Freud Sang to His Dog

By Uriel Grezemkovsky, May 2014, Updated February 2015

Sigmund Freud and dog in his study, by Hilda Doolittle. Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Bibliographic Record Number: 39002035067041.

During the summer of 1938, a frail 82-year-old man was forced by the Nazis to flee his home. On the train out of Vienna, along with other family members, was his Chow companion Lün. Upon arriving in Dover, in accordance with English laws, Lün was taken from him and placed in the quarantine kennels at Ladbroke Grove, London. Just five days after Freud settled into his new house, the weary exile ventured out on his first trip. This is how an Australian newspaper, The Referee, described the event:

Freud found his journey across London tiring. He seemed to find it a great effort to walk up the path to the front door, supported by his daughter, Dr. Anna Freud. But nothing could have kept the great scientist away from his dog friend. And yesterday I was told by Mr. Kevin L. Quin, head of the quarantine kennels, how Lün leapt to meet him at his approach, glad recognition in every gesture. “It was difficult to say which was more delighted,” Mr. Quin told me. “I have never seen such happiness and understanding in an animal’s eyes …. He played with her, talked to her, using all sorts of little terms of endearment, for fully an hour. And, though the journey is long for a man of his years, he said he was resolute in coming to see Lün as often as he can.”

It has been noted that any person who tries seriously to figure out human behavior will sooner or later come to appreciate the company of dogs. Sigmund Freud was no exception. At the onset of the Second World War, he was especially disillusioned with his fellow man. Freud had devoted his life to analyzing the contradictory and irrational aspects of the unconscious mind, a labor that made animals seem much easier to understand. His daughter Anna recalled that “[w]hat Freud valued in his dogs was their gracefulness, devotion, and fidelity; what he frequently stressed and praised as a decided advantage over men was their absence of any ambivalence. ‘Dogs,’ as he used to say, ‘love their friends and bite their enemies, in contrast to men who are incapable of pure love and must at all times mix love and hate in their object relations.”

The first dog to live at Berggasse 19, Freud’s Vienna apartment, was a German Shepherd named Wolf. Freud gave him to Anna in 1925 for protection on her long walks through the city. But Wolf’s services extended to other arenas—he once bit Ernest Jones (a colleague and future biographer) in 1927. Freud felt that Jones deserved it, probably because years before Freud had worried that Jones would seduce Anna on her first visit to England. In a sense Freud saw Wolf as substitute figure for himself, keeping Anna safe and punishing annoying guests. Years later Freud wrote Jones the following lines, again identifying with the dog: “Our Wolf, too, who once behaved with such unfriendliness toward you is now an old man, in his doggy way as old as me, i.e., over eleven years.”


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But Wolf could also act as a surrogate for others. Freud admitted that he bestowed on Wolf the tender feelings intended for his grandson Heinele, who had died as a young boy. Animals played a similar role for Anna, who as an adult could more readily show affection for her father through the family dogs. On Freud’s birthdays she would always compose a canine poem and attach it to the dog’s collar. At first Wolf had the sole honor of delivering the birthday greetings, but in 1928 Freud acquired a dog of his own. This Chow, LünYug, was run over by a train in August of 1929 when she was only 15 months old. Freud was dejected and wouldn’t hear of getting a replacement. By the next spring, however, he was ready for another Chow, Lün Yug’s sister Jofi. This dog was to become Freud’s cherished pet for the next seven years.

On his 74th birthday, while away in Berlin for medical care, Freud received Jofi’s first doggerel verse:

Jofi who leaps/and through the door escapes,/ho slips the leash/and fights with enemies,/ho stretches out in greeting and/licks your hand, sends herewith/on May the sixth/a symbol that/should indicate/how she wants to change/and act more restrained:/wants to scarcely move when/doors are opened/does not want to bark nor scrap/nor run nor leap/hardly wants to drink or eat.

So speaks Jofi sad at heart/sorry that we are apart.

Jofi was always by Freud’s side—on his walks, at mealtime and even in his office with the famed upholstered couch. Freud’s longtime housekeeper Paula Fichtl remembered Freud saying that Jofi had a keen analytic insight into his patients. And Freud could always tell when the hour was up because Jofi would start to act restless. The poet and analysand Hilda Doolittle recalled feeling “annoyed at the end of my session as Jofi would wander about and I felt that the professor was more interested in Jofi than he was in my story.” It’s also likely that the patient depicted in the “Wolf Man” case study (so named because of his fear of wolves) had to face Anna’s dog Wolf during some of his sessions with Freud!

Freud often mentioned Jofi in his diaries, noting such details as her general health, her stays at the kennels and the fates of her litters. Moreover, he spared no expense on Jofi, including paying for a complicated operation needed to remove some ovarian cysts. On January 14, 1937, a few days after this procedure, Jofi died of heart failure, and Freud deeply mourned her. As he put it, “one cannot easily get over seven years of intimacy.” Ernest Jones observed that at this stage of his life Freud knew he couldn’t live without a dog. Jofi had originally come into the household with a gentler Chow named Lün, who was given away to friends because the two didn’t get along well. The day after Jofi’s death, Lün (named after Freud’s first Chow, Lün Yug) returned to Freud.

Lün not only helped Freud endure Jofi’s loss, she also helped lift his spirits as both his health and the political situation in Austria deteriorated. Ever since a cancer operation in 1923, Freud had been forced to use a jaw prosthesis that made it difficult for him to chew, and as his illness progressed he took great pleasure in seeing the dogs chomp down their food. But it was a Chow named Topsy who provided Freud the most vicarious relief during his protracted illness. Topsy belonged to Freud’s close friend and benefactress Princess Marie Bonaparte. While Freud introduced Bonaparte to psychoanalysis, Bonaparte turned Freud into a dog lover. More significantly, she would ransom Freud’s family out of Austria.

Before they fled Vienna, Freud and Anna collaborated on a German translation of Bonaparte’s 1936 work Topsy Chow-Chow au poil d’or (Topsy: The Story of a Golden Haired Chow). The book deals with Topsy’s struggle with cancer. The parallels between Freud’s and Topsy’s disease are quite uncanny—both had tumors on the right side of their oral cavities and both were treated with surgery and radiation. In fact, Marie Bonaparte had at different points consulted the same doctors at the Curie Institute in Paris about Freud and Topsy’s condition. Freud, Anna and Marie didn’t explicitly discuss the clear symbolism behind Topsy, but they were well aware that it helped them cope with Freud’s own cancer. Interestingly enough, after suffering a stroke in 1982, Anna tried to dictate a book about her Chow at the time—also named Jofi.

Although Topsy survived his illness, Freud became increasingly worse in England. While Lün was at the kennels, a small Pekinese named Jumbo was brought in to keep him the doctor company. However, Anna noted that her father remained loyal to Lün, so the Pekinese grew more attached to Paula the housekeeper. On December 6, 1938, six months to the day after Lün’s quarantine began, Anna retrieved the Chow from the state kennels. Freud thus enjoyed his last days in the company of Lün, but eventually his own beloved dog would not come near him due to the putrid odor emanating from his face. Lün’s rejection only added to his distress, and as the pain became intolerable, Freud decided to be euthanized with a lethal dose of morphine.

Freud confronted his own death—much like he had lived his whole life—in a logical and unsentimental manner. There was, however, one great exception. In a letter to Marie Bonaparte, he rationally explained that dogs provide “affection without ambivalence, the simplicity of a life free from the almost unbearable conflicts of civilization, the beauty of an existence complete in itself.” But then Freud revealed the slightly embarrassing kind of sentiment that’s familiar to all dog owners: “Often when stroking Jofi, I have caught myself humming a melody which, unmusical as I am, I can’t help recognizing as the aria from Don Giovanni:

A bond of friendship unites us both ….”


Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 18: Spring 2002