How you can help to keep our posties safe

WORKING #together to keep our posties safe is the message that Guernsey Post is keen to deliver. While the image of a postman being chased off a property by a dog is one that lends itself to funny cartoons, it is far from a laughing matter, according to health and safety manager Shelley Carberry.

‘Between April 2020 and March 2021 we have had 14 dog attacks [on posties]. This is three up from the previous year,’ she said. ‘Over the period from September 2020 to February 2021 we have seen 17 near misses with a dog. ‘We classify a near miss as when the dog has tried to attack the postie but hasn’t succeeded. For every three near misses we see, we have one dog attack.’

Shelley Carberry from Guernsey Post. (29535200)

Guernsey Post wants to raise awareness of the increase in attacks to dog owners across the island in a bid to help safeguard its posties.

The company is also working with Anna Brehaut, the owner of Canine Behaviour Guernsey, to help posties know what to do when faced with an aggressive dog. ‘Being proactive to prevent anything from happening is vital,’ said Anna.

Anna Brehaut from Canine Behaviour Guernsey with dog Buddy. (29544792)

‘No dog owner wants their dog to bite or attack anyone or anything, including the postman. Dogs don’t know who is friend or foe and it is only natural for them to feel like they might have to defend themselves and their home from any perceived potential threat.

'Dogs do what works. The very nature of a postman’s job sees them arriving then leaving straight after. If a dog thinks the postman could be a threat and they bark to tell them to go away, then the postman leaves and the dog thinks they were a threat after all and as such their bark worked.

'So they will do it again because it worked the last time. ’Postie Clint King – who has had what he described as “a nip” from a dog – agreed that the very nature of the job could trigger a reaction from a dog. ‘When you attend someone’s property, and they’re not home, the dog is defensive of the property,’ he said. ‘The parents are out and you’re ruffling around in the backyard, which gets their back up a little bit.

Clint King, postman. (29538571)

'They’re not necessarily aggressive, they’re just making sure you know that they’re aware that you’re on the property. But you can get caught out when they’re in the garden – sometimes you’ve got to make a quick exit.’

Knowing which properties have dogs is something that the posties quickly find out, but the problem has been exacerbated by lockdown. Put simply, with more people working from home, dogs are not kept in a separate area when the postie arrives at the property.

Often doors are opened without making sure that the dog is secure. This is when the dog is most likely to chase after the postie in a bid to defend its property.

Anna explained that there are several triggers related to the postman arriving for a dog, which includes visual triggers (high viz and recognisable uniform) as well as noise triggers (the sound of the van’s reversing beeper, the sliding of the van door, footsteps on the gravel, and even other dogs barking in the vicinity).

Reversing the trend of increasing dog attacks could be as simple as a few easy steps and Guernsey Post stressed that it wants to work together with dog owners to help identify what could be done to make the postie’s job safer. ‘Putting up signs, having an outside post box, using our SafePlace delivery system all help,’ said Shelley. ‘We just want to make people aware that their dog may behave differently when they’re not around. ‘An increase in parcels over recent years has also seen an increase in posties having to walk around properties, into back gardens or side alleys to leave the parcels.’

Shelley suggested that the location of the SafePlace should be somewhere to which the dog does not have access. Clint added, ‘A lot of customers do put signs up that they have a dog, or cordon off the area where the postman goes – and some dogs are loved by the posties. There are as many nice dogs as ones that are irritated by us, it’s just when you get caught out and you’re in a situation, you’ve got to make a quick judgement call.’

Comment from CWU Guernsey branch secretary Paul Bullock

THE union is keen to stress it is ‘pro-dog but anti-bad dog owner’ and wants to raise awareness that failing to ensure a dog is always under control could put anyone who inadvertently comes into contact with it at risk of harm.

In the UK the CWU has previously run a high-profile campaign, Bite Back, to protect delivery staff from attacks, as most incidents occur on private property, which is not covered under current legislation. ‘One injury is an injury too many.

Paul Bullock from Guernsey Post and CWU. (29535186)

'We as a union, and the company, take the health and safety of our postal workers very seriously and anything we can do to make the public more aware of the risk, the safer it will be for everyone, not just for posties but for all delivery staff and tradespeople who have to call at properties around the island and who face the same risks. The postie being chased by a dog is, for some, a cartoonish comedy scenario, but the implications are far from funny and can lead to both physical and mental harm. ' Paul said that he, like quite a few colleagues, bore the scars of an attack.

Anna Brehaut from Canine Behaviour Guernsey with dog Buddy and Postie Clint King. (29544788)

‘The owner had opened her garden gate for just a moment but that was all it took for the dog to escape and attack. Luckily, I was wearing gloves and it bit me only once before retreating, but I still have the teeth marks in my wrist. It was a dog that was known to be aggressive but was normally kept behind a locked gate, which was out of sight of the path, so I didn’t even see the dog coming until it was too late.’ Paul said that size or breed of dog was usually irrelevant when it comes to which ones posed most risk. ‘I’ve lost count of the number of times colleagues have related that a customer had said of their dog, “don’t worry, they won’t bite”, only for their animal to do just that.’

Tips from Anna Brehaut

Controlling and managing the environment helps to prevent anything happening. Simple things you can do in terms of your home/garden set-up include:

  • Make sure your dog is out of the way for when the postman arrives.

  • Pop them in another room at the back of the house and keep doors shut. Use stair gates/pens if you have an open-plan house.

  • Don’t open the door until you are satisfied that your dog is out of the way and can’t get out. If you have children, prevent them from being able to open the door (locks up high).

  • Make sure the garden is secure so that your dog can’t run out at the postman/visitors.

  • Put up a sign to tell the postman and visitors you have a dog.

  • Lock back gates and doors if necessary from the inside so no one can just walk in.

  • Have a post box on the side of the house/gate so the postman doesn’t have to post the mail through the door. (This also prevents your mail from getting eaten and trashed.)

  • If a post box on the side of the house is not possible, have a cage on the inside of your door around your letterbox.

  • Have a safe space outside your home where your postman can leave parcels (somewhere to which your dog does not have access).

  • Don’t allow your dog to sit and watch for the postman’s arrival through windows/gates etc. This might mean having to move furniture or being proactive, but it prevents your dog from anticipating arrival. If they are anticipating arrival, this will be building stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol and feeding into anxiety levels.

  • Give your dog something to do (while they are in a different room where they can’t see the postman) at the time when the postman usually comes. This could be a Kong, a lick mat or even a scatter-feeding exercise. This helps to keep them busy but also helps encourage calm.

  • If you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour when the postman arrives, contact a professional and qualified behaviourist. Don’t sit on it and wait for something to happen. Be proactive, not reactive. There is work that behaviour practitioners can do to help change your dog’s emotional responses to certain triggers which will help ease anxiety. A behaviourist will also be able to help you manage your environment better.

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