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Canine Behavior/Mail carriers and Delivery people

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QUESTION: My dog is usually very social and loves new people but there is certain kinds of people she just does not handle well. That's delivery people of any kind. When they come around she gets crazy and barks and cries and screams like she being injured. She's never bit one but I don't like the behavior. It scares them and irritates me. I know part of the issue is that when she sees them she barks and they disappear and she thinks she's drove them away. That's why she keeps doing it, but I'm unsure how to correct the issue. What can I do to make her comfortable with delivery people?

ANSWER: Yes this behavior is annoying and probably scares some delivery people, but it's classic, as you recognize, conditioning at work.  To help me help you, please answer in followup the following questions:

How old is the dog
What sort of training have you given her
What do YOU DO when she behaves in this manner (very important)
When did it first appear, how long has it been in place
If you're walking her on leash and she sees a person in "uniform", does she react that way

Thanks.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: How old is the dog: She is 3 years old.

What sort of training have you given her: I've gone through basic training classes. Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Take it, Leave it, Drop it, Loose Leash Walking, Wait at the door, Wait for food, Watch me

What do YOU DO when she behaves in this manner (very important): I've ignored the behavior; I've scolded the behavior; I've attempted watch me, but she's too distracted by what's outside; I've put her in a sit beside me and pet her only while she's quiet, but once I stop she starts barking again.

When did it first appear, how long has it been in place: It's been happening since we moved into our apartment about 2 1/2 years ago.

If you're walking her on leash and she sees a person in "uniform", does she react that way: I don't recall that she does because we don't see them often when we walk her. We aren't near an actual neighbor hood to walk around so she only gets to go for a run around the apartment or walk through the pet store.

Answer
Two and a half years of this behavior has developed what is called response perseverance.  It is quite difficult to counter condition a dog that is in a fight/flight/freeze (imagine trying to counter condition a Human to stand near the edge of a cliff when that Human, with its much higher "brain power", cannot overcome the fight/flight/freeze reaction).

Scolding does no good: in fact, it exacerbates the response.  The dog is responding to a perceived threat: the threat "goes away" when the dog barks.  Many dogs progress past this to actual biting if the perceived threat enters the property when the dog is loose.  This is why mailmen carry pepper spray and why the post office will refuse to deliver mail to any house where a dog is perceived by the mail carrier as a clear and present danger.  Meanwhile, the dog in question could be, virtually, LASSIE, the friendliest, most well trained and behaved, dog on the planet!  This reminds me of Ibizan Hound, a show dog, who demonstrated high territorial aggression when inside my vehicle: normal but not pleasant.  This dog, who was quite large and intimidating, did this ONLY when in my vehicle.  I counter conditioned her very, very slowly (because how many people actually come toward your vehicle in a suburban setting) by "capturing" her behavior: giving it a cue, rewarding the response to the cue, then chaining a signal to "shush" and rewarding only THAT.

I think you need to do some homework about clicker training.  This means you will have to learn what it is, how to condition your dog to the clicker, how to use the clicker to validate a cue (command) she already knows and performs 100% of the time (not one failure) using a new cue (i.e., instead of "sit", make up another word.  Your dog has already lost her response to "sit' given the fact that it has not engaged her cognition during one of these episodes).  Here is a primer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IC367wKGi4M&feature=related

The foremost expert on clicker training is Karen Pryor whose website is:
http://www.clickertraining.com/

Many "trainers" talk about desensitization.  This is extremely difficult and requires expert intervention.  Counter conditioning is actually what I mean when I talk about "desensitization".  I can "teach" a kennel filled with rescue dogs to stop barking when people walk through to see them in about ten minutes, using a clicker.  But from this distance, I can't teach YOU how to use your clicker in a manner that will communicate to your dog "NOT barking is rewarded every single time".

I suggest you go to her site and look for referral to a clicker trainer in your area, since you will need some help here, I believe.  Meanwhile, use the basic video to your advantage: use a clicker (you can obtain one now at most pet supply stores) to "train" a HUMAN (who can communicate his/her reactions or lack of same).  Its FUN and it's eye opening.  Clickers are being used with autistic children and have been for quite many years now.  I trained a horse to "dance" in fifteen minutes using a clicker, and I am far from an expert in horse behavior.

Meanwhile: when your dog behaves in this manner IN YOUR PRESENCE, ignite a startle response immediately by turning from the dog and saying anything unintelligible (unexpected) :  bah bah bah bah bah bah bah - and leave the room in a hurry, putting yourself behind a door between you and the dog. STAY behind the closed door until the dog has stopped barking, even if the dog continues to bark at the "trespasser/perceived enemy".  When the dog has STOPPED come out, scoot down to dog's level, use her name, open your arms, when she comes to you praise and give a few hugs. To truly counter condition your dog, this would have to occur many times a day over the course of weeks, which is not reasonable, but it MIGHT just give the dog her cue that she is NOT "alerting" you and can't hurt during the counter conditioning process.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

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I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

Experience

30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Organizations
Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Publications
Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Education/Credentials
Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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