Dogs that bite
According to recent US Postal Service (USPS) figures, the number of dog attacks on postal workers in 2020 to date has already outpaced the total number of incidents in 2019.
Currently, nearly 6,000 postal workers have been victimized by dogs in 2020 in the United States, compared with 5,803 in 2019.
Aggressive dog behavior poses a serious threat to postal workers worldwide, and to emphasize the enormity of the issue, posts have put in place a number of employee protection campaigns. In the US in November, for example, USPS expanded its existing Dog Bite Prevention employee safety program to include the deployment of visual identifiers that alert letter carriers of locations where potential dog hazards exist. “The Dog Paw Program is now in place in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana,” said Floyd D Wagoner, strategic communications specialist, USPS.
“With the program a yellow caution sticker, with a dog paw print, is placed on the mailbox of the home adjacent to the location of the dog hazard, and an orange warning sticker, with paw print, is placed on the mailbox of the home where the potential dog hazard exists,” Wagoner continues. “The orange Dog Paw sticker used to identify the location of the dog hazard, is consistent in color with the current Dog Warning Card used by Post Office personal within the local postal facilities to inform letter carriers of potential dog hazards.”
USPS expects the Dog Paw program to improve the level of employee awareness and safety, augmenting its existing and national-level Dog Bite Prevention program. As part of the prevention program, carriers’ handheld scanners include a feature to indicate the presence of a dog at an individual’s address.
Another country where dog attacks remains a big issue is the UK. According to figures released in July 2020, 2,445 dog attacks took place on postal workers across the UK in the past year. Although the total number of attacks dipped slightly by 2% year-on-year, there are still around 47 attacks taking place each week.
Dr Shaun Davis, Royal Mail Group global director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability, said, “47 dog attacks per week means seven per day over a six day working week. This continues to be a figure we must focus on reducing, and we ask our customers to help us with this as they have done to date.”
Royal Mail uses a number of ways to protect its employees, including a national Dog Awareness Week, videos about dog attacks that highlight good practice, and regular reminders through its internal communication channels about risk. “We also provide posting pegs for our employees to use when they deliver to an address with a dog,” Davis adds. “These prevent employees having to push their fingers through the post box to deliver the mail, protecting fingers.”
In addition, Royal Mail instructs all its employees to bring back mail if they feel that they are under threat from a dog. “We also have a walk log (…) that details potentially dangerous dogs and any specific instructions required at the address,” he adds.
One of the most innovative ways Royal Mail is trying to protect its workers from attacks, however, is through the use of virtual reality (VR) training. VR technology enables postal workers to become fully immersed in a photo-realistic, delivery environment to see how they would react to the threat of a dog attack. The VR training has seen a marked improvement in attack figures. One local delivery office, for example, saw the number of annual attacks drop from nine down to two.
According to Davis, there are a number of things posts can do to better protect their workers from dog attacks. “Involve your employees in ideas and invest in clear instructions for what to do when interacting with dogs. Over the past five years we have promoted the acronym ‘AVOID’ which our employee working group devised,” he says.
AVOID stands for:
Avoid – Avoid interacting with all dogs.
Value yourself– It can quickly happen to you.
Observe – Check your walk log and endorse known addresses with a ‘D’. Carry and use your posting peg. Stay observant and look for any signs that a dog is present or loose on any property; they may be new or visiting. Make a noise if need be.
Inform – Inform others and share the information of the risk.
Defend – If necessary use your delivery equipment to protect yourself. If a dog comes near use anything available to redirect a bite away from you.
According to Leon Towers, who is a professional dog behaviorist and worked with Royal Mail on its latest Dog Awareness Week in July, it is key that posts give the right advice to their consumers concerning what to do when a delivery worker comes to the door.
“During my work with Royal Mail I found that companies often gave advice which was based on old fashioned dog training avoidance techniques, which just don’t work,” he says. “It is essential that posts provide advice which is based on the latest techniques. For example, I use positive reinforcement to change dogs’ thought processes – every time the doorbell goes or someone knocks on the door, the dog is praised and given a treat. If dog owners train the dog to associate someone knocking on the door as a positive thing rather than a negative one, then the dog is less likely to be aggressive.”
At the UPU, Dawn Wilkes, security program manager, advises any member countries to get in touch if they are struggling to deal with a dog attack issue. “In addition to working with their national regulators to understand the overall environment of dog ownership within their country, I would recommend posts communicate with the UPU about any current challenges, so a combined campaign could be created to benefit all member countries,” she says.
Wilkes also believes that a centralized database, which tracks dog attacks on postal employees, could help identify how big the issue of dog attacks is globally. “This is something that I have been thinking about since starting at the UPU and I intend to discuss the topic at the next Postal Security Group meeting.”