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Dogs vs. Mailmen: Does Size Matter? A Tale of Ankle Biters and Toe Tasters

Updated on September 1, 2013
Mel Carriere profile image

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

Godzilla-size Mr. Zip terrorizes Tokyo as he makes a special international delivery, proving the old saying that SIZE DOES MATTER!
Godzilla-size Mr. Zip terrorizes Tokyo as he makes a special international delivery, proving the old saying that SIZE DOES MATTER! | Source

Does Size Matter?

In the ongoing war of Man against Beast, it is often automatically assumed that the old adage "Size does Matter" must hold true. After all, it certainly did matter as Godzilla trampled Tokyo multiple times, and then finally got tired of Japanese food and turned his attention to New York. Of course, since I examine everything here through postal blue lenses, I have often wondered how much size matters in the Mailman's ongoing bloody war of attrition against all creatures included beneath the canine definition. My subsequent research revealed that size does indeed matter, but perhaps not exactly in the way you think.

Big Dog - Big Bite

Oh thank heaven! Don't hold back on the condiments! A little mustard and relish on that Mailman's leg and a Pit Bull's life is absolute bliss.
Oh thank heaven! Don't hold back on the condiments! A little mustard and relish on that Mailman's leg and a Pit Bull's life is absolute bliss. | Source

Nobody can deny that the big dogs are responsible for more fatalities. According to DogBite.org, between 2005 and 2012 73% of all dog bites that resulted in death could be attributed to two breeds, the Pit Bull and the Rottweiler. The fact the pit bull label actually applies to a couple dozen different breeds sort of confounds the issue about who is number one, but it cannot be denied that the big boys in general do the most damage. This does not mean they bite more, but when they do bite it packs a wallop. On an interesting side note, the top mailman-maimers and the breeds also responsible for the largest number of fatal attacks on civilized non-postal humanity are part of a canine classification known as the "Molosser." The Molosser breeds all share a common ancestor; this being a large shepherd dog known as the Molossus which originated in a portion of ancient Greece. So the Molosser breeds, which include the Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Mastiffs and other types often tagged as dangerous share a common ancestry. Any mailman will tell you they also share a common taste for human flesh, but this may just be stress related hyperbole. Actually, their reputation as biters may be exaggerated, as will be demonstrated as we delve further into this topic.

Nonetheless, the strength of these Molosser brutes is something to be feared. As a case in point, several years ago I was delivering my route when a hefty Rottweiler actually broke through a chain to get to me. Fortunately the owner was able to restrain the animal before it chewed off one or several of my body parts. In the end it turned out that the dog owner was the son of a letter carrier, and he was absolutely mortified about the incident. To make amends he brought cookies to the post office and gave me a hotel gift certificate. Fortunately, he did not intend the hotel outing to be a fence-mending gesture and I did not have to share the room with either him or the dog. In the end everything worked out okay, but it was a close call!

Speaking of mending fences, a Rottweiler owned by a former neighbor actually knocked out planks in my fence by continually butting its thick head against it. I guess it caught the scent of the post office on me, and its inborn sense of duty to destroy all Mailmen made him none too pleased about it. It was actually a relief when the people moved while I still had a few planks left, because it was getting embarrassing to walk around the back yard in my underwear.

Nature or Nurture?

Are the so-called killer dog breeds born that way, or do they simply adopt the charming personalities of their owners? NFL quarterback and notorious convicted dog abuser Michael Vick pictured.
Are the so-called killer dog breeds born that way, or do they simply adopt the charming personalities of their owners? NFL quarterback and notorious convicted dog abuser Michael Vick pictured. | Source

The ongoing debate in the discussion of dangerous dog breeds essentially centers around whether the big dogs were born bad or made that way. Having met more than a handful of the charming people that are drawn toward Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, I have always intuitively felt that these dogs quickly adopt the delightful dispositions of their owners, but now I have discovered there is actual evidence to back this assumption up.

An article in the March, 2009 Journal of Forensic Science entitled "Vicious Dogs: The Antisocial Behaviors and Psychological Characteristics of Owners" presents evidence in favor of the nurture side of the debate. The study is a bit wordy, and you almost have to have a degree in obscure academic terminology to understand it, but the conclusion drawn is that "...vicious dog owners reported significantly more criminal behaviors than other dog owners. Vicious dog owners were higher in sensation seeking and primary psychopathy. Study results suggest that vicious dog ownership may be a simple marker of broader social deviance."

That's quite a mouthful, and although I'm not absolutely certain what "primary psychopathy" means, it doesn't sound like the kind of person you would want to trust with watching your cell phone and computer while you duck into the bathroom at Starbucks. The long and short of this study and the other evidence I am about to present is that the raw material in these "big dogs" isn't necessarily bad. It seems that for the most part dogs are dogs, and the real difference is that the bigger dogs pack a bigger bite. As we have seen, they are often also made vicious by their owners, who are attracted to the "macho" breeds.

Ankle Biters, Toe Tasters

Thanks to Cathy for sharing this charming photo.
Thanks to Cathy for sharing this charming photo. | Source

I think people understand this intuitively already, but there is actual evidence to back up the notion that some of the small dogs are actually worse biters than the big boys. My own personal experience can attest to this, since the only time I was bitten during my postal service career was by a sneaky Cocker Spaniel who crept up on me from behind and left a gouge in the back of my calf. This happened nearly twenty years ago and since then my dog radar has become more finely honed, meaning I'll probably get bitten tomorrow.

Anyhow, even though I would like to blow you away with piles of indisputable statistics to prove that the ankle-biters and toe tasters bite more, I can't do this because really good statistics about dog bites in general are hard to come by. Dog bite fatalities are easy to record, because when people are spurting arterial blood out of gaping tooth wounds they are naturally inclined to go the hospital, where a friendly employee with a clipboard will check off a box on a form as you patiently wait for an ER nurse to finish up with the hangnail patient and come over and staunch your wound. But aside from dog bite fatalities, overall non-fatal dog bite statistics are hard to come by.

The reason is that the great majority of bites go unreported. To cite another personal case in point, just the other day a little terrier tried to take off a piece of my finger. I actually thought the little brute was friendly, and I had been giving him a very satisfying neck rub as good as any Swedish masseuse could do. The ungrateful little pooch was enjoying this immensely.until I lifted up my hand to go on my way. That was when he leaped up, as Terriers are good at doing, and tried to snap off my finger. Fortunately my reflexes are still good and I got away with just a tiny scratch, which I naturally did not report to my supervisor. Contrary to popular opinion, letter carriers are not obligated to pet your dog, feed your dog, or even like your dog, which offends some people when they find out. In fact, letter carriers are strictly warned not to pet dogs at all, and I would have had some explaining to do if I had reported the incident. So please don't tell!

For the most part I think that when most people get a little nip from a dog they do like I did; they wash their hands, perhaps apply a little bit of antibiotic ointment, and go on their way. I think this is the primary reason why there is such a dearth of overall dog bite statistics. All the same, there do exist a few interesting studies that hint at certain non-Molosser breeds as being the overall worst biters.

Will the real biters please stand up

This mostly harmless little fellow crept up behind me a few days ago, taste-tested the back of my calf, then walked away when he found that mailman did not agree with his discriminating palate.
This mostly harmless little fellow crept up behind me a few days ago, taste-tested the back of my calf, then walked away when he found that mailman did not agree with his discriminating palate. | Source

A study done in Ohio that reviewed that state's dog bite statistics over a twenty year period found that there were several breeds responsible for a higher percentage of dog bites than the "Pit-Bull" collection of breeds. While Pit-Bulls accounted for only 2% of dog bites in this study, the so called "friendly" Labrador retriever scored a much higher 7%. Yet most people who shy away from Pit Bulls would scratch a Lab behind the ears without hesitation. Cocker Spaniels and Toy dogs also had a higher incidence of dog bites than the much maligned Pit Bull, according to this study.

Another measurement of the tendency of certain dog breeds to bite is the Canine Temperament Test. According to the American Temperament Test Society, the "...Temperament Test provides breeders a means for evaluating temperament and gives pet owners insights into their dog's behavior." A high score on the temperament test generally indicates a relatively non aggressive animal, while lower scores indicate greater aggression. Surprisingly enough, Pit-Bulls do very well on the temperament test, scoring in the 90 percent range in the aggregate, a number which indicates much less aggressive behavior than the Chihuahua (69.8%), Cocker Spaniel, (82.1%), the Dachshund (81.6%), and a host of other ankle biters and toe tasters.


Conclusion

So Chihuahuas prove to be among the most aggressive breeds, after all.  Watch your toes around this little fellow.
So Chihuahuas prove to be among the most aggressive breeds, after all. Watch your toes around this little fellow. | Source

When delivering a package in a customer's yard I was once bitten, or should I say gummed, by a feisty old Chihuahua who had not lost his spunk but had lost most of his teeth. Since he did not come up much higher than my ankle, the only part he could get his worn down choppers around was my toe. All the old fellow had to show for his efforts was the rather unsavory taste of shoe leather, which does not go away easily, even with the most effective over the counter mouthwash. Anyway, ever since then I have shied away from this breed, and now I have finally scientifically proven that I was not being overly skittish and paranoid, but that I had legitimate reasons for my fears.

Well, I won't go that far, but the statistics I stumbled across at least lean in the direction of proving that dog size doesn't really matter in the way we think it does. Big or small all dogs alike have teeth, and it is often the little ones that have more willingness to use them. Size does matter, but the good thing is that the big ones usually announce their presence and generally don't sneak up behind you. The moral of the story, anyway, is to keep your eye on your tender toes and ankles, keep a spare tourniquet in your satchel in case one of the big ones gets you and a wet-wipe in the more likely event that you get horribly gummed.

Does dog size really matter?

Are the big "Molosser" breeds actually more aggressive, and should there be legislation against them?

See results

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      I love the way you discussed the statistics and told us about the temperament test. The test was new to me although I did know they have a way to measure that, I just didn't know what it was called. I know exactly what you're talking about though when it comes to the size of the dog only making a difference when it comes to the amount of damage they can do. When I was in high school, I had a paper route. It always seemed to be the smaller dogs that were the most aggressive. I hope no one takes that the wrong way because I'm not trying to lump all dogs of the same size or breed together. I believe it's true a dog's level of aggressiveness has more to do with the way it's trained than the breed of dog.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      It seems pretty obvious from having done a little research now that the rather, shall we say lowlife people that are sometimes attracted to the Pit Bull and Rottweiler breeds (not everyone of course) often corrupt these creatures and.make them vicious. I knew a Rottweiler-mix pup that was as sweet as can be until a man living at the house began to burn it with his cigarette. After that it hated all men. It's unfortunate how animals are victimized like this. Thank you for dropping in. I enjoy your visits.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      My Rotties love the mailman and it's funny how other breeds of dogs I board with a reputation for being "friendly" act as if they want to eat him. As your study shows, it's all about how the dogs are raised. Since my pups were young, we have trained them that mail men bring good things. They therefore wag their tail and go greet him every morning. And of course, they love the pizza guy too~! Your article was fun to read and very interesting.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you. I am sure they must love the pizza guy more because chewing on pizza is a lot more delicious than chewing on paper. Rottweilers can be perfectly sweet as long as they are not abused, and any dog becomes vicious when mistreated. I am sure in your line of work you have seen all the horror stories. Thanks for reading!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      It's funny that you say that because my male has actually come to enjoy shredding junk mail and boxes to pieces, lol! He's better than the average shredding machine.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      As long as it's not the mailman's leg being shredded I say shred away!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 3 years ago from America

      It's really not all about the way a dog is raised. Dogs can be mean when they come from a loving home. We just had to put down our half Lab half German Shorthair last year he was 14. He was raised in a loving home never mistreated in his life. He didn't like anyone or other dogs, until he got to know other dogs, loved his cats. He never bit but I never trusted him when strangers came around. UPS called and told us to lock him up before deliveries. We have had over 50 years of dogs. All of our dogs lived in a safe calm house. We've had big and small. Some protected us and did not like strangers. We owned Great Danes and Newfoundland great dogs but very protective.

      My husband was also a rural mailman. He loves dogs and has no fear of them but there was one house on his route he would not get out of the car until the dog was put away, there were three owned by these people through the years and all three German Shepherd. All three would bite in a second. These people were our friends I never saw them mistreat any of the dogs. I love German Shepherds but I couldn't go near these dogs. When I was visiting one day their dog came after me I closed the door in time for him to hit his head on the door. I never visited again.

      We now have a Chihuahua and he thinks he is a Pit Bull but only to the smells around the house, deer, rabbits, bear, etc. He's friendly with everyone.

      Voted up.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Dogs have individual personalities, just like people. It's hard to classify all dogs in a certain breed as "aggressive," or another breed as "friendly." It's a lot more complicated than it seems. Thanks for sharing you story.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A good piece, both entertaining and true. Another somewhat nasty tempered breed in the Chow. The nicest breed that I have ever met is the greyhound.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I don't like Chows either, and since my wife won't let me go to the tracks anymore I can't say much about Greyhounds, except the one I rode home when I lost my shirt at the tracks in Vegas. Just kidding of course. Thanks for dropping in and contributing!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Loved this! I've known small toy poodles that will take a toe or two off. Those small dogs have a whopper of a bite. The worst bite I had was from a small dog. I've been bitten 3 times and it was never one of the most feared breeds. But I love all dogs.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I was bitten once by a Cocker Spaniel years ago. The good thing about the big dogs is that they announce their presence so you have a fighting chance. What line of work are you in that you have been bitten so often? Thanks for stopping by.

    • fivesenses profile image

      Leena 3 years ago from new delhi

      I had a pup when I was small and am not really a dog lover as such...recently in my city a dog breeder forgot to tie up one of his ferocious dogs, which attacked a neighbour's new born and mauled it which was horrifying...I'm scared of any dog breed I can't tell and don't go near any dog that is larger than I am...great info on dogs and the ones which bite!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Dogs can be sweet, loyal and loving but can turn into rampaging beasts at a moment's notice, especially when they have abusive owners. Thanks for dropping in!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Dogs vs. Mailmen: Does Size Matter? A Tale of Ankle Biters and Toe Tasters dogs are my favorite pets but not all breeds and sizes, an interesting and useful hub

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Mel. It's my first time checking out one of your hubs, but I enjoyed the read. I used to work part time for a post office and art of that job was delivering telegrams by push bike. Telegrams had to be hand delivered to the person, they couldn't be placed in the letter box, so I often had go to the door. I found the most aggressive canines to be those that appeared to be the most harmless at first sight. One particular fox terrier took a distinct set against me. He only managed to connect his teeth with my skin on one occasion thankfully.

      The only larger dog I have experienced trouble with was an Australian blue cattle dog. I knocked on the door of a house to find no one at home....well except for the dog who came flying around the corner teeth bared and growling aggressively. I had to jump the fence but he grabbed my leg, tearing my jeans. I luckily escaped with just some slight teeth marks and bruising.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Wow, mail delivery "down under" sounds much more hazardous than here. In the US if we don't think it is safe we don't have to deliver the mail. It's very nice to meet you. I love Australia and the Aussies. I went there twice in the navy. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      My experience happened many years ago Mel. I don't even think they still have 'telegrams', so it's probably not as hazardous these days due to Health and Safety regulations that didn't exist back then.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Glad you survived that experience. Appreciate your visit.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      What a great read this is! Amusing anecdotes and such an easy style. I've always thought the main problem is the owners and it seems from what you've said that I'm right. I also agree that small dogs are often 'yappy' and more aggressive - I think it's an inferiority complex!

      Superb hub.

      Have noticed your name several times in comments and thanks for visiting my latest hub just now. Off to follow you and I look forward to reading more. Ann

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I am delighted that you enjoyed it and I look forward to interacting with you here. Thanks for reading!

    • Monis Mas profile image

      Aga 2 years ago

      My dog is small, but very protective. And he does not like uniforms!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I know the type. I think I know your dog. Just keep a barrier between he and I and everyone will be happy. Thanks for dropping in!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting reading. I don't think size matters, a lot of things come into whether they are ankle biters or not, some breeds it's their nature, but a lot I think is to do with the owner.

      We had cocker spaniels, never had any problems, until one day a sales man arrived, he had a dog with him in his car, he came through the gate and bend and patted one of the golden cocker spaniel, well you know what happened.

      Anyone reading this if you have the smell of your dog on your hand never put your hand down to pat a strangers dog, that's trouble.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Curiously enough, the only dog bite I had in 20 plus years of carrying mail Elsie was from a Cocker Spaniel. They can be nervous little pooches. Better not to pet any unknown dogs really, but after 20 years. I think I have kind of learned to read their vibes. Thanks for dropping in!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Lol this hub made me laugh but also a little sad because in your line of work a generally friendly delightful creature (dog) becomes this sort of sneaky menace, like that cocker spaniel. That was so not cool, btw. I hate sneaky biters. At least other dogs warn you with barking, or raised fur, or an aggressive stance. In his defense, the dog was probably so scared of you, he figured his best chance at taking you down is a Blitzkrieg-style attack :)

      And I liked that you've vindicated large breed 'vicious dogs'. No surprise there. Dogs are really pure (I have 3 of those) and a vicious dog almost always means a bad owner.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I love dogs kalinin1158 and if most of the dogs on my route are not friendly they at least develop a non hostile attitude toward me. Whenever I come across a truly angry dog I know that someone is abusing it in secret even if the owner is sweet and friendly. Unlike humans, dog personality is less nature and more nurture. Thanks for reading!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      This one mailman in my area always has dog treats handy. So I'm just walking my dogs in the morning, and he always stops, and gives them a little biscuit. For good measure I guess! :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I used to do that too until the Postal Service started punishing letter carriers for it. I guess they assume it is not a safe practice. Now they just have to get by with me scratching them behind the ears.

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