Does Fido have issues? Does Fluffy "act out?" More and more animal behaviorists are ready to provide one-on-one therapy sessions to help pets with aggression, depression or separation anxiety using the same techniques used on humans.
"One hundred years ago, researchers in modern psychology, such as B.F. Skinner, used animals to study learning and behavior in people, but we didn't go back and use the same information -- that was based on animals -- on animals until the 1980s," Larry Lachman, who has a doctorate in psychology and is author of "Dogs On The Couch" and "Cats on the Counter," told United Press International.
According to Lachman, animals and psychology have always been linked. Sigmund Freud always had his Chow Chow attend his therapy sessions because the father of psychoanalysis felt the dog helped him assess the patient's mental state.
"Freud could tell how his dog reacted to patients," he said. "The dog even moved and sat by the door when the hour was up."
A person trained in animal behavior can help a pet deal with emotional problems and avoid them by using behavioral techniques in training.
Using punishment to train dogs originated during World War I, when dogs were used in the trenches, and it is based on choke chains, pinching the dog's lips and stepping on the dog's foot -- using force to train, according to Lachman.
"Even today, 60 percent to 70 percent of dog training is still done this way, but more are using the behavioral approach," Lachman said. "Instead of pain, we consistently reward positive behavior each time and get animals to do what we want -- as we do with children."
Lachman treats both humans and animals, and often is sought as a last resort for misbehaving pets before they are given away or euthanized.
He has adapted the same approach, Structural Family Therapy, with pets as he has used for more than 20 years in treating abused children, couples in marital therapy and chronically ill patients. It involves the entire family and the way member relate to each other.
"If a pet acts one way, the family members will each react in some way," Lachman said. "So we have to treat the whole system."
While psychologists such as Lachman usually deal with extreme cases, animal care professionals can go through certification programs in animal behavior for obedience training, instruction and behavior problem solving.
The Association of Companion Animal Behavior Counselors provides a program that satisfies the theoretical, practical and internship requirements for professional certification.
More than 100 individuals each year complete the ACABC's 200-hour program in canine behavior theory, dog obedience training using clicker methodology, instructor skills development, owner counseling, assessment diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems in family dogs.
Jennifer Jones works with clients who need pet behavioral advice, training or one-on-one counseling services throughout the greater Seattle area. Jones has a degree in psychology and studied animal science at the University of California at Davis. She deals with assessment and correction of behavior problems common to animals, such as jumping on people, separation anxiety, chewing, digging, biting, barking, housebreaking and aggression.
Jones also provides specific obedience or manners skills, early puppy training and advice on identifying and selecting a new dog.
"What I provide in the way of therapy is based on logical principles based on science, and training in a more humane way," Jones told UPI.
For example, treating a dog for aggression is similar to the way phobic behavior is treated in humans.
"When dogs are aggressive, it's usually because of fear or a medical reason," Jones said. "While a person can better tell you that he is scared of spiders, I am able to identify dog behavior by observing them and asking questions."
The key to training a pet behaviorally is to consistently reward any behavior you want to have repeated and to prevent or ignore any undesirable behavior. Jones says most people don't know or understand why a behavior is happening or there is a lack of a clear message from the pet.
"There's usually a reason behind the behavior. If a dog jumps up on owners when they return home, it's because he's excited and happy the owner is home," Jones said. "While the dog may give too excited a response, most owners wouldn't want their dog to ignore them, so often the owner is encouraging the dog's response without realizing it."
The problem with attention is that any attention reinforces the behavior, even negative attention," she said.
"For example, speaking in a harsh tone and pushing your dog off of you provides just as much attention as praising your dog for the behavior, Jones said.
Jones advised anytime a pet approaches an owner for attention, be proactive and simply request the dog "sit" before the dog can jump.
"If you are not able to ask for a sit before the jumping occurs, simply ignore your dog, turn around, and walk away," Jones said. "When all four feet are on the floor, return to your dog and ask for a 'sit' before the jumping begins again."
By repeating this procedure, the dog eventually will begin offering sits to gain attention rather than relying on jumping, Jones said.
Many negative pet behaviors, such as digging, chewing and barking are caused by boredom.
"Dogs are social animals, they are pack animals and need interaction with their owners or other animals," Jones said. "Keep a pet home alone all day, don't interact with them much when you are home, don't take them for walks and you'll have a dog with negative behaviors."