I’ve never believed that dogs bark at mail carriers because they wear uniforms. I’ve yet to see a dog get upset over a marine, or a Girl Scout – so why mail carriers? The reason, I believe, is that dogs have no idea what a mail carrier is up to. A carrier drops mail into a box outside the front door. Since dogs seldom get mail, all they know is that this person brazenly walks up to their door, jiggles a box outside, and leaves without even a “Hey, boy, how ya’ doin’ today?”
Sharing the canine consensus of carrier aversion is my dog, PeaJay. He’s a brown and black mongrel whose ears stand straight up when he knows the mail carrier is nearby, although at all other times he’s as dog-eared as The Dead Sea Scrolls. He weighs 32 pounds and resembles a short, reasonably groomed junkyard dog.
The ruckus begins the instant our carrier’s foot touches our block. All the dogs up the street begin to bark. As the carrier approaches our house, PeaJay begins with low, intermittent snarls. When the carrier is two doors away, the snarls are replaced with a staccato of barks that crack across the living room. Each series of barks ends with a howl that tapers off as his lungs collapse like spent balloons.
“Quiet,” I yell. “Quiet!”
For a moment he heeds me, just long enough to give me this odd look that I interpret loosely as, “Please, Master – fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…”
By the time the carrier reaches my door, PeaJay’s state is frenzied. He wants to charge the window, but he’d have to leap on the couch to do that. But he’s not allowed on furniture, so he hurls his expletives at the door. When the carrier is a few doors past us, PeaJay calms down somewhat, pacing the living room as he grumbles and grunts, “…and you better keep on movin’!”
The ritual ends when the barking outside diminishes, signifying that the carrier has turned the corner. PeaJay, with a sense of accomplishment, stiff-legs it to the middle of the living room, executes a few turns in place and plops down heavily-asleep in a fraction of a second.
A variation of this scenario occurs wherever dogs cross paths with ‘appointed rounds.’ What really ticks off a dog is that a mail carrier never allows an opportunity for even one quick sniff of a pant leg. This, to a dog, is the height of bad manners. For to a canine, permitting a cursory sniff is akin to being handed a diary. The floating molecules snatched by his nose tell him if you’re friend or foe. A more thorough olfactory inspection reveals the species and gender of the pets you have, plus megabytes of other data that our inept proboscises can’t begin to fathom.
I’ve toyed with the idea of testing my theory by opening the door and introducing my dog to the carrier. I feel that after a few sniffs, PeaJay would wonder why he’s treated mail carriers with such contempt for all these years. But I hesitate…I fear that the intensity of the moment might cause PeaJay to skip the sniffing protocol, placing my theory, and the carrier, in an embarrassing position. With this in mind, I let sleeping dogs lie.
Richard Marino resides in Oceanside, New York.
© 2002 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Winter 2002