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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice November 2018 Issue

Guarding His Turf

How dare the mailman come to the door?

When fluffy-man Franklin was young, he would scream at our mail carrier, Pat, each time he came up the walk toward the house, which, of course, was almost every single day. Frank would rip the mail out of Pat’s hand as he put it through the slot, shredding bills, ads, wedding invitations — you name it. Today, 10 years later, there has been some mellowing — on Pat’s part. He knows Franklin’s schtick and is happy to throw him a biscuit if we happen to meet up during a walk.

Franklin — he hasn’t mellowed one bit. He still growls when he sees Pat going down the other side of the street to deliver mail to the odd-numbered houses, then breaks into full shouting mode when Pat reaches the sidewalk in front of our house on the even-numbered side.

Over the years, we’ve learned to shut the doors to the front hallway from both the living room and dining room so Frankie can’t muck up the delivery (he still yells as ferociously as he can from the couch, his pretty hair swaying).

We believe Frank has learned something, too — that Pat is not a danger, and he doesn’t need to guard his territory.

So why does he still do it? Because it’s fun! Mornings are boring after our first walk of the day. John goes off to school, Constance and I are each busy with our own work, and little “sister” Rosie, our shiba inu, is just a girl. (Franklin remains perennially in the latent stage of development. Think of a boy around age 7.) Pat’s arrival is a great distraction, a punctuation mark of sorts in an otherwise uneventful stretch of time. Yes, it started out as true territoriality; (with aggressive tactics, fearful Franklin was able send the intruder on his way — it worked every time). But it has morphed into something enjoyable. It’s kind of like a video game — you go after the infiltrator, but no harm actually comes to anyone.

Franklin’s yelling at the mailman isn’t the only instance of something that seems like territoriality but may not be. Steve Wojnar of Newton, Massachusetts, has a dog who has taken to barking threateningly at passers-by when they’re together at the local pub. Mr. Wojnar wants to continue to “hang” with his canine pal, Angus, there, but worries the dog has become too territorial to handle it. Has he? Check out the story on page 4 to find out. n

Happy tails to you,

Lawrence Lindner

Executive Editor

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