Can Hypnosis Help My Dog’s Anxiety?

In 2015, a German spitz nicknamed Hypnodog wowed the audience of Britain’s Got Talent by “hypnotizing” humans. You probably know Hypnodog’s act was fake, and dogs don’t have the ability to hypnotize humans. But that begs the question: could a human hypnotize a dog? Surprisingly, there are actually professional dog hypnotists who say dog hypnosis can help pups with anxiety.

Wanting to learn more, we spoke with two experts to explore the fascinating world of dog hypnosis and other methods you can use to treat your dog’s anxiety.

Is Hypnosis Possible for Dogs?

The bottom line? We don’t know for sure. While there’s no scientific research into the practice of dog hypnosis, there is anecdotal evidence from certified professionals.

“Dogs respond to hypnosis in a similar way to humans,” says Mary Burgess, a clinical hypnotherapist serving people and pets. Although she acknowledges a lack of research on the subject, Burgess says hypnotherapy has been successful for her canine clients.

Meanwhile, Russell Hartstein, a dog behaviorist at FunPawCare, is more skeptical. “There’s no evidence behind any of this,” Hartstein says. “Just because a dog relaxes under gentle touch doesn’t mean they are hypnotized,” he adds.

While it’s unknown whether dog hypnosis is effective, there is scientific evidence that dogs can go into trances. For example, Bull Terriers can develop a trance-like syndrome, where they walk in circles slowly, seemingly half-awake. The trance is often triggered by walking under an inanimate object like a lamp or houseplant.

These trances may last up to 30 minutes, although humans can snap their dogs out early by calling their names or making a loud noise. The dog will then recover immediately and act like nothing happened. Researchers aren’t sure whether these trances are caused by misdirected hunting instincts, minor seizure activity, or something else entirely.

Valid Reasons for Trying Hypnosis On a Dog?

“The main reason people bring their dogs for hypnosis is separation anxiety, general anxiety, or barking,” Burgess explains.

Here are the signs your dog has anxiety and might benefit from hypnosis.

The idea behind hypnosis is to make your dog less anxious when they’re confronted with triggers like you leaving for work. A calmer dog may be less likely to show these behaviors.

Dog hypnosis typically doesn’t address physical health issues like allergies. You and your pet would need to see a vet for these conditions.

How Would Dog Hypnosis Work?

Before Burgess starts hypnotherapy, she meets with a dog and their human for a session zero. She and the parent discuss the dog’s issues and the goals they have for therapy. Meanwhile, the dog has time to familiarize themself with Burgess and the office.

In a hypnotherapy session, Burgess begins by helping the dog relax. “I like to ensure the dogs are in a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down on a chair,” she adds. “Reassuring voice, tones, and physical touch are important to ensure that the dogs feel relaxed in the environment.”

Then, Burgess uses repetitive, hypnotic suggestions to encourage or discourage certain behaviors, like barking. “It’s always preferential to use language that dogs understand, so I always ask the owner what commands they use for their dog, then incorporate them into the repetitive suggestions,” Burgess explains.

Is Dog Hypnosis Safe?

During a hypnosis session, Burgess says most dogs will lie still, close their eyes, and develop a relaxed posture.

Some critics of dog hypnosis say these pets are showing tonic immobility – a stress response when an animal stops moving or responding to the world around them. It usually happens in prey animals that have been caught by a predator. However, Harstein says this reaction is unlikely during hypnosis since gentle handling and quiet talking rarely stress dogs out.

But every dog is different. If a hypnosis session is bothering your dog, they may show signs of stress like:

  • Trembling
  • Flattening their ears
  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Frequent yawning
  • Curling their lips to show gums
  • Nonstop drooling
  • Low whining or groaning

If your dog becomes too distressed, pause the hypnosis session. Luckily, many dogs find the hypnosis experience relaxing.

How to Calm Anxiety in Dogs Without Hypnosis

Of course, hypnotism isn’t the only way to calm a dog’s anxiety. One of the most common ways to address anxious behavior is through training. For example, if your dog has separation anxiety, you can slowly desensitize them to the sound of the door so they don’t panic every time you step outside.

Besides separation anxiety training, Hartstein says the following are effective anti-anxiety treatments:

Every dog is an individual, so your pet may find some treatments more soothing than others. You may need to mix and match strategies to find the combination that works best for your dog.

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