How to Avoid Dog Bites - Postal Cca Self Preservation
Not Wagging The Dog About Dogs
My postal career was not long in the tooth when I started to gain an intuitive understanding of dogs. My one dog bite was suffered 24 years ago, about six months after starting in the post office, but since then I have emerged unscathed from every other canine encounter. This despite having a Rottweiler break a chain to get to me, a pit bull charge and inexplicably veer off at the last second, and a German Shepherd jump through a window screen. I don't know if irony is the correct term, but despite the best shots of these various fanged behemoths, only the little Cocker Spaniel scored.
It could be just dumb luck, but I would like to think my efforts to understand the canine mind had something to do with staying off the doggy dinner plate. I can't say I have conducted empirical research, but interacting with dogs is a big part of my day, and I continually observe their behavior and draw conclusions.
I feel gratified when my anecdotal conclusions are confirmed by science. For instance, one observation I made early on was that dog personalities tend to resemble those of their zookeepers. High strung dog owners have high strung dogs, and laid back dog owners have laid back dogs. Canines become furry miniatures of the people that maintain them, and even the friendliest of breeds can be ruined through mimicking the foul people they are stuck with. Conversely, pit bulls in loving environments can be sweet and harmless.
A June, 2019 study by a Swedish University confirms what I figured out without test tubes and petri dishes. These Scandinavian researchers measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the hair of the dogs and owners involved in the study. The conclusion they reached was that the stress level in dogs mirrors that of their human caretakers.
Why is this knowledge important to the young pup CCA seeking to skirt around those furry friends that stalk his or her shadow? It is important because it demonstrates a fundamental principle that has been a guiding light through my postal dogpocalypse. Dog bites are not a dog problem, they are a people problem. Dogs take their behavioral cues from us, and their propensity to attack or not attack stands on two legs, not four. Keep this in mind as you maneuver among those marauding mongrels between you and America's mailboxes. To help you along, here are a few other guiding principles that might save your skin, so you won't have to wag the dog with your supervisor while explaining those puncture wounds on your shins.
1. Tread Cautiously On Rover's Home Turf
As that Scandinavia study confirms, sketchy people have sketchy dogs. Letter Carriers see real world proof of this all around them. This letter carrier enjoyed a brief friendship with a lovable Rottweiler mix that turned mean when the owner's douchebag boyfriend started burning it with a cigarette. Not only do sketchies engender foul tempered canines this way, they also make little effort to keep the monsters they create from harming others. These are the folks whose mail is on perpetual dog hold, until the dog hold turns into a permanent PO box. Still the sketchies persist in their negligence, too drunk or drugged to care that Rover is ravaging the neighborhood.
CCA beware! Even abused dogs are bootlickers toward the woefully inadequate owners it has been their misfortune to be held in captivity by. Loyalty to the prison warden is a fundamental characteristic of domesticated canines, even those in good homes. So if you want to keep yourself off the furball menu, one of the first things to remember is that dogs like to put on a show for the owner. The same mongrel that barely raises its sleepy fuzzy head to give you a half hearted yap when alone, turns into a dedicated man killer when the boss is around, flinging itself against the fence to assault you. Like some of your more annoying co-workers, dogs like to show off for the boss, as if to justify the King's ransom he is paying on their Purina bill. So walk on tenterhooks when dog and owner are in the same vicinity.
An adjunct to this principle is that, surprise surprise, dogs are extremely territorial on their home turf. Remember that friendly little leashed fleabag you just scratched behind the ears yesterday, when its owner was walking it around the block? That same bundle of love will rip your throat out when you trample upon the spot he has defined as his pack's personal space.
Sometimes mere inches define this demarcation zone. As an example, there is a small dog I will just call poorly-defined Chihuahua mix, or PCM. PCM resides at a property with two houses, front and back. I have encountered PCM at the front house a few times, but because he just yaps harmlessly and stays out of the way there, I began to take him for granted. But just last week I had to take a package to the back house, where Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde PCM was lying in wait. Apparently the back house is his home base, because he transformed into a vicious cur, lunging at my heels. I had to beat a very ignominious retreat, walking in reverse so as not to present my back to the beast. Even after 25 years, I still learn new lessons about dogs.
2. Sniff Out Danger
The general public thinks that dangerous encounters between mailman and dogs are wildly exaggerated, blown out of proportion, part of some stand-up comic's routine. But to demonstrate that dog bites are, indeed, an every day affair, just since I started writing this article I have had two more incidents, one that will require the owner to move the mailbox to the fence. This particular mailman loves sweet dogs, but this particular mailman is particularly unforgiving when it comes to mean mutts.
Unfortunately, mean mutts are running rampant out there, and if you want your tender virgin CCA hide to remain unscuffed by doggy dentures, you need to learn to spot them before they sneak up and put a permanent blemish on your supermodel skin.
To do this, you have to become like one of those Old West trackers, who could tail their unwary prey across featureless plains, simply by following their tracks in the dirt. Yes most of the time your attention will be locked onto the mail, but as you approach a house there are a few key indicators to look up or down for, the better to take a bite out of danger.
1. Scat - As you approach the mailbox are you maneuvering through a minefield of dogshit? Call me Captain Obvious, but you better raise your head and look around while you tiptoe through the tulips.
2. Dog accessories - Is there a chain lying there limply, with no fish dangling at the end of the line? Yes it could be for human sex play, but most people keep their kinks behind the curtains. Dog bowl? Think about it, Jr. Empty dog house? You better start asking not just who let the dogs out, but where are they?
3. Hmm...Why is this mailbox in a different place then all the others? If you have already reached this epiphany without me telling you, you have arrived at the pinnacle of CCA wisdom, you have achieved mail delivery Nirvana. But for our unenlightened ones, let's go over it again. Say you are delivering smoothly along a street where all the boxes are by the front door, in which place they are extremely convenient for the customer. All they have to do is extend an arm, they could be naked or in their jammies, to grab the mail. But now you come to a mailbox on a curbside post, or affixed to the outside of the fence. You have an oversized package for this house.
Should you A) barge straight up to the front door or B) Exercise extreme caution? Come on, think about it. You think the owner of the house deliberately put his box on the curb? No, he really wants to check his mail in the nude too, but the sight of his flabby, cellulitic body out on the street will blind his neighbors. The truth is that his misplaced mailbox spells D-O-G P-R-O-B-L-E-M. Someone made him move it, and that someone is the post office.
3. Storm The Beaches With Due Diligence
A couple words of warning before you assault the enemy trenches at this house where your CCA dog alarm siren is blaring inside your skull, where only you can hear it. First of all, you are better off dumping the package inside the fence, but maybe you have an item that requires a signature. If you really need to go down that highway to the danger zone, do a little recon first. Follow these steps.
1. Listen for barking. Is it muffled, as if coming from inside the house or behind a fence? Is the barking stationary or getting closer?
2. Investigate all approaches - Look around the corners of the house to the backyard, to see if you can be mugged from that direction. Is the garage open? Be especially cautious about cars parked close together in the driveway. Little skulking furballs love to pounce from behind tires.
3. Rattle the cage - Just to be on the safe side, before you take that leap of faith, shake the fence and yell some gender-appropriate version of Mailman!, to draw Fido out for battle. The CCAs I train are usually bashful about doing this but for crying out loud, show some moxie as Uncle Sam's sworn-in representative.
4. Leave your escape route open. Don't shut the fence behind you until you have successfully executed the delivery, because Fluffy might execute you while you are fiddling with the latch, trying to get away.
5. Open door policy - Put your foot up against the screen door when the resident answers, until you are certain there are no toothy time bombs loose inside, no bouncing betties that are going to burst out and explode all over you, there on the porch.
6. Take your satchel - Do I really have to tell you this? How many umpteen times have you been told already? You use your satchel like a bullfighter cape while you are backing out of that ring, trying not to get gored.
4. To Spray Or Not To Spray?
With the widespread proliferation of security cameras and social media, the use of postal-issue pepper spray as a deterrent against dog attacks has become troublesome, to put it lightly. Letter carriers are being fired for indiscriminate use of the stuff. Painting a pooch in spicy orange and getting away with it is not as easy as it was in your Pop's Postal Service, now that a video of you doing so might go viral, or even make headlines on a slow news day. In either case, a public embarrassment to the Postal Service will cause management to sell you downriver in a minute, no matter how good of an employee you are. You will be marched unceremoniously off the workroom floor and as a vile, belly-crawling CCA, lowest form of life in the Galaxy, good luck getting your job back.
I personally have used pepper spray once in my postal career. The dog blinked twice, count em twice, and kept coming. Since then, I don't bother. I say retreat is the better part of valor, so I use my satchel to get away. Failing that, I sometimes employ my size 15 feet, which has sent a couple yappers sailing through the goal posts. But punting pooches could be problematic too, with Big Brother watching everywhere. I only did that instinctively, anyway, when some hungry hound was hot on my heels.
My verdict on pepper spray? Take it with you because you are supposed to, but don't use it on dogs, save it for your lunch. It goes really good on Burritos. That was a joke, please don't try that. I still have heartburn.
Here's something you might try instead, something that didn't occur to you because maybe it's not macho enough. Try being NICE to the dogs you meet along the way. No, I'm not telling you to pet them or give them treats. But instead of antagonizing or trash talking those terriers, speak to them in gentle, calming tones. When you do this, in time ninety percent of them will cease to perceive you as a threat. The other 10 percent will continue to want to rip you limb from limb but these are hard, hopeless cases, and nothing will change them anyway, not even Scooby snacks. Experience has taught me that armed neutrality with the canine element is better than open warfare.
I just wish my postal customers understood this. They insist upon yelling at their dogs because their dogs are barking at me. Don't do that, I say, sometimes out loud, because inside their shaggy skulls your dogs believe you are barking too, and when the alpha of the pack barks they just bark louder. What postal customers should do when the mailman passes by is speak to Spike in soothing tones, to let him know that this guy or gal who smells like his favorite piss tree pulped into paper is okay.
5. Know Your Enemy
I use this capsule's heading only because it sounds cool, not because I think dogs are always the enemy. In fact, treating them as such will get you more problems than solutions.
That said, you need to get inside the canine mind, to start thinking like a dog. That is easier for some of us than others, because some of us are half hound already, or so our wives assure us. I am convinced I was a dog in a previous life because I can pee anywhere, I enjoy a good belly rub, and I have no problem picking up a soaked slobber ball and tossing it over a fence, back into the grateful jowls of some retriever. But for many humans this kind of behavior is completely alien, so allow me to elaborate.
Let's focus on barking. Not all barking is bad, not all barking means you have a man muncher on your hands. In fact, there are two general types of barking, that time and experience will allow you to distinguish between.
First of all there is what I call recreational barking. Simply put, Spot ain't got s**t to do all day except for this one time when you walk by, which is his only chance to act like a real dog, instead of the pathetic pampered pet he has become. Why would you deprive him of his entertainment by yelling at him or, even worse, spraying him? As long as you're out here and he's back there, let him get it out of his system. Besides, Spot might really like you, though he's got a weird ass way of showing it. His overly exuberant barking might be his way of saying hello. Why escalate the situation by reacting negatively? Just say morning Spot, and keep moving.
Then there is I want to chew you up and poop you out the other end barking. Dogs with sketched out owners usually exhibit this behavior, when they have become fearful and distrustful of anything walking upright and not dragging knuckles in the dirt, like their owners do.
Doggy psychologists like to pretend they understand the components of real honest to goodness kill and dismember the intruder barking, but I don't think many of these PHDs have taken their studies beyond the sterile, laboratory environment of the kennel, which is not where real dogs reside. As a mailman who treads the haunts of real dogs every day, I take certain exceptions to their findings. Anyhow, here is a sample of what the so-called authorities say.
Low pitched, sustained barking mixed with growls is a bad thing. The experts tell us that this is because in nature, big things make lower pitched noises. True enough - we all know that little yapping Pomeranian is more shrill on your ears than that mastiff that eyes you hungrily. That said, I have never heard a pissed-off Chihuahua doing impersonations of a Great Dane. That might go over great at canine cocktail parties, but on the mean streets of America, yappers seem to yap in one eardrum-busting frequency, despite the level of threat they are attempting to convey.
Posture is also supposed to communicate the aggression level of the dog. Dogs intent on attacking assume a stiff and rigid pose, with ears flattened back. I don't have any qualms with that assessment, but the same source says that when dogs are only playing they will spring toward you and flatten their legs on the ground. Personally, I have seen a lot of mean dogs doing this that weren't playing, so I wouldn't spring into the yard and start romping with Rover, based on that alone.
Here's a novel idea: Maybe dogs are as fickle as people, and one personality size does not fit all. As your darling wife progresses through the cycles of lunar orbits, you understand her better than anybody. You sense when she's approachable and when you better back off. Your beloved spouse is recognized as a distinct individual, but scientists tend to make over-generalizations about nature. I have noticed a tendency among the egghead set to classify all animals as dumb, instinctive brutes. My advice, on the other hand, is to treat dogs as individuals, just as you would your significant other, and to trust that instinct bug in your own brain that tells you when something is amiss. Better yet, in these nascent stages of your CCA experience, just stay as far away from all dogs as you can.
6. Don't Be A Wussbag For Fleabags
I could bark about dogs all day long, but this article needs closure. Once my brain has been let off the leash it tends to run free and pee on every hydrant in the neighborhood. So to wrap it up, let me just ask you, the CCA, what your personal dog policy is going to be? Are you going to be as meek as that mangy Maltese, or as bold as that buffed up bull terrier?
Remember that as long as that arrow key is slung from your belt and the postal vehicle is in your possession, you are the boss of the mail. You decide where the mail goes or does not go, not the customer. Mail delivery is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, comments such as Oh, he doesn't bite, or he'll just lick you to death, or he just loves the other mailman, do not constitute an obligation on your part to proceed with delivery. Anytime you feel unsafe, backhand the mail and bring it back. Don't let some well-meaning customer sweet talk you into the unemployment line where, to add insult to injury, you will be after your mauling. The Postal Service will not thank you for your courage under fire, they will deem you a safety hazard and get rid of you.
Don't be bashful about putting a house on dog hold, either. Even if the regular tells you that dog is fine, think about the sanctity of your own skin first. Old Sparky might treat the reg like a fellow member of the pack, but he obviously does not like you. Do yourself and the other CCAs a favor by nipping this problem in the bud, before somebody gets bitten. That growling old regular will only whimper like a whipped whippet when the supervisor presses him for barking at you about a dog hold he doesn't like.
This list of six basic principles of dog bite protection is not intended to be all-inclusive. I pretend to be a pundit, but there are safety sages out there whose wisdom and experience far surpasses my own. Therefore, if you have some tidbit tugging at you like a Yorkie yanking on the other end of your satchel, do us all a favor and share it in the comments section. My hide is not particularly hairy, but it is thick, and I will gratefully endure any criticism or corrections you wish to make down there.