You’re at home, sitting on the couch and watching TV when your dog starts barking up a storm and you go to the front door only to find that it is the mail carrier they’re barking at. Perhaps your dog gets loose and chases the mail carrier, or, even worse, bites them. While cartoons make this interaction seem amusing, many dog owners are either annoyed or concerned by this behavior.
There are some dogs that react happily to the mail carrier’s presences, while others seem to hate them. Both kinds of dogs have reasons for acting the way they do, and the biggest reasoning is their pack behavior as well as their territorial nature. Sometimes it is also caused by their prey drive, making them want to ‘hunt’ the mail carrier, but this is the rarer occasion.
Dogs that react happily to the mail carrier’s presence tend to be better trained or socialized dogs, and do not see the mail carrier as a threat. Usually, in fact, they see him as a friend or even a pack mate. Some mail carriers will carry around dog treats for this reason. Many dogs can be trained to see the mail carrier as a friend rather than a foe based on your response as well as his.
The more common scenario, however, seems to be the dog that does not like the mail carrier. This is because of territorial instincts. The mail carrier is seen as an intruder in their yard. Often times, one that comes daily, showing a brazen disregard for the dog’s territory. To them, this intruder may try to take that territory or possibly even hurt it’s pack mates.
So the dog feels like it is protecting both it’s pack and it’s territory from this invader. While we may think of this idea as silly (we know the mail carrier has no intention of trying to take our house or hurt us), this is not as clear to the dog as it is to us. They don’t operate on the same basis of thought or society as we do.
Wolves, dog’s canine cousin, is the best example of this. Wolves live in packs, they have an area that is their territory, and they don’t venture out of their territory. When they do venture out of their territory, they are either hunting, or looking to expand their own. So for a wolves, if another wolf is venturing into their territory it isn’t to make friends.
Hunting in another wolves territory is the same as stealing food to us, and expanding territory is just as much of a ‘crime’. While the wolves do not know the other wolf’s intentions, they do not take the time to find out. Especially if they are male. Lone male wolves, usually exiled from a previous pack or looking to start their own pack, are looking to take over another wolf’s pack or take some of the female wolves with him.
So unfamiliar wolves in their territory are chased out as quickly as possible. To your dog, this is what the mail carrier is: an unfamiliar intruder. They don’t know if he is there to take their food, their territory, or try to take over, so they see it as their responsibility to chase them out of the yard as soon as possible. If the dog is outside when this need arises, it can have bad consequences, such as the dog biting the mail carrier.
If the dog is inside and is simply barking at the mail carrier, then the dog only sees it as one thing. The mail carrier is seen approaching the yard, and often times displaying dominant behavior. This is especially true if they deliver the mail to the door, as the dog sees this as a challenging behavior. The dog then barks and the mail carrier leaves.