Ok, so the title of this post is a tad deceptive: Sigmund Freud’s talking cure never went entirely to the dogs. (Update: And, as has been called to my attention, it’s also a tad confusing: this post has nothing to do with curing barking in dogs.) But the father of psychoanalysis’s close relationship with the canines in his household did carry through to his practice — and to that of his daughter, Anna.
In Part 1 of this series, I explored Freud’s late life case of puppy love. Here I discuss the impact his bond with dogs had on his treatment sessions.
The Freud Family Dogs
First, a disclaimer: I have no primary sources for this story; it comes from Allan Showalter — aka Dr.HGuy — who heard it from his teacher, Roy Grinker Sr. Grinker was analyzed by Freud from 1933 to 1935 and founded the psychiatry program at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.
According to Showalter in Freud and His Damn Dog:
Freud and his daughter, Anna (also an analyst), both kept dogs (Freud had a chow named Yofi and Anna had a giant wolfhound) that had the run of the offices and shared waiting room. Both dogs would start barking whenever anyone rang the doorbell. The wolfhound… would immediately start sniffing Grinker’s genitals. Grinker reported that, as a consequence, he always entered Freud’s office ‘with a high level of castration anxiety.’
At Freud’s seminar, the wolfhound once lay next to [Grinker] and barked, causing Anna Freud to tell him that the dog was ‘perfectly safe.’ After a pause, she went on to point out that, of course, when the dog was younger, he had a habit of eviscerating sheep. Then she repeated that now he was perfectly safe. Finally, she advised Grinker to pull his tail to make him stop barking. Grinker opted not to follow that suggestion.
I’m a little dubious.
The barking — sure. What dog doesn’t bark when people come through the door? The genital sniffing is not uncommon either. One thing that makes me suspicious about this description, however, is that Anna Freud’s dog is described as a “wolfhound.” As I mentioned in my last post, Anna’s dog, beloved by her father, was a German Shepherd named Wolf; you can see his photo hanging in Freud’s office. So we’re starting with a likely case of mistaken identity. And if Anna did make the sheep joke, it doesn’t sound like a convincing one: where would an urban Viennese dog get a chance to disembowel sheep?
Still, it’s a funny story.
Freud’s Canine Timekeeper
The notion that Freud kept Yofi with him in the office while he was seeing patients has several sources.
According to the London Guardian:
Analysis became wearisome for Freud as [his jaw] cancer took its toll but Jofi sat with him, a patient listener but one with an eye on the clock, signalling the end of every session with copious yawning and stretching, never allowing Freud to exceed the statutory hour by even a minute.
Stanley Coren, a psychologist who writes often about dog behavior and intelligence, says in an excerpt from What Do Dogs Know:
Freud felt that dogs had a special sense that allows them to judge a person’s character accurately. For this reason his favorite chow-chow, Jofi, attended all of his therapy sessions; Freud admitted that he often depended upon Jofi for an assessment of the patient’s mental state. He also felt that the presence of the dog seemed to have a calming influence on all patients, particularly children.
More recent studies have shown that Freud was correct. Physiological measures show that petting a calm and friendly dog actually reduces stress (as shown by reduced muscle tension, more regular breathing and a slower heart rate). There is even some evidence that people who own dogs are likely to live longer and require less medical attention.
Freud’s dog Jofi would alert him to any stress or tension in a patient by where he lay down during the session. He lay relatively close to calm patients, but would stay across the room if the patient was tense. Jofi also helped the great psychoanalyst determine when a therapy session was finished by unfailingly getting up and moving toward the office door when the hour was up
And from Grinker via Showalter again:
Yofi…would sit alongside Grinker’s couch and, as dogs are wont to do, eventually scratch at the door to be let out. Freud would let the dog out, and, on his return to his chair, note that Yofi hadn’t thought much of what Grinker had been talking about. When the dog would later scratch to get back in the office, Freud would comment that Yofi had decided to give Grinker another chance.
In another episode, Grinker was emoting with intensity when, as Grinker explained it, “The damn dog jumped on top of me.” Freud immediately responded — by commenting that Yofi was excited that Grinker had discovered the roots of his anxiety. During this interpretation, Grinker, by his own report, lay quietly with eyes closed, as one is taught to do when, for example, attacked by wild bears.
So as not to spread misinformation here: According to How to Survive a Bear Attack, that is only accurate if you encounter a grizzly bear. An attack by a black bear, in contrast, “means it wants to EAT you. If you were to ‘play dead’ in this situation you would look up to find the bear happily feasting away on some very important body part that you, no doubt, are very fond of. The best defense with a black bear is to go on the offensive. Fight for your life!”
Perhaps Freud would have preferred a bit more spunk in his patient too.
Coming next: Dogs in Freud’s final years.