He’s cute! Just kidding. It’s a great question and the answer is going to suprise you and yet make complete sense.
Most dogs are territorial. They hear strange noises, see strange people and they’re like ‘Hey! Get out of here!’ This is my turf! My home!
But they can be cautious too. Dogs are willing to fight for turf, but they like to size up their foe first. If they believe they might lose to whomever or whatever is threatening them, they might back down.
Enter the mailman
The sound of the truck pulls up. We hear footsteps nearing the door. Your dog hears this and decides to warn the intruder, “BARK! BARK! BARK!” Translation: Hey! Who’s that? Don’t you know I’m here!? This is my house! Hey? Who? What?
We hear the sound of the mailbox lid open and shut and then? Your dog growls cautiously. Listens. The hair on you dog’s back rises with anxiety.
And then? And then? We’re listening very closely. We’re very anxious. But then… we hear the intruder…whoever or whatever is making this sound…fade away!
“What? Who? Hey” Your dog barks a few more times, testing the fighting ground. “Is this guy intimidated by me?”
The sound of the truck starts and after a moment more, and then all is silent.
The Actions of the Mailman Reinforce the Dog’s Behavior
“It worked! I barked and it worked! That no good …whatever it was! Whatever it was better not come around here no more. Yeah, that’s right. I’m bad.”
The following day, your dog happens to hear that truck sound again. “What?” And then the footsteps, the mailbox lid…WHAT?”
Emboldened by his or success yesterday, your dog puts up more of a ruckus and sure enough, it works. Your dog hears the intruder retreat yet again. Your dog is thinking, ” I am fierce!”
Each day your mailman is secretly training your dog to believe that he or she is the baddest dog around. He comes. Your dog barks. He leaves. In your dog’s mind, he or she believes that the barking is causing the mailman to leave and that’s reinforcing your dog’s sense of superiority.
Excellent video from the UC Davis Animal Behavior Expert Melissa Bain
The Napoleonic Complex of Small Breed Dogs
A similar dynamic occurs with toy breeds that are frequently carried around in mommy or daddy’s arms. The height, the proximity to the dominant member of the family, makes the small dog believe that he or she is also dominant. The result? A furry little Napoleon running around the joint.
Introduce Your Dog To Strange Noises, Clothing Styles, and Different Kinds of People Early
Acclimate all dogs, especially ones that can be aggressive out of fear (German Shepards) or who may have a bad reputation (Pit bulls) that the world is made up of lots of different people, dressed different ways, aged differently, and sized differently. To us, people are people, but to dogs, someone wearing a clown outfit isn’t a person in a costume, it’s a strange being that could threaten your dog’s family. Help your dog feel safe in such encounters. Pass a treat to the individual and then instruct them to give to your dog. Try to help your dog understand that different people aren’t threatening, but safe.
If you have a dog that displays signs of aggression or moderate to excessive amounts of fear, please call us. We’ll be happy to help you train your dog to be less sensitive and potentially less aggressive to people or situations that are unknown.