Canine counselling: from aromatherapy to ASMR, mental health therapy for dogs is booming – Telegraph.co.uk

Before she meets a new client, therapist Rosie Barclay will read through their medical notes and then meet them face to face. Over a cup of tea, she will observe their body language and find out what the main concerns are, before coming up with a treatment plan.

So far, so normal. But the clients Barclay deals with are of the four-legged and furry variety. “I deal mainly with dogs, but also cats and even horses,” says Barclay, who is a clinical companion animal behaviourist based in the Channel Islands.

“After doing a degree in animal welfare and behaviour, I was doing a master’s and wondering what to do for a career. One afternoon I was watching a TV show about rescuing and rehoming animals, and I remember saying to my husband, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way. They should try this instead…’ He turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you do this for a job?’”

By “this” he meant animal behavioural therapy, an industry that has surged in the past few years as pet owners seek help to remedy behaviours such as neediness or aggression, and ease anxiety. Pet mental health has become big news for insurance companies, too. Last week, it was reported that payouts to treat mental health problems in pets topped £750,000 in 2019, a 50 per cent rise on 2018.

Some of the methods used to improve mental health in pets sound surprisingly similar to techniques used to soothe human minds. Last month, Battersea Dogs Home announced it had started using aromatherapy to keep its animals calm during the new year fireworks; Battersea also plays classical music to relax its animals.

Animal behaviourists, such as Channel-Island based Rosie Barclay (pictured), are increasingly in demand

Credit:
MATTHEW HOTTON

More up-to-the minute methods are becoming popular, too. Dog snack website Snack at Franks has started trialling ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos for dogs.

ASMR, which has grown in popularity on YouTube, uses certain sights and sounds to trigger a natural response that boosts relaxation. In humans, ASMR videos might feature someone gently crinkling paper or opening and closing a zip. For dogs, a video might feature another animal being groomed or gently lapping water.

Dog behaviour expert Graeme Hall, also known as ‘the Dogfather’ thanks to Channel 5’s Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly, says ASMR for dogs is “interesting new territory that might just provide a real antidote to canine anxiety.”

CBD oil for pets is also set to be a big thing,” says Barclay. “There are lots of other new treatments, like a powdered form of milk protein that’s found in their mums’ milk that is said to make dogs sleepy, and also vitamin supplements. For general anxiety or sleep issues, these products can all help.

“But,” she adds, “for serious trauma or behavioural problems, they won’t touch the sides.”

For deeper issues, therapists such as Barclay are becoming increasingly in demand. She sees animals suffering from aggression, self-mutilation – where they scratch their paws until they’re raw – OCD-like behaviour, anxiety and noise phobias. “They’re caused by underlying emotional issues. Emotionally, dogs are similar to humans and share similar neurochemistry. The big difference is, they can’t tell us how they’re feeling.”

Barclay, who moved from Nottinghamshire to Jersey, often has clients referred to her by vets. Sessions, which are usually at the client’s house or outside in parks or fields, take up to four hours, cost between £300 and £500, and involve therapies such as desensitisation.

“If an animal has been traumatised by fireworks, I’ll play a very quiet recording of a firework, so quiet they’ll barely hear it. Then I’ll play it slightly louder. I’ll also study body language, and help owners understand what their pet is feeling.”

Growing awareness of animal mental health doesn’t mean that pets are more stressed than they used to be. However, puppies from modern puppy farms often have behavioural problems, Barclay says.

“This is due to their mothers having a stressful pregnancy, lack of socialisation from an early age, neglect, ill treatment and so on.” More of us are adopting rescue animals, too, which are prone to mental-health problems. “You don’t always know the history with a rescue dog, which may have something akin to PTSD,” says Barclay. However, even well-adjusted animals can develop stress, due to seemingly minor events such as a move, a new baby, a fight with another dog or a kennel stay.

“Just like humans, some animals are more sensitive than others.”

While Barclay says greater awareness of pet mental health is a good thing, pet-owners should do their homework. “Anybody can get an Instagram account and call themselves a pet therapist. So avoid Google and visit your vet instead.

It’s important to rule out pain, and then ask to be referred to a qualified behaviouralist. Otherwise, the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, which represents animal behavioural therapists, is a good place to start.

“Mental health in animals isn’t something to scoff at,” she adds. “The majority of dogs put to sleep in the UK are done so because of behavioural issues, rather than illness. So really understanding how your animal is feeling, and working towards a solution, can lead to a happier home for all.”

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/life/canine-counselling-aromatherapy-asmr-mental-health-therapy-dogs/

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