A dog chasing a postal worker might seem like a fodder for a 1960s cartoon, but to mail carriers an encounter with an aggressive dog is no laughing matter.
More than 5,400 postal employees were attacked by dogs in the United States in 2021; 244 of those were in Michigan and 34 were in Detroit.
As part of National Dog Bite Awareness Week June 6-11, postal representatives hosted a special seminar with dog bite prevention trainer Hector Hernandez of First Class Dog Training at the Warren post office on Mound Road to give letter carriers some tools to safely fend off aggressive dogs. Hernandez has provided training for postal workers nationwide for more than 22 years, but acknowledges the dog owners themselves could also benefit from some training.
“Getting bit by a dog is a common thing for letter carriers,” said Hernandez. “It shouldn’t be, but it is an inherent risk of the job.”
If a letter carrier encounters a dog that appears aggressive, Hernandez said the most important thing is to try and remove yourself safely from that situation. He demonstrated ways a carrier can use a satchel as a shield or their hat de ella as a distraction by waving it back and forth while backing away from the animal.
“I’m giving you information to protect yourself from the dog as well as the dog owner,” said Hernandez to the crowd of postal workers gathered at the loading dock in back of the Warren facility. “People love their dogs more than you right now. They will protect their dogs, even when they are wrong.”
Hernandez cautions postal workers not to attempt to pet a dog, even if it seems friendly. The dog may not recognize that the worker is attempting to pet it and instead, he might think it is going to get hit or punched.
“That dog could have been mistreated with hands so don’t touch dogs in the scope of your job because of that,” Hernandez said.
Many times, using a package or satchel as a shield and walking backwards away from the canine will defuse the situation, but sometimes Hernandez recognizes more action may be needed on the part of the postal workers in order to ensure their safety.
“You want to defend yourself without pain and buy yourself some time,” said Hernandez. “You can put the hat or satchel in front of the dog and shake it with one hand and use pepper spray with the other hand.”
For dog owners, Hernandez cautions them not to have dogs loose on their property in an area a mail carrier needs to access and also to recognize when their dog is exhibiting territorial behavior.
“A dog owner can be sued if a letter carrier is bitten and a lot of them don’t know that,” said Hernandez. “I have seven tips that I give to dog owners that are free on my website, but the two most important are that a dog should not be outside loose and unsupervised and that some dogs get territorial when they look out the window and are trying to protect property, themselves and their owner.”
The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in Macomb County
Hernandez suggests for those territorial dogs that might bark incessantly at the mail carrier or lunge at the window when they see them that owners partially cover the window with film so the dog can’t see the carrier.
Just like humans, dogs need to relieve stress. Dog owners, Hernandez said, should make sure their pets are getting enough exercise and are able to use pent-up energy so they do not overreact should they encounter a mail carrier.
“Dogs can’t smoke or drink to relieve stress,” said Hernandez. “Owners need to allow dogs to relieve stress in a constructive way like chasing a ball.”
The postal service encourages its customers to sign up for informed delivery so they may be alerted when a package is scheduled for delivery and to make sure their dog is inside the house, behind a fence, away from the front door or on a leash at the time the letter carrier arrives.
“The postal service takes the safety of our employees as seriously as we take our commitment to delivering America’s mail,” said USPS Michigan 1st District Manager Richard Moreton. “Please deliver for us by being responsible pet owners and make sure your dogs are secured when our carrier comes to your mailbox.”
To sign up for USPS informed delivery go to informeddelivery.usps.com. To learn more tips from Hector Hernandez, visit hectorspeaks.com.
Cache of weapons, explosives found after Warren house explosion