Q. “White dog bit my hand.” That was the unabridged version of the note I found scribbled on an envelope in my mailbox, during the week when my patient and long-suffering mailman, John, was out of town. I’ve got two labs, both rescues. Angus is old and gray and barks at the mailman as well; Ruby is sweet and shy with all dogs and people outside the yard-but inside it, she charges the fence and acts like she’s going to kill passersby. It gets worse: The “White Dog Bit My Hand” note came a couple weeks after “White Dog Tried to Bite Me”—this from the paper deliveryman. And here’s the more embarrassing part: I’ve had Ruby for three years. She was probably abused as a pup, she used to be terrified of new people, but has settled down in most situations. She’s mostly lab, but may have a wee bit of pit bull. I’ve tried a citronella collar that squirts when she barks, but it doesn’t faze her.
I’ve tried a lot of “no!” when I’m there to catch the behavior (but she does it mostly when I’m gone). I’ve put an inner fence inside the fence, but she can still reach the gate where the mailbox is. Now I’ve moved the mailbox and am thinking of fixing sweet Ruby up with a shock bark collar. Any other thoughts? Thanks Dog Shouters! —Elizabeth
We definitely have some issues here. Good that you moved the mailbox. A solid-paneled fence that would prevent her from seeing the mailman would stop the barking and lunging as well. But as for correcting the behavior of the dog (rather than just erecting more elaborate defences): Forget the spray collars. They’re not going to work. Bark collars are effective at suppressing the bark and will probably work, but they won’t permanently stop the barking or teach the dog anything. Also, if you wire up one dog, you should probably wire up the other as well. I subscribe heavily to the pack mentality. If the older dog can still bark, it will encourage the other. What the dog really needs is some socialization and desensitization for passersby, especially those in uniform. With Ruby on a lead, walk out and greet the mailman. Have her patiently, then have the mailman deliver treats with each visit. Give your mailman treats ahead of time if you need to. You want to emphasize that seeing the mailman is a good thing and that this territorial aggression thing isn’t needed. Consider a strong obedience program for both of your dogs and cement yourself as their leader. If they don’t feel like they rule the yard, they’ll feel less inclination to defend it.
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