ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s the age old and seemingly answerless question: What in the world is my dog thinking? And one that has spawned a growing market not only of scientific research but of everything from decks of pet tarot cards to television and radio shows and books by pet psychics and animal trainers.
Whether any one of them can ever provide real answers to what dogs are thinking or what drives their good or bad behavior is a matter of opinion — or belief. But pet owners can spend a lot of time and money trying.
And even if they never find a real solution, people who love their dogs admit they can learn to better connect with their pets, or sometimes just have fun trying.
Andrea Gladstone and David Radis of Encino, Calif., wanted to know more about what was going on in their rescue dog’s head, so they bought “The Original Dog Tarot: Divine The Canine Mind,” a set of 30 cards and guidebook that were developed by Heidi Schulman, a freelance writer and former television news producer who now lives in Santa Fe.
They spread the deck on the floor, then asked LoLa why she chewed up her puppy training book and the Dog Tarot guide.
The answers, they divined from the three cards she picked — The Cat, the Pack, and Justice — was that she was insecure with her place in the new home and wrecked the books to establish her security and see if they held grudges.
Mr. Radis said his wife gave him the deck of cards as a gift.
“For me it is more the fun of it than the life lessons to be learned. But I respect the tarot,” he said. “I have done one reading for each of my dogs and they were both spot on. I spread the cards out and ask the dog to touch the cards with their nose or paw.”
But not everyone consults the latest books for gimmicks or fun. Cathy, an entertainment paralegal in California who asked that her last name not be used, called on pet psychic Jocelyn Kessler, author of the Secret Language of Dogs, to help her communicate with her 11-year-old lab Champ when he fell ill.
Ms. Kessler, she said, “communicated with him energetically so that she could not only learn what he needed through his veterinary care, but also to understand whether he wanted us to stop medical treatments.”
Through Ms. Kessler, Cathy said, she was able to learn that Champ needed fewer injections, and she was able to surround him with his favorite plants in his final days.
There is no real research to show spending on dog mind-reading or behavior-related services, but a report from the American Pet Products Association says Americans spent $53 billion on their pets last year, including nearly $4 billion on services not related to food, supplies, or health care. That category, which includes grooming, pet-sitting, and pampering, was the fast-growing, increasing 9.7 percent over 2011. And it is forecast to remain the fastest-growing.
And anecdotal evidence indicates pet owners are willing to spend a lot. Ms. Kessler, for example, charges about $350 a session and her book has been displayed prominently on coveted airport bookstore shelves.
Another pet psychic, Sonya Fitzgerald, who used to have a television show on Animal Planet and now hosts a popular call-in radio show on Sirius XM, recently hosted two sold-out $500 a day workshops that promised to help owners deal with everything from dogs that pee on the rug to biting children.
Like Ms. Kessler, Ms. Fitzpatrick says she has been able to communicate with animals since she was a child.
And like Ms. Kessler, she keeps her client list private, but shares stories of being called to help with everything from caged crocodiles to finding lost cats.
Ms. Fitzpatrick offers telephone consultations, asking only that the pet owners send pictures.
“The pet can be anywhere. Telepathic communication works no matter where you are,” she said.
Albuquerque veterinarian Jeff Nichol, who specializes in behavior work, says he has seen a noticeable increase in pet owners who have turned to the nontraditional methods since the explosion on Animal Planet and other networks of shows involving pet trainers and other self-proclaimed experts.
He cautions against such services for behavioral or medical issues.
“Often the methods worsen the problem, and the behavior becomes more challenging to turn around,” he said.
That in turn, he says, results in more pets going to shelters or other action “that is completely unnecessary if they get this thing properly evaluated.”
Neither Ms. Kessler nor Ms. Fitzpatrick pretends to offer medical care, but both say they can often aid vets by opening communication about what is bothering a pet. And Ms. Kessler said she is very careful not to take on cases of, for instance, aggressive biting dogs.
For Ms. Schulman, development of the dog tarot was simply “to bring people closer to their animals.”
She said she came up with the idea when she was ill, and cooped up in a small apartment with her beloved but recently deceased rescue dog, Bosco.
“I noticed he was very tuned into me,” she said. “He knew exactly when to leave me alone, when to bother me. We seemed to develop this nonverbal communication and he looked like he wanted to talk.... I thought if he could speak what would he say? I tried with logic. But I couldn’t figure it out logically. So I thought, ‘What if we could just invoke a little magic?”