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Pet World: Dogs may sense your unease, but that doesn’t cause aggression

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

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?


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