Freud, Your Dog and You

This time of year we reflect on the past, and make great plans for the future. As I was pondering the past year, my curiosity about the “past” of “pet therapy” was sparked. Poking around a bit, I came across some interesting stories about the roots of “animal assisted therapy.”


On The Couch

Freud apparently was one of the earliest to use animals in a therapeutic setting .  Most of us are aware of the powerful influence dogs can have on our lives and others. I have been fortunate to see my own dog bring happiness and comfort to many people because of the work we have done through Austin Dog Alliance and Delta Society. But I never knew that the roots of this work go way back to Freud and a Chow Chow who was present while Freud held therapy sessions.

Freud didn’t have a lifelong involvement with dogs, but came to love them rather late in life. He didn’t have dogs growing up, but later his daughter, who was also a psychoanalyst, had a wolfhound.This wolfhound was present at a seminar  at which , Roy Grinker Sr., MD, a prominent doctor, was also attending. When the dog jumped up and barked, Anna told Grinker that the dog was perfectly safe. She went on to explain though that the dog in his younger glory days, was adept at “eviscerating sheep.” This is a wolfhound we are talking about here, and in case you aren’t familiar with the breed, they can be immense. Later Grinker explained that when he went to Freud’s office he, understandably, experienced “a high level of castration anxiety.”

But back to Sigmund. He  had a Chow named Jofi who was often in his office when patients came. He  believed that the presence of Jofi helped his patients open up, especially children and  noticed that they were more willing to open up about painful experiences when Jofi was present. Because Jofi didn’t react and was non-judgemental, Freud felt he was a reassuring presence to his patients. His observations were recorded in his notebooks and he encouraged the use of dogs in a variety of therapeutic situations. Thus began pet assisted therapy.

Other family members believed that Freud also relied on Jofi to signal the end of a fifty minute session by invariably standing up and yawning so that Freud never had to look at his watch when Jofi was present.

So while some patients may have felt robbed of a minute or two of psychoanalysis because of Jofi’s decision that the session was ended, and others including Dr. Grinker, may have grumbled about “Freud and his damn dogs” it was a good thing that Freud’s love for his dogs prevailed or animal assisted therapy may not be where it is today.

Related Posts:

How Can Autistic Kids and Dogs Work Together?

Give Your Dog A Job, Not A Bone


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