What Is Pet Therapy? And Is Therapy For Dogs Worth It?


Last Updated: May 7, 2024 | 5 min read | Leave a Comment

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Dog laying next to a heart pillow.

Do you think your dog is suffering from mental and emotional issues? Is there such a thing as a dog psychiatrist? Yes, the pet equivalent of a shrink is a behavioral therapist. Of course, pet counselors don’t use talk therapy like their counterparts for humans, but they do have expert training in techniques to help pets that show worrisome and harmful behaviors. We’ll help you know how to tell if your dog needs counseling, how to find a certified pet therapist, and more.

Does My Dog Need Therapy?

If you’re trying to figure out if your dog needs therapy, the first question to ask yourself is — “Is my dog’s behavior serious enough that he could harm himself or others?” If you answered yes to this question, then your pup needs professional behavioral therapy. However, even if you don’t think your dog is dangerous to himself or others, many troubling behaviors can certainly benefit from therapy for dogs.

You’re certainly not alone as a pet parent if you’re dealing with unwanted behavior. Research has shown that up to 85% of dogs suffer from at least one kind of behavioral problem. The most common behaviors that professional pet behavioral therapists treat include aggression, separation anxiety, and other signs of major anxiety.


Dog barking with teeth (caption: Aggressive Dog Training Tips)

Aggression is the most common reason owners seek therapy for dogs. There are several reasons dogs are aggressive — they’re protecting people, their possessions, or territory, as a show of dominance with people or other animals, or for fear of unfamiliar situations. Dogs who weren’t properly socialized or who have been mistreated or abused often exhibit fear-based aggression.

Signs of dog aggression include:

  • Becoming still and rigid
  • Ears pinned back
  • Baring teeth
  • Fast pacing
  • Growling, snarling, or barking
  • Lunging toward the person or other animal
  • “Muzzle punch” (punching the person or other animal with his nose)
  • Lightly nipping
  • Biting

If your dog is aggressive, a dog behaviorist can help you identify what’s triggering his aggression and possible underlying causes. The therapist will work with you and your dog to correct the negative behavior and come up with solutions to avoid situations that trigger aggression.


Lab laying on dog bed next to tennis ball looking sad (Caption: anxiety in dogs)

Other main reasons owners get therapy for pets are anxiety and separation anxiety. Dogs (and cats) can suffer from anxiety for a variety of reasons — a change in their schedule or environment, loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, being left alone, and more.

Signs of anxiety include:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Shivering
  • Whining
  • Excessive barking
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Destructive behavior (e.g., chewing, destroying furniture)
  • Self-harm, including excessive licking or chewing
  • Restlessness
  • Running away or cowering in a corner
  • Aggression

A dog behaviorist can help ease your pet’s anxiety using various methods depending on the cause. Sometimes pets need anti-anxiety medication in addition to behavioral therapy to help them cope with stressful situations.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel playing with interactive puzzle toy (Caption: Best Interactive Dog Toys)

If your dog’s anxiety is mild, you can try to address it at home. Some home remedies you may want to try before seeking professional help include making sure your dog gets enough exercise and giving your pup interactive toys to curb boredom or anxiety when left alone. Also, you could try natural supplements such as CBD oilCBD treats, or melatonin. Just be sure to get your vet’s approval before giving your dog any supplement.

What Type Of Pet Therapist Does My Dog Need?

In general, expert dog behaviorists can help treat the symptoms of unwanted behaviors and the underlying cause, while regular dog trainers typically only help resolve the symptoms. Dog trainers are typically less expensive than behaviorists, but they may not be able to address serious issues (depending on their training) adequately.

Applied Animal Behaviorists

If your pet’s behavior is a safety risk for himself, other animals, or people, or if he’s showing signs of extreme stress, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends expert behavioral help from an applied animal behaviorist. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) hold a doctorate degree in animal behavior, and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs) hold a master’s degree.

Both CAABs and ACAABs receive extensive training in animal behavior, psychology, biology, and zoology. These experts typically work closely with your veterinarian to achieve the best overall treatment for your pet.

Veterinary Behaviorists

Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVBs) are the closest thing to a dog psychiatrist — they can prescribe medications in addition to using behavioral modification techniques. DACVBs are veterinarians that receive specialized education in animal behavior and are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. However, there are only about 80 DACVBs in the U.S., so you may have trouble finding one in your area.

Dog Trainers

Dog trainer with dogs (Caption: Best online dog training course)

If you don’t think your dog is a danger to himself or others, but he’s still exhibiting isolated unwanted behaviors, you may opt to go with a pet trainer or a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT). Dog trainers, who sometimes call themselves “pet therapists” or “behavior counselors,” can help correct such issues as excessive barking, jumping, leash pulling, potty accidents, and other less serious behaviors.

Your ideal option here is a professional dog trainer who has received behavior consultant certification (CBCC-KA) from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). To get certified, these trainers must have a minimum of 300 hours’ experience in canine behavior counseling within the last three years and must pass a certification exam, among other requirements.

How Do I Find A Pet Therapist?

Before looking for a dog behavioral therapist, we recommend you consult with your regular veterinarian. Some unwanted behaviors, like having potty accidents, could be due to a physical condition. It’s best to have your vet rule out any health problems first.

Also, your veterinarian will be able to gauge the seriousness of your pup’s behavior and can recommend the best local pet therapists to address your dog’s specific issues. You can also find experts near you through these professional organizations:

How Much Is Behavioral Therapy For Dogs?

The cost of dog behavioral therapy varies widely depending on the type of pet therapist you use, the type of therapy your dog needs, and your location. In general, applied animal behaviorists (CAABs and ACAABs) and veterinary behaviorists (DACVBs) who have advanced college degrees are more expensive than dog trainers. Also, the cost for group sessions is usually less expensive than for individual ones.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Behavioral Therapy?

Yes, some pet insurance providers offer coverage for behavioral therapy. We’ve reviewed more than a dozen pet insurance companies and help you see how they compare, including which ones offer behavioral therapy. Keep in mind that if your pet is already displaying signs of a specific behavioral issue before you get pet insurance, then it most likely won’t be covered because it’s considered a pre-existing condition* by the pet insurance company. However, AKC Pet Insurance offers coverage for pre-existing conditions after you maintain 365 days of continuous coverage through them.

*Pre-existing conditions: Every major pet insurance company excludes pre-existing conditions from their coverage. This means that any ongoing condition your dog was diagnosed with before being covered by their policy will not be covered in future claims. For example, if your dog has already been diagnosed with anxiety, any costs associated with this condition will not be covered by most pet insurance policies.

Should I Consider Pet Insurance Now?

If you’re worried that your dog could require behavioral therapy, develop a serious illness, or have a costly injury in the future, you may want to consider getting pet insurance. As long as your dog isn’t showing any behavioral or physical symptoms now or during a policy’s waiting period, you can get coverage for a variety of expensive treatment needs. But, before you sign up, be sure to read all about pet insurance, including how it works, what it covers, possible costs, which companies are best, and more.

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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