The relationship between dogs and mail carriers is complex. As a common TV trope, it’s often played for laughs, but to the roughly 5,400 postal employees who were attacked by dogs in the U.S. in 2021 alone, it’s a serious job hazard.
Of course, just because your dog barks when the mail is being delivered, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to attack, but it is annoying and possibly nerve-racking for you, your neighbors, and your mail carrier.
Here’s what to know about how to get your dog to stop this part of their daily routine, and why they get so worked up over mail and package delivery in the first place.
Even if your dog isn’t a breed known for being a guard or watch dog, they’re probably still territorial, and see it as their duty to protect their home and the people in it. And according to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), dogs learn early on that barking at someone they view as an intruder tends to make that person go away.
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Enter: Mail carriers and other people making deliveries. They come onto your property—usually up to your door—drop off mail or a package, and then immediately leave.
If your dog barks starts barking as soon as the delivery person arrives (or, in some cases, before, if they’re able to identify the sound of the brakes of a USPS or FedEx truck, for instance), they’ll think that their ferocious barks did the trick—causing the mail carrier to flee from their property—and that they once again successfully defended their home and family.
But what’s especially tricky about this situation is that the mail carrier probably comes to your home six days a week, which, as the American Kennel Club (AKC) points out, “provides the perfect training stimulus to reinforce this behavior.”
After routinely getting rid of the mail carrier with their barking, your dog is probably pretty pleased with their ability to drive this persistent intruder away—which, unfortunately, makes it difficult to stop.
Plus, as the MSPCA notes, this is a type of “alarm barking,” which is a natural behavior, and can’t be completely eliminated. However, it can be controlled. Here are some strategies you can try, courtesy of dog experts and animal behaviorists:
The MSPCA recommends teaching your dog a “quiet” command. To do this, have someone walk past your house or start to approach your home, triggering your dog to bark. After the dog barks three or four times, show them a really special treat (like chicken, cheese, or another one of their favorites). When they stop barking to get the treat, say “quiet,” and then give them the treat.
Repeat this exercise until you have given your dog the “quiet” command and they’ve stopped barking about a dozen times. Once your dog has mastered quieting down with the treat, try using the command without showing them the treat and see if they stop barking. If they do, give the, a treat as a reward.
According to Dr. Mary Burch, certified animal behaviorist and director of AKC Family Dog, the key here is convincing your dog that the reward they get for not responding is more desirable than the satisfaction of barking their nemesis away.
You can also try giving your dog a “job” to keep them occupied during daily mail delivery, according to AKC experts. For example, some people train their dogs to grab a toy and go into another room when a mail carrier approaches.
Of course, for some dogs, barking at delivery people is their highest priority in that moment, so they may not be interested in toys or fake jobs when they believe they have a real job to do.
A variation on the “quiet” command strategy, this one involves having someone your dog either doesn’t recognize, or a friend of yours they don’t particularly care for, assume the role of a mail carrier—coming up to your door, and (if applicable) rattling your mailbox.
Every time the pretend postal worker comes to the door, have your dog sit quietly for a treat. But here’s the difference: This time, have the stand-in mail carrier stay at the door until the dog is quiet. The idea is to convince your dog that their barking is no longer an effective way to get the intruder off their property, and not worth trying again in the future.
Some dog behaviorists recommend making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise prior to the time of day the mail carrier arrives—enough so that they’re too tired to get up and bark when they come to the door. But not everyone has a backyard, or is able to take their dog on a long afternoon walk, so it isn’t an option for everyone, but worth a shot if you can swing it.
If you do happen to be at home when the mail carrier arrives, try ignoring your dog and their barking, rather than rewarding them with your attention. Similarly, don’t yell at your dog to stop barking: You may see it as responding negatively to their behavior and giving them a scolding, but there’s a good chance that they’ll see it as attention (and/or think you’re playing with them), and therefore, a reward, according to the AKC.