RSS Feed

Talk Therapy For Dogs

We’ve been learning a lot about how dogs can be helpful to people, as therapy dogs, guide dogs, service dogs, grief and tension and anxiety and stress relieving dogs. But where can dogs go for therapy?

When Cricket was in her second training class, her anxiety was through the roof, and her trainer was unable to break through the storm in her brain to make much progress at teaching or calming her. I have tried massage, exercise, and medication, but each one only helps Cricket a little bit, and only for the short term.

Cricket is tied up in knots.

Cricket is tied up in knots.

To me, the point of talk therapy is to be heard and valued by another person, and, if at all possible, understood. I feel like Cricket really is trying to talk to us, and she is frustrated by our inability to understand. If only we could find her a therapist who could listen to her version of talking, and really understand her. I get the gist of what she’s saying, but I think I miss the subtleties.

When we are getting ready to go out for a walk, Cricket makes an insistent cawing sound that echoes through the hallway. She seems to be telling me to get her leash, but she repeats the message over and over like a panicked car alarm, even after her leash is on.

When her Grandma comes home after even a short absence, Cricket climbs on Grandma’s lap, paws her face, and cries, a very delicate, high pitched keening sound that seems to express her grief and fear during the unacceptable absence.

Her most verbal-like moments are the long diatribes when she trills and gurgles and growls and seems to be pleading her case, usually for some item of food. I listen to her. I nod my head. I respond with “Hmm, that’s interesting,” or, “I never thought of it that way,” and, gradually, she gets it all out of her system and flops on the floor, exhausted.

Cricket just wants to be understood.

Cricket just wants to be understood.

Butterfly, who spent most of her first eight years in a puppy mill, surrounded by other dogs and not many people, communicates more with body language. She licks people to tell them that she likes them. She licks her lips to let us know that she’s anxious, and her tongue can even fold in half from the tension. She barks at me in the middle of the night if I accidentally push or kick her, because she has chosen to sleep where I think my arms or legs should be. But she especially likes to express herself through dance, hopping and skipping across the grass when she’s happy, and stiffening her neck and sitting perfectly still when she’s mad. I’d still like to help her find a way to process her sadness and grief, from her years in the puppy mill, but I don’t know how to do that. Could we try paw painting? Or sand play?

Butterfly speaks without words.

Butterfly speaks without words.

Sometimes, I think the girls could use another dog as their therapist. A mentor dog could act as a role model and show them the ropes. She would probably be a Golden Retriever, and wear a scent that other dogs could recognize as authoritative, but not intimidating. She could lead group hikes to teach polite pack behavior, or work one on one with clients, like Cricket, to teach her how to stay calm when the mailman comes too close. Butterfly has blossomed so much with Cricket as her mentor, how much more could she learn from a role model with a, let’s say, healthier mental state.

A Golden Therapist. (not my picture)

A Golden Therapist. (not my picture)

My big dream is that one day schools will train therapists to specialize in dog and human family therapy. They would have easy-to-wash floors, with dog toys scattered around, and snacks. We would go there together as a family so that the therapist, and her doggy co-therapist, could see how we interact with each other: Cricket overexcited and racing around with her tug toy, and Butterfly bobbing and weaving and then running to me, and back to Cricket for approval. And the doggy therapist would do the head tilt, and the human therapist would say, “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

And then Cricket would gain confidence and start her long diatribe, with Butterfly sitting nearby, listening intently. And all of the pain and frustration would pour out of Cricket’s voice and inspire Butterfly to speak up and tell of her own grief and disappointments. And the human therapist would tilt her head to the side, and say, “I never thought of it that way.” And the dogs would finally feel heard, and understood.

Butterfly and Cricket, completely happy.

Butterfly and Cricket, completely happy.

Advertisements

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

65 responses »

  1. I talk to my dogs a lot and it calms them down when I sing to them at bedtime. The Dingo Mutt whistles and yips, rolls his eyes toward my face and this morning at 9am he was breathing into my nose. The dogs do that (or poke at my cheek) when I’m not up at the time they think I should be (like 3am and 7am). Dogs understand humans so well, but when a dog tries to talk with me it’s like I’m in an unknown culture trying to understand an alien language. If the best I can do is convey that they’re good dogs and I’m glad they’re in my life, that’s a good first step.

    Reply
  2. My youngest dog, Patience, is an extremely nervous/anxious dog, and I’ve just had to work at getting her to trust that I’ll protect her in new situations. She also responds well to my repeating “Patience is a goooood girl” repeatedly like a mantra when she’s stressing out although cookies work, too.

    Reply
  3. I think Cricket and Butterfly have a bet about which one can drive YOU nuts first.

    Reply
  4. Perhaps Cricket is just having a “Daughter-to-Mommy” talk. Telling you all about what her “sister” Butterfly has been doing while you weren’t looking. (sisterly love) A “Golden Therapist” is a good idea… but Cricket might enjoy it more if it were “HE” Golden Therapist. LoL 😉

    Reply
    • Are you suggesting that Cricket is a tattle tail? I wonder a lot about what the two of them do while they’re alone at home. Do they curl up together for a nap? Fight over toys? Go to neutral corners? Or are they really sitting in front of the door the whole time I’m gone, just waiting, each alone in their suffering?

      Reply
  5. This was a great post, Rachel, and Cricket and The Red Man would get along famously. They are both tied in knots…very tightly wound! Poor Butterfly…she has separation anxiety in the worst way…more treats for her!! 🙂

    Reply
    • I have to be careful with Butterfly, given the right food, she could keep eating until she explodes. Cricket knows when she’s not hungry anymore, and takes the extra food to a hiding place where Butterfly can’t find it.

      Reply
  6. Sometimes wish for the ability to truly communicate with our quintet for just five minutes…so many things we could clear up! LOL!

    Reply
  7. Loving all things dogs, of course I love this. And, boy do mine talk to me, especially when we’re leaving the house and not taking them with us. The minute they hear the car keys, it starts. 😉

    Reply
  8. Bailey and I have conversations all day long. I love talking to him and I can tell when he’s listening. He uses a lot of body language to communicate with me, but is mostly verbal with my father. However, when he gets impatient with me, he’s non-stop yapping. It’s fascinating to watch him communicate differently with all of us.

    P.S. The “Butterfly speaks without words” picture melts my heart. Your fur babies are adorable and I wish them all the happiness in the world.

    Reply
  9. Love the doggy therapy idea! Much less intense than the dog park.

    Reply
    • Maybe going to the dog park could be one of the lessons the golden mentor works on with the scared dogs. Pointing out which dogs to stay away from, which treats to accept, where to poop, etc. And then they could have a therapy session afterwards to work through the inevitable trauma.

      Reply
  10. Nice post, Rachel. I agree completely. Two of my three dogs are very tense and high strung. When I visit my mom-in-law’s house, a 3-1/2 to 4 hour drive away, my Labradoodle stands on the back seat, shaking and panting for the entire trip. She travels in the car with me most days; you’d think after 3 years she’d get it that a car ride isn’t supposed to be torture. I so wish there was a real-life Dr. Doolittle to act as interpreter for us. I think we’d be astonished at all our pets have to say!

    Reply
  11. Another excellent post. Never really thought of it like that – who do dogs go to for therapy? My two are fairly well adjusted, except for Chienne when there is thunder around or when she is in the car. The thunder I understand but the car puzzles me. Perhaps due to her sensitive hearing, the noise of the engine is louder for her than it is for us. She cries like the hounds of the devil are poking her with their pitchforks. There is talk of creating a dog park here so if that happens it might help. But then, I would probably have to go there by car :0(

    Reply
  12. I talk to my babies like they can understand every word I say. They seem to like it and it’s calming for me as well.

    Reply
    • My problem is that Cricket seems to be rolling her eyes at me, or walks out in the middle of a sentence as if I’m boring her. It’s depressing. What happened to all of that unconditional love I was promised?

      Reply
      • Haha! Roxy does that sometimes and it actually makes me laugh because I will call after her, “hey, where are you going? I was talking to you” as she’s walking away.

  13. hello cricket and butterfly its dennis the vizsla dog hay mama has ben dooing tawk therapy with me too wel akchooally its karen overalls relaksayshun protocol therapy but stil therapy is therapy!!! evry littel bit helps!!! ok bye

    Reply
  14. Reblogged this on jenusingwords's Blog and commented:
    Just super cool and loved it.

    Reply
  15. I totally believe in dogs for human health and the same applies for people being there for their dogs. Both of our shih tzus go the groomers once a month because they need the bath, hair trimmed, and all that goes with maintenance for a shih tzu. However, I noticed that as my husband became more and more ill and the dogs take an active role in caregiving (it’s almost as if they rotate shifts and if something needs attention immediately, whoever is on duty, will come get me immediately). About a year ago, I noticed that at the end of long days when I’d finally get to relax a little and maybe read or something of that nature, they wanted to be part of whatever I was doing and my husband was in the same room so we were all together. From that point I came to the conclusion they needed a relaxing soak mid-month and extra pampering. Now, along with there monthly grooming, they also have a monthly whirlpool with calming water movement, circulation therapy – they are each 14, and seem to love every moment of their mid-month pampering. I recognize this seems like an extravagance to many people but to pay for it, I cut out a couple subscriptions that I rarely picked up to read and that covers the cost plus tip.

    Reply
  16. napperscompanion

    Eight years in a puppy mill! Unthinkable. If I may say so, your love for these poochies is a blessing to read about–not to mention life-giving for them. Thanks for this lovely post. John

    Reply
  17. I am happy for your troubled girls to have found a loving home with you. It is hard sometimes to ease the troubled dog spirit but your kind and understanding heart is the best medicine!

    Reply
  18. I hope your dogs nervousness has a cure. My dog is a bit nervous and barks at things but I try my best but, sometimes I am really just confused what to do.

    Reply
  19. We got our awesome camouflage stripped hunting dog mix ‘Soldier’ when he was near death living under a neighbors house. He was a puppy and could barely walk. We nursed him back to health never knowing if he would make it. He did but he has a severe separation from my niece complex. He will go bonkers if she leaves. Not good when you are 90 lbs and can break windows. Our Mastiff/Boxer mix’Baby’ has calmed him down and if my niece leaves and ‘Baby’ is with him, no problem he will find something with my nieces smell on it and go to sleep on it. BUT….. When my niece takes ‘Baby’ for her walks he runs from door to door howling like a fog horn. So ‘Baby’ has taught him to be calm but when she and my niece are gone even for a few minutes the old fears come back. We love the chicken plucker, howling manic, bully, and he loves us and that is all that matters.

    Reply
  20. It’s amazing how much our dogs “say” to us without using words. Both the growling/licking that one dog does and the body language of the other can tell us volumes. Duke University is currently doing a cognitive study of that phenomena. I wrote about it in my most recent blog. Check out the links.

    Reply
  21. My two basset hounds talk to me all of the time. When it is something they want they can be very insistent. .

    Reply
  22. Great post , well at least they are in a Loving home with you. So much love and patience you give them, this should serve as a special bonus to your Cricket and Butterfly. Such beautiful gentle names to. I wish I could understand my own pooch , she is happy and is very loving. But as I mentioned before has bad separation issues.
    Enjoy you weekend .
    Sheila 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you! I get the feeling that Cricket sneaks peeks at the dictionary every once in a while when I’m not looking. She prefers to be the one who understands everything, while I fumble around with the basics.

      Reply
  23. Aw, Rachel. Your pups are so lucky to have you in their lives. 😉

    Reply
  24. What a pleasure it was to read this post. It reminds me of when we had Hugo the Staffie. He would come and list to the bedtime stories being read to the kids. And even after they decided they no longer wanted stories, Hugo would still go and settle by the bookshelf every evening waiting. We would soon hear about it if we were 15 minutes late!

    And he, too, was a very chatty dog – and I wish I knew everything he wanted to say.

    Thanks for the post, it bought back many happy memories. And best wishes to Cricket and Butterfly

    Reply
    • I would love to read to the girls every night, but I worry that Butterfly would chew the books, she thinks that’s what books are for. Hugo sounds like someone I would have liked to meet.

      Reply
  25. If you could somehow establish a dog PhD program that has dogs help other dogs be calm, that is a genius idea!

    Reply
  26. Very interesting ideas here. You know, one of my puppies came back to me when the owners felt he was kind of…nuts, really. Blu squinted his eyes, snapped at the lady’s face, and bullied the other dachshund. After having him with my pack for a couple days, his eyes got round again and he relaxed in their acceptance of him, but he still did weird things like snap at light reflected in the pond. He also started bullying my mildest mannered dog, Phoebe. I could see he had issues, and I eventually placed him with a biker chick who had pretty much the same issues. She understood him, and trained him to really obey her, which seemed to make him comfortable. He didn’t like surprises, he wanted consistency. He saw the trees, not the forest. He was almost like a high functioning autistic child. I believe dogs can, like people, suffer from birth defects that are reflected in their behavior. It is probably not all traumatic puppy hoods, or one may influence the other. Therapy may be best achieved in finding an owner who relates, instinctively, to the dogs own strangely wired brain. That said, I believe most dogs with manageable issues react best to a simply calm environment. They need a restful zen state in their brain, not extraneous excitement. Many small wired yappers do wonderfully with older,quieter people, and need to be the only dog in the household. Blu needed that single state to drive down his excitement level to where he could even hear his new owner. You’ve certainly raised an interesting subject, and one that really bears discussing and thinking about outside the box.

    Reply
    • Cricket was definitely born overexcited. It’s just how she is. I haven’t found the magic trick for how to help her with that yet, but she makes herself a fascinating subject to study.

      Reply
      • Have you tried a doggie cubby hole for her? That’s a small confined space that resembles a cave in nature. No one goes in but her preferably. A safe place where she can deal with her emotions.

      • She has created a few caves for herself, under the couch, under the beds, under the coffee table. And she goes there and pouts and hides and only comes out when she feels like dealing with people again.

  27. Smart dog. Maybe if you create her a special place, and make a big deal out of it complete with treats, etc, she will get an ego boost and she will associate being in there with good positive emotions. Not just to hide. A place to grow quiet confidence. Just a thought. I love trying to figure out dogs. I think they ape us in the emotions they develop.

    Reply
  28. Who knows? They do have chiropractors for dogs. And yes, dogs do learn from each other. Tessie helps me with training Casey. She’ll get his attention by growling and pulling on his ear if he’s not listening to me.

    Reply
  29. Tweeted this and another of your great posts 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: