Sens­ing un­ease doesn’t make dogs agres­sive

The Morning Call - - Life - Cathy M. Rosen­thal Cathy M. Rosen­thal is an an­i­mal ad­vo­cate, author, colum­nist and pet ex­pert. Send your ques­tions, sto­ries and tips to cathy@pet­pun­ Please in­clude your name, city and state. You can fol­low her @cathym­rosen­thal.

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.

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