Puppy Shrinks, Kitty Therapy: Inside the World of Pet Psychologists

Puppy Shrinks, Kitty Therapy: Inside the World of Pet Psychologists

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that
translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article
below was originally published in Le Figaro .

Right now, about 10% of dogs are suffering from mental disorders. The same
goes for us human beings. And 50% of canines are prone to mental illnesses
at least once in their lives. Again, the same goes for us. At certain points
in their lives they may feel anxious, depressed and have phobias, just as we
do. All this can ruin not only their lives, but the lives of their masters
as well.

Still, there are some specific disorders that are uniquely human. “Schizophrenia rarely affects animals. Psychopathology never does,” says Joel Dehasse, veterinary expert in cat and dog behaviors in Brussels and author of Mon animal a-t-il besoin d’un psy? .
Nonetheless, behavioral problems that occur when the pets are with their
masters or with their peers are very common. Here is one example: Mouse is a
cute Anatolian Shepherd that weighs 60 kilograms. As he has grown, Mouse has
become more and more aggressive with small male dogs he encounters while out
walking with his master. Little by little, what had been nice relaxing
moments for the master have become major nightmares. Mouse now has to be
muzzled. His owner, always on the alert, has to make sure others dogs always
stay 10 meters away.

“Some masters cannot stand it anymore. That’s when they decide to bring
their pets to a psychiatrist,” explains Bruno Legrand, a dog trainer in the
Loiret in northern France and a teacher at the National Veterinary School
in Maisons-Alfort. “What the masters don’t know is that they will have to
see the psychiatrist as well,” he adds.

This is something particular to dog and cat therapy: vets have to examine
the pet while also taking into account the subjective way their masters see
them, in other words the masters’ distorting prisms. “In most cases, animals
project how their masters feel. At the first therapy session, the
psychiatrist spends five minutes with the dog and 50 minutes with its
master,” Dehasse says.

Then, for instance, the vet will ask Mouse’s master what kind of relations
he has with small dogs. The approach is very close to the systemic analysis
used with children who go to see a psychiatrist because their parents want
to. No wonder Dehasse also knows a lot about family therapy. “People now
consider pets to be part of their families,” he says. Another similarity is that behavioral therapy for pets always starts with an
inquiry about the causes of the disorder: Is it genetic, something proper to
that particular breed, or is there something that happened in the animal’s
past life that may explain its aggressive behavior? Does Mouse think that it
is playing with the small dogs he is actually attacking? Is it behavior that
is programmed by the dog’s genes? Or was Mouse taken away from its mother
too early after he was born?

Once the causes of the disorder are recognized, the vets can prescribe
medicines in some cases. But their first priority is to encourage the pets
to behave differently. The vets have to lead the animals into a new
“lifestyle” something that is satisfying both for the pet and its master.
“Dogs cannot talk like human beings, so we try to move forward relying on
their various life experiences,” Dehasse explains.

Thus, Mouse will be taught to look his master in the eye whenever it hears
the mere order “Look.” As result, the master can control his dog’s
attention, even in the streets.