syndrome.