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Dog Training Elite Presents at National USPS Bite Awareness Week Conference

In its first engagement with the U.S. Government, the growing franchise presented on general bite prevention and tips for both mail carriers and the public.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSORED 11:11AM 07/08/24

Dog Training Elite, the national dog training franchise focused on making better communities through better dogs, is further expanding its impact. In addition to direct training services in local communities, Dog Training Elite is working to increase education through external partnerships. Recently, Oakley Thorn, Dog Training Elite franchise owner presented at USPS’s National Bite Awareness Week Conference, sharing tips for mail carriers looking to protect themselves as they work their delivery routes.

“Dogs are very straightforward animals; if you know what to look for, you can easily determine how they’re feeling in the moment,” Thorn said. “The ability to read dogs’ body language is a great skill for anyone who will ever come across dogs to have, but it’s especially important for those who are around dogs more frequently and those who know that they might unexpectedly encounter a dog.”

The Occupational Risk for Postal Carriers

Postal carriers encounter both of these situations quite frequently. Many families have dogs that mail carriers are aware of, but scenarios where a visiting dog is present or a family dog slips out the door unexpectedly are not uncommon.

Last year, there were over 5,800 dog bite incidents involving postal workers. Many of these incidents likely could have been prevented with proper management from dog owners and additional education for postal carriers.

Thorn’s presentation offered additional information to help postal carriers act proactively in their encounters with dogs and dog owners to better understand how they can play a role in creating safer situations for their mail carriers.

What You Need To Know about Body Language and Bite Prevention

The vast majority of bite-prevention tips are focused on dog body language. A dog that is lunging or snarling is clearly communicating stress or aggression, but there are other places to look to gauge a dog’s feelings before the situation escalates.

When interacting with dogs, it is important to remember that dogs can bite for multiple reasons. The most widely recognized reason is aggression or protection of their space or family, but there are fear-reactive dogs who will bite when they feel stressed, threatened or trapped. Watching for any and all signs of negative emotions in a dog will help you to avoid any type of unnecessary stress and risk of bite.

Dogs’ tails are a great indicator, but it is important to remember that a wagging tail does not always indicate a happy dog. 

  • A low, relaxed wag can be a sign of playfulness or a recognition by the dog that it is not in charge. 
  • A stiff tail that is tucked between the legs shows fear or anxiety.
  • A raised tail with tremors or a stiff wag communicates, “I’m in charge.” This shows that the dog does not respect your authority, and it can be a potential bite warning.

Dogs’ eyes are another helpful place to look. Intense eye contact with a dog can encourage aggression, so it’s important to observe the dog’s body language without accidentally communicating a threat.

  • Squinting, winking and slow blinking can be signs of relaxation, trust or playfulness.
  • Wide eyes, sometimes referred to as “whale eyes,” demonstrate alertness or discomfort.
  • An intense, unblinking gaze is a sign of focus and possible oncoming aggression.

Paying attention to a dog’s other body language, including face, ears and posture can provide more context to the situation.

  • A dog who is stiff or rigid is likely uncomfortable, and this discomfort can turn into aggression.
  • If a dog pins its ears backward, it is communicating fear or anger. Either way, a bite may be coming.
  • Perky, forward ears tend to indicate that a dog is alerting to or focused on something specific. This is not always a bad thing, but when paired with other stress indicators, can be a sign that a bite may be coming.
  • Some dogs will “shake off” tension or stress with a full-body shake. Dogs will also react to stress by yawning or licking. Taking note of these behaviors can help you gauge a dog’s comfort and respond accordingly to avoid additional stress or tension.

Finding these indicators is just the first step. Once you have learned how to identify what a dog is trying to tell you with its body language, you can react accordingly. If a dog is showing signs of stress, fear or aggression, the best response is to respond logically and calmly. Do not crouch, kneel, reach out to or try to get closer to the dog. Do not make direct eye contact. Rather, you should slowly back away from the dog — never running, keeping your mail satchel between you and the dog when possible.

Postal carriers should also add a dog repellent to their daily supplies. There are repellent options that utilize pressurized air in a can that, when sprayed, makes an unpleasant, but harmless, hissing sound to deter the dog. It is good to keep tools like this on hand for scenarios where body language-related solutions are not fully effective.

Dog Owners’ Role in Keeping Everyone Safe

Responsible pet ownership is the first step in keeping both dogs and mail carriers safe. Ideally, dog owners can manage their pets in a way that prevents them from ever coming into unwanted contact with a mail carrier or other stranger. 

Keeping dogs inside the home, in a fenced yard or on a leash is the best way to ensure the dog is under control and not posing a risk to postal carriers. If you need to open the door for a postal carrier, make sure your dog is secure in another room, crated or otherwise controlled.

“It is always the responsibility of the dog owner to ensure they are keeping their dog, themselves and others around them safe,” Thorn said. “No matter the dog’s breed, personality or history, there are tools and methods that can help you to manage your dog, and working with a professional trainer will equip you to do so confidently.”

In all cases, working with a professional trainer makes all these practices even easier. Dogs with good manners and a strong baseline of obedience are more manageable, and professionals can help train dogs that are reactive or aggressive.

Happier, Healthier Communities Through Better Dogs

Dog Training Elite’s methods are based on the firm belief that a strong dog-handler relationship is the foundation of a well-behaved dog. Dog owners who successfully build trusting relationships with their pets can better manage and advocate for their animals, creating a more positive experience for the community.

Bridging the gap between dedicated dog owners and key community servants, like mail carriers, serves to further strengthen local ecosystems, only compounding Dog Training Elite’s positive impact.

“We love helping families train their dogs in their own homes, but bringing the relational aspect of our training approach to broader audiences is a great way to broaden our impact even further,” Thorn said. “We’re proud to have had the opportunity to partner with USPS to bring additional education to the group and play a role in addressing such a wide-reaching issue.”

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