Aggression At the Door

Hi Sandy….

Since you’re the authority for all things Silky, perhaps you can help me with a new “problem” with M.  The longer we have him, the more confident he becomes…and the more aggressive he becomes about the mail delivery. 

We have a slot in our door where the mailman delivers our mail.  This drives M mad….I can understand this from his point of view because 1) he hears someone approaching our door and 2) the mail “attacks” our house by daring to sneak in through the door.  We can’t block the area because then we wouldn’t be able to get to our kitchen, plus we never know exactly what time the mail will arrive. 

This is a problem we can live with…(although I do not appreciate having to buy the Netflix movies that he gets to before I do because he’s attacked them and torn the DVD)….BUT….now M has started nipping at people who come into our house, repairmen, male friends, etc.  He’s fine with our daughter and my female friends. 

As I’m sure you can appreciate, this is NOT a problem we can afford to let go.  It seems to only be men at this point…and they are usually wearing big shoes…do you think that’s it?  We’ve tried holding him when they come in which stops the nipping, but that doesn’t really solve the problem because he just continues to bark aggressively at them.  I’m sure you have the answer to our problem, so I’ll thank you in advance.

SP, Florida

Dear S,

As terrier boys grow up they often start to try to push their boundaries regarding aggressive behavior. There seems to be some new idea in the boy’s head that he can exert more dominance now that he is fully mature. I’m glad you asked me now about this now rather than later, as this problem only gets worse if neglected.

I have a question to start with. Would it be possible to have a mailbox rather than having the mail drop from “Neverland” onto your front hallway through the “Black Magic Slot”? This would help as a starter, as then M wouldn’t have this daily restimulation.

If you can’t switch over to a mailbox I would definitely keep M crated during the general period the mailman is coming, until you can teach him an alternative behavior.

I asked my girlfriend and kennel partner Karen about M’s behavior. This is what she said would help:

M has a learned behavior which is to him thrilling and very rewarding. You cannot untrain him from this behavior, but you can:

1. Get him more exercise so that when the mailman comes M is more mellow and relaxed. Karen recommends teaching M to run on a treadmill. I think you can also do this by walking M at least 15 minutes at a steady fast pace (between 3.5 and 4 mi an hour) first thing in the morning.

The pace needs to be steady — this is not a potty run or a chance to chat with the neighbors. When I exercise my dogs like this I pick a quiet street and basically walk down the middle of the road.

2. Teach M an alternative behavior. This will be a trick — something that M already does in some way. My Sheila for example loves to twirl around my finger. Does M like to roll over? Dance on his hind legs? You get such a trick reliably done by encouraging M to do “his” trick, then NAME it, and praise and treat.

When M does this reliably, Karen says he should learn how to do it OFF THE FLOOR, as M’s trigger is the vibration of those big shoes coming down on the pavement. He can do it on the couch — or maybe even learn how to dance on a coffee table (start this with a good solid bath mat if on the table).

When he gets really good at this trick, when you hear the mailman comes, send him to do his “alternative behavior”, praise and treat. Karen says it’s like knowing how to ride a bike, then learning how to ride a tricycle instead. You don’t forget how to ride the bike, but you have an alternative skill.

3. The basic cure for a dog who thinks he can run your life is obedience training. I am not talking about teaching M that you will “dominate” him — remember no one ever wins a spitting contest with a dog — but that it more fun for M to let you be in charge of things than for him to be in charge.

If you can find a good local obedience class, that is ideal. Otherwise there are basic training books available.

M needs to learn that you CAN still control him even when that personification of evil (at least in M’s mind) otherwise known as the postman drops your Netflix through your slot.

Hope this helps! Let me know how it goes! Could I post your question and my answer on my blog?

Best, Sandy

Hi Sandy….

As to going to all that trouble to teach M a trick for when the mailman comes, since sometimes we’re both gone when he arrives, there wouldn’t be anyone around to DO the trick thing…that’s assuming we could teach him in the first place.  Seems to me the easiest way to deal with this is to put a mailbox outside, however, M barks at anyone who even walks by, so since the mailman would still have to come up to the door to place the mail in the box, don’t know how much good it would do….of course it would save money on Netflix fees!!  

I like the idea of obedience training…I’ll look into that.

He was never like this when we still had our wire-haired fox terrier Buster….M knew his place as number 2 dog.  But since we lost Buster a year ago, M has gotten used to being the alpha male (which is OK cause we wanted him to be a little more self-confident). 

Then…we’re back to keeping Lucky (my daughter’s dog) and I assume that this behavior is to cement M’s place in the pecking order.  Lucky is very good (he was raised with Buster also and was aware of his number 2 status) and is submissive to Max when they’re playing (he’s bigger than M, but still when they’re “wrestling”, Lucky will roll over on his back and let M be the dominant one).  I’m sure this throws something into the mix also….

I’ll keep you posted ….and of course you can use anything I write you anytime you need to….

Dear S,

I understand about the trick. I would keep him crated when you aren’t home to keep him from being stimulated by the mailman coming up the walk. And the obedience is definitely going to help. Also the walks — if you keep him having enough exercise to feel relaxed and mellow, he’ll be less inclined to think that chasing down the eevil footfalls and tearing up the Netflix is a good idea.

But even if you aren’t going to be there when this normally happens, I would still teach him that trick. It’ll help him in learning that doing what you say can be an awful lot of fun.

Best, Sandy

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