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Postman launches dog awareness campaign

A POSTMAN who runs dog obedience classes is spearheading a campaign to prevent Royal Mail workers from being attacked. Postal worker John Doley, form Flint, north Wales who has been bitten once himself, is urging local dog owners to keep their animals inside when mail is being delivered, writes Nick Mays.

‘Some people think it's a joke but you can get quite seriously hurt; a small dog can do just as much harm as a big dog can,’ he said. ‘When I was bitten I had to go to hospital but it's not as serious as some people. Dogs can do permanent damage....people have had their fingers bitten off as well.’

Mr Doley's warning follows a spate of attacks by dogs across the region.

In north Wales, 98 postmen and women were attacked as they went about their rounds between April 2002 and March 2003.

Across Wales, there were 5,868 dog attacks, resulting in 5,770 days lost in sick leave.

Although the majority of attacks are by dogs, there have been incidents reported involving cats, pheasants and geese.

Royal Mail's area manager for north Wales, Ian Johnstone said dog owners need to help the delivery service.

‘The majority of dog owners are very responsible when it comes to keeping our delivery staff safe,’ he said. ‘But dog bites are still a major cause of injury to our postmen and women and the effects can cause considerable distress to those concerned.

‘We therefore appreciate it when dog owners take extra care to keep their pets under control when we arrive with their post.’

Following an attack or near miss, householders receive a letter from Royal Mail asking them to keep their pets under control or risk losing their doorstep delivery. In more serious cases the local dog warden and police are informed.

Psychology is the way in Germany!

DOGS CAN be the bane of the postman's life, making the short trip from garden gate to letterbox a frightening and, potentially, painful experience.

But now the postal service in Germany claims to have brought the problem of dogs attacking its staff under control by offering workers courses in canine psychology.

Deutsche Post says that the courses have reduced dog attacks by a third and follow other bizarre attempts to reduce the problem which all failed miserably.

In one, the postal service pushed for legislation to force the owners of dangerous dogs to put up small electrified fences. This was dropped when one postman in Hamburg needed hospital treatment after blundering into one such fence, getting an electric shock and then being bitten by the owner's Rottweiler anyway.

Another plan to issue postmen with "contra spray" - a CS gas for use on dogs - was shelved when staff complained that they often found themselves being bitten as they struggled to find the spray, remove the cap, aim and fire it.

In Bavaria, there was a report of how a postman, knocked to the ground by a playful dog, was gassed when the animal trod on the canister, spraying the postman and frightening the dog, which then bit him.

Reinforced trousers also proved useless because they made postmen easier to catch and unable to leap fences. Staff also said that they were unhappy with tough legal action against the owners of dangerous dogs as bringing the court cases after the event did not stop the problem.

However, after the introduction of the dog psychology courses, the number of attacks has dropped by 1,000 a year to just over 2,000. Deutsche Post has sent nearly all of its 80,000 postmen and women on the animal psychology and psychoanalytical courses.

Friedrich Buttgereit, of Deutsche Post, said: "People often see this issue as a subject for jokes but it's no laughing matter." He added that dog attacks led to the loss of more than 12,000 working days a year.

Rolf Schulz of the Berlin postal division said that he had found the course a great help. "It gave me a real insight into how dogs behave and what causes them to bite."

The seminars, which last for one day and are followed by several evening sessions, are taught to groups of 10 and are led by animal psychiatrists who bring a dog into the classroom for the postmen to work with.

The classes include theory and practical elements, such as demonstrations on why it is not possible to cycle faster than a dog can run and how to hand the mail to a person walking their dog on a lead without being bitten.

Stefan Biegier, a dog trainer, said: "We also show the postmen dog expressions and teach them to watch for the danger signs."

The postmen are taught how to keep a check on their own body language and facial expressions to help prevent an attack, as well as to mask their fear, move slowly and speak in a soothing voice to calm aggressive dogs.

Monica Siebert, of Deutsche Post headquarters in Bonn, said: "Of course, the courses can't guarantee 100 per cent protection against biting dogs and we still have some way to go, but even our most timid posties are learning how to turn barking dogs into whimpering puppies.

"In the theory section we pass on tips like making sure that the dog owners are aware of the time the mail will be delivered. German postmen are extremely punctual. You can set your watch by them, and if a person knows their mail will be delivered at a certain time they can make sure the dog is tied up or at least indoors."

She added: "It's a war of minds. The postman thinks, 'I come here every day and go very quickly - surely the dog understands this'. But the dog thinks, 'This fellow is on my territory and I must teach him a lesson he won't forget'."

Mr Buttgereit said: "We do demand damages from the dog owners after an attack, which can be as much as €2,870 even for a pair of torn trousers because of the mental anguish involved. But by the time the legal fees are paid there is not much left."

Another Deutsche Post spokesman added: "Police dog handlers have also been teaching us self-defence. If all else fails, at least we can defend ourselves."