Pet World: Dogs may sense your unease, but that doesn't cause aggression
Sunday, December 13, 2020

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency

 
Dear Cathy,
 
Can a dog tell if you're scared of them? I have been attacked and bitten by two dogs. One of which I ended up in the hospital. I love dogs, but I am very nervous of large dogs. My daughter says that a dog can tell by your scent if you're nervous with him. Just last week, 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 towards 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. He 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; he was just 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 towards you for a greeting is going to be protective of his space and his owner 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 his friendliness. This will help prevent any misunderstandings and reduce the chances of being bitten again.
 
Dear Cathy,
 
I live in a 550 sq. ft. apartment with a single bedroom. My kitten is six-weeks-old, and we are starting litter training. I am using clay-based clumping litter. Is it the right kind of litter for a six-week-old kitten? Also, please tell me how many litter boxes should I put out at this stage? Is it ideal to move the box closer to the washroom later? 
 
-Jags, Kolkata, West-Bengal, 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 litterboxes are ideal. But since your space is limited to 550 sq. ft, 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 sand-like clumping litter, which is sometimes easier to keep clean because it lumps the urine as well and will smell fresher for longer. A covered litterbox 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 litterbox 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 litterbox 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.
 
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com.  Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.
 
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