City Journal: Get on the Couch, Rover

By Alyssa Giacobbe | Boston Magazine |

With the success of the Dog Whisperer, animal behaviorists are having a moment. Dr. Amy Marder is our star pet shrink.


1. Call of the Wild
A former small-animal vet trained at the University of Pennsylvania, Marder began analyzing pets in 1985. “There’s generally a link between the animal mind and body,” she says, effectively channeling Deepak Chopra for the furry set.

2. Analyze This
Marder works at the South End’s Animal Rescue League, sees “patients” and their owners in her Lexington office, and makes house calls (petbehaviorproblems.com). “More than an animal therapist, I consider myself a family therapist,” she says, noting that often a pet’s poor behavior stems from owner error or careless training.

3. In the Doghouse
A common dog issue, Marder says, is biting or growling over food. With cats, a big one is redirected aggression: One recent feline patient would attack its sleeping owner during thunderstorms. As remedies, she suggests toys (squeaky mice, indoor “trees”), videotapes (try Video Catnip), or furry playmates. For both species, extreme cases may even call for meds.

4. Me-ow! A recent client complained of her cat’s chronic eye infections. “The owner had OCD and obsessively washed her hands—and, it became clear, her cat’s eyes, too,” Marder says. “I told her the cat didn’t need its eyes washed every hour. She didn’t come back after that.”

5. Heavy Petting
Behavior troubles, Marder says, are one of the biggest reasons people give up—or abuse—their pets. Dogs and cats up for adoption at the American Rescue League must first display aptitude in a number of behavioral areas (respect for humans, plays well with others). Flunk-outs remain in training at the ARL until they make the grade.

6. Paws for Effect
Four times each year, Marder certifies pets as nursing-home volunteers—animal interaction makes older people more alert and less depressed. In order to get certified, the animals must demonstrate proficiency in skills like sitting quietly, walking through a crowd, and reacting calmly to wheelchairs.