Is Your Postman At Risk?
After hearing of yet another report of a local postman being bitten, I want to try and explain why this is so common and help suggest some simple measures that can be put into place to ensure that postman and delivery people are not at risk when they enter your property.
A report in the news this week said that as many as 9 postmen in the UK every week (3000 in 2014) are victims of injuries caused by dogs. This is an increase of 8% over the past 12 months. Due to the recent changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act, owners can now be prosecuted if a dog is found to be dangerously out of control on private property, and this includes their home and gardens. In the eyes of the law, a dog does not have to bite to be deemed dangerous and therefore we must ensure safe access points for deliveries.
Territorial behaviour is usually only seen in familiar environments to the dog which it considers to be its territory. This includes the house, garden and in some cases the areas around the house, for example, pathways running alongside the property. The most likely motivation for territorial behaviour is fear and anxiety, as the function is fundamentally related to protection. Aggressive displays are also most likely to be exhibited towards things and people that are novel, unfamiliar or cause the dog fear.
Territorial behaviour is highly reinforcing each time the dog succeeds. This is why inappropriate behaviour directed towards the postman is so common i.e. most days, the postman arrives, the dog reacts and they then leave. The dog therefore believes that they have succeeded in removing the potential threat. If the dog is allowed to frequently exhibit territorial behaviour along boundaries such as fence lines or windows, the behaviour is likely to escalate. This is because the dog is often in a state of frustration as the perceived threat continues to return.
If your dog(s) displays any signs of problematic territorial behaviour, it is important to work on building their confidence and to change their behaviour using positive, reward based methods. Professional help is often required and so please contact me to seek advice.
In every case, simple management will need to be put into place to reduce the immediate risks to postmen and delivery people:
Ensure that gates or entrance points to your house and garden are locked and alternative ways to deliver the post are provided, for example; outside post boxes. If you are likely to receive unfamiliar visitors, a notice should advise visitors that “Dogs Are Running Free” and an alternative way of contacting you should be provided, for example; a telephone number or intercom system. You can then go to greet the person once the dog(s) is safely secured.
Plan how you (and all the family members) can secure the dog(s) safely if you need to open the door to a delivery person. Examples include using a baby gate or securing the dog(s) in a separate room, ensuring a solid door is used if there is a risk that the dog will react through, or jump over a baby gate.
If you receive a lot of deliveries, for example, you run a business from home, look into a PO Box service that allows you to collect your mail from a local Royal Mail delivery office, instead of having it delivered (http://www.royalmail.com/general-correspondence/mailroom-management/po-box/).
If you know what time your postman usually arrives and don’t generally order many goods, place your dog(s) securely at the back of the house with the radio on until they have been. If you are usually at work when the postman comes, ensure the dog(s) is not left where it can see the postman approaching and leaving the house and ensure that they do not have direct access to the letter box where the post is delivered.
In many cases, territorial behaviour is more prominent in dogs that are receiving inadequate stimulation, as this can lead to an increased sensitivity and attention to external stimuli. It is therefore important to ensure your dog(s) is receiving sufficient physical and mental exercise when you are home and to try and provide alternative forms of stimulation such as activity feeders and search games in your absence.
It is very common in multi-dog households for one dog to trigger the other dogs when post or deliveries arrive. Try to work out which dog is most reactive and if possible, ensure that this dog is distracted or visually segregated when the postman or deliveries arrive*. This dog will then need to be referred for behavioural treatment. * The other dogs will still need to remain secured but the overall reaction should be reduced.
If you have any concerns about your dog(s) behaviour, please do not hesitate to contact me. For the full text and advice sheet on the recent changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act, please visit: http://www.nawt.org.uk/advice/changes-dangerous-dogs-act-advice-owners