Psychologist Lets Practice Go to the Dogs--and Anxious Owners
Luckily for Squeeze, a large black and white mutt, his owner knows what makes him tick.
Corey Cohen, a dog behaviorist, knows how to placate Squeeze when he’s anxious and to distract him when he’s focusing too hard on a perceived threat. He knows Squeeze isn’t being rude; he’s just being honest about his feelings.
“He’s shy,” Cohen explained as Squeeze barked at strangers in his Sutton home. “He warms up to people slowly.”
But so many Squeezes out there remain misunderstood. For them, and for their owners, life together can be a frustrating turmoil of chewed furniture, chased cars, and soiled rugs.
That’s where Cohen comes in.
Cohen, 37, studied human psychology in college. For a while he worked teaching real estate agents how to make a sale. But his heart was never in it.
“I wasn’t that into real estate,” he says. “Animals were a passion.”
Now he makes his living as a consultant in the field of animal behavior, steering wayward canines and their owners back together.
Cohen and his wife, Phyllis, have had a practice in Rockland County, N.Y., and Bergen County, N.J., since 1987, and he has continued to see clients there since moving to Sutton in 1995.
Mainly, Corey tries to bring people together with their pets. He fondly remembers a woman who brought him an adopted 11-year-old mutt that had spent its entire life tied to a tree outside a cabin in Oregon. The dog was very shy and barked constantly.
Cohen and the owner took the dog to a busy shopping center and stayed there for a long time, letting it get used to the sight of new people and things. They worked to build the dog’s trust for hours at a time.
Slowly, the dog gained confidence.
“It never would have happened if [the owner] hadn’t been so committed,” Corey says. “It really was nice to see.”
Cohen hears a huge range of complaints from clients. There are dogs that chase joggers, dogs that bark all the time, and dogs that are too scared to leave the house. Aggression is a common complaint.
To all of the owners, Cohen says the same thing: Get to know your dog. And respect his or her nature.
“There’s such a push to change them--there’s a mold that people want their dogs to fit into, as if they were punched out of an assembly line somewhere in Detroit,” Cohen says. “There needs to be more of an understanding and a respect that this is a living creature with its own way of going about the world.”
With that in mind, Cohen approaches each training situation afresh.
First, he interviews the owner, learning about the animal and about its human’s expectations.
“The whole thing is sort of like a dance between the owner and the dog,” he says.
It’s important to establish what humans want from their dog. For example, a dog that barks at strangers could be good protection, but it might not be the best pet for a family with small children.
Or, “If you have a dog that’s extremely sociable and lovable, and you want protection, to you that’s a problem,” he says. “There is no set standard; it depends, if you like, on what your dog is all about.”
Corey recently worked with a small dog that snapped at its owner’s grandchildren. Using popcorn as a treat, Cohen, the owner, the children, and the dog worked together to give the animal more trust where small hands were concerned.
Then there was the health club owner who bought two large, expensive dogs to protect him when he was walking around with lots of cash. He went to Corey for help when the dogs started menacing his customers.
Corey says the dogs were just doing what they were expected to do.
“Dogs can’t be that different from their owners,” he says. “He reinforced that behavior constantly.”
Corey once treated a Rottweiler who chased people on bicycles and tried to bite them.
“It wasn’t really his fault,” Corey says. “He was not an aggressive dog. He was just kept inside all the time.”
Corey ended up adopting that dog.
Sometimes it’s just the humans who need to be trained.
“I see so many homes that I’m like, ‘Why on earth do these people have a dog?’ ” Corey says. “It’s locked in a cage or a room all day. They don’t enjoy it when it’s out. The problems are always going to be there.”
He also sees dogs that are truly part of the family--and dogs who are kings.
“I’ve seen kids in the corner eating gray spaghetti, dressed in rags, and the dog is sitting on some plush thing.”
Lately, Corey has gotten a lot of calls for help with Dalmatians.
“Disney brought me a lot of business,” he says of the movie “101 Dalmatians” that came out last year.
Corey has worked with his own dogs, Squeeze, Thud, and Oliver, to develop their separate potentials.
Oliver, a purebred St. Bernard, is in training to become a search-and-rescue dog. Thud, another St. Bernard who was slated for an early death because of his poor hips, droopy eyes and cockeyed markings, is pretty much allowed to just be himself. And Squeeze, a sheepdog and spaniel mix, helps Corey herd his sheep.
Corey’s job has taught him a lot about other people’s dogs as well. He has testified in court cases that involve dog bites or barking dogs, and he produced and directed a television series about animal behavior.
He loves dogs’ individuality and their laid-back approach to life.
“I’ve never met a dog yet that sits and worries about what it’s going to eat tomorrow, or what it’s going to eat next week,” he says. “If they’re afraid, they’re not worried about the image of being fearful. They’re not as label-conscious as we are, as symbol-oriented as we are.”
And he loves their relationship with their humans.
“Domestic dogs really never grow up,” he says. “They’re totally dependent on us for their survival.”
And he says that, yes, those little dogs really do bark more.
“I always wonder if it was a complex they had, being so small,” he says.