Sensing unease doesn’t make dogs agressive
Dear Cathy: Can a dog tell if you’re scared of them? I have been attacked and bitten by two dogs, and on one of the occasions I ended up in the hospital. I love dogs, but I am very nervous of large dogs. My daughter says a dog can tell by your scent if you’re nervous with them. Just recently, I was with three other people when a neighbor came by with his dog. The dog had no problem with them, but when I went to pet the dog, it started to bark and lunge at me so violently that my neighbor had to leave. He said he didn’t understand why the dog was so hostile toward me. Is it true that a dog can tell if you’re uneasy with them?
— Johnny, Miller Place, New York
Dear Johnny: I am sorry this happened to you. Thanks for being brave enough to pet a dog after being bitten twice. That takes a lot of courage.
While a dog may be able to sense a person’s unease around them, this does not trigger a dog to behave aggressively. It likely reacted aggressively with you and not the others simply because he had reached his threshold for attention, and you just happened to be the one reaching to pet him in that moment. (I also don’t agree that the dog’s owner had never seen this behavior before. I bet he has, but was embarrassed to say.)
Whether you’re uneasy around dogs or not, it’s generally not a good idea to pet a dog unless invited to do so. I am not talking about the pet owner giving you permission, but the dog. A dog will generally come up to a person if they want to be petted. A dog who stays near its owner and doesn’t move toward you for a greeting is going to be protective of their space if you approach, which can result in the barking and lunging you describe.
My advice to everyone is always wait for a dog to come to you with a wagging tail, slightly open mouth and maybe a few head rubs on your leg, which shows friendliness. This will help prevent any misunderstandings and reduce the chances of being bitten.
Dear Cathy: I live in a 550-square-foot apartment with a single bedroom. My kitten is 6 weeks old, and we are starting litter training. I am using clay-based clumping litter. Is it the right kind of litter for a 6-weekold kitten? Also, please tell me how many litter boxes should I put out at this stage?
— Jags, Kolkata, India
Dear Jags: Congratulations on your new kitten. Generally, it’s recommended you have one litter box per cat plus one. So, if you have just one cat, two litter boxes are ideal. But since your space is limited and you have just one feline, then one litter box should be fine so long as you keep it clean by sifting it every day. If your cat adapts to whatever litter you start with, don’t change it unless you absolutely must. Sometimes changing the litter can stress cats and cause them to pee outside the box.
The clay litter is fine. There is also a sandlike clumping litter, which is sometimes easier to keep clean because it lumps the urine as well and will smell fresher for longer. A covered litter box also will reduce odors in that small space.
As for placement, the litter box should be in a low-traffic location. If a cat is startled while in the litter box, they may not return to it in the future. For example, if you put the litter box in the washroom and you have a washer/dryer, make sure your cat is not in the litter box before starting the machines. Turn off the dryer buzzer so it doesn’t startle your cat when in the litter box. If you put the litter box in the bathroom, make sure your cat is not in the litter box before you flush the toilet. These sounds startle cats, and once startled, they may not use the litter box at that particular location again.
Your place is small, so you can move the litter box if you need to without much worry. But generally, it’s nice to find a place for it and keep it there. Cats aren’t big on change.
A dog who stays near its owner and doesn’t move toward you for a greeting is going to be protective of their space if you approach.