Weather Updates

How to read aggression

Updated: August 26, 2012 6:04AM

Q. We have a 2 1/2-year- old Cairn terrier. He is a wonderful dog and loves every person he meets. He used to love every dog he met too. But recently he has become more aggressive with dogs he does not know. He will pull the leash and growl until paths have crossed, especially if the other dog is being restrained or pulled back in any way by its owner. We have socialized our pup since he was 3 months old. Bit by bit, his behavior has worsened. We would love to get him back to some free play with other dogs. What can we do when he acts up?

A. When dogs play, they can appear to be fighting. In reality, their tumble resembles the wide world of wrestling where aggression is not for real. Your Cairn terrier does not sound like a vicious dog and, indeed, your complaint never mentions the “b” words: bite and blood. As far as inappropriate actions, Dog Lady draws the line when teeth are bared, backs bristle and tails stand straight up. If you see any of these signs, you know you could have trouble ahead.

Are you sure you are not the one sending the signals? When we humans tense up at the other end of the leash, our dogs can sense our anxiety. Also, have your Cairn checked out by veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons. If he’s good to go, lead him out confidently, but allow him off the leash only if the conditions are right.


A group of us takes our dogs to a city park. One day, an acquaintance picked up a pile on the field. She said she did this because she wanted “poop karma.” Please explain.

A. Your park colleague is a wise monk of the mutt realm. Poop karma is what comes back to you in the form of goodwill and clean shoes.

Poop karma makes the world safe for dogs and clean for humans.

Ask a question or make a comment at

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.