Meet the Dr. Phil for Dogs
Warren Eckstein weighs in on helping animals.
By Kyra Kirkwood
As a shy child, Warren Eckstein turned to the turtles, geese, and ducks in the wooded sanctuary behind his Long Island home for companionship and understanding. Now, people around the world turn to this noted animal expert and behaviorist for answers and advice.
“I’m one of the lucky people in life who’s known early on what my goal was: to work with animals and change the perception people have of them,” says Eckstein, host of the popular call-in radio program The Pet Show in Los Angeles, New York, and 100 other cities across the nation.
Often called the “Dr. Phil of Animals” or “trainer extraordinaire,” Eckstein prefers to call himself a pet social worker, with the goal of using his knowledge of animals to help others.
People don’t get rid of their dogs because they don’t sit properly, Eckstein says, but because they bark, chew, or act hyper. He believes a common-sense training approach can help both pet and owner form a healthy family.
“(Dogs) are part of our family and need to be treated as such…You can’t put an animal in a human environment, treat it like an animal, and expect it to be part of the family,” he says.
As a young man, Eckstein joined the military and, while in Europe and Southeast Asia, studied various styles of animal training and behavior. Back in the States and working at a dry cleaner, Eckstein chatted with customers, offering pet tips. Before he knew it, Eckstein had a following of people who craved his advice.
That’s when the lightbulb lit: There were plenty of trainers out there who would teach a dog to heel, but who was there to ease behavior problems with a loving, caring approach focusing on not just the what, but the why?
An ad in the Pennysaver and plenty of recommendations catapulted Eckstein into his role as animal guru. Today, this pet therapist has worked with more than 40,000 animals, both those belonging to famous people (like David Letterman) and to everyday folks.
“It’s always a better idea to figure out why (bad behavior happens),” says Eckstein, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif. “Dogs don’t want to be bad. You have to figure out why the dogs are bad. Cujo is not born—he’s created. If you’re looking for a perfect dog, get something with batteries.”
Eckstein is a strong proponent of animal adoption. In fact, his own two dogs—a statuesque German Shepherd Dog named Skyler, and Cisko, a spunky Chihuahua—were both rescued: Skyler from the streets after someone painted her blue, and Cisko from a horrific situation involving an unethical breeder in California.
“When you save a dog’s life, they know it, and they pay it back every day of theirs,” he says.
Eckstein, who has written or co-authored several books and is also the contributing pet editor for the Today show (and spent 14 years as the animal expert on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee), works hard to reform Los Angeles’ animal shelters. He believes strongly that everyone, no matter their age or income, can do something profound for dogs everywhere.
“Get involved with your own pets first, then donate what you can,” such as time, services or money, Eckstein says. “There are so many things you can do in your own way.” These include:
- Treat your own dog like a family member by celebrating her birthday, encouraging her good traits, and spending quality time with her.
- Host a birthday party where the guests bring dog toys, blankets, or food instead of gifts. Then donate them to a local shelter.
- If you see a homeless dog, do something. Call your shelter, try to safely contain the dog, and post “found” signs.
- Encourage teachers to conduct lessons on pet care and humane animal treatment.
- Help local Girl Scout, Boy Scout, or other groups organize donation drives for shelters.
- Form socializing playgroups and a disaster plan with your dog-owning neighbors.
- Volunteer your services. For example, groomers can spend one day a month beautifying shelter dogs.
- Spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering.
“There’s a tendency to think that there is someone else (out there) who will do it,” Eckstein says. “If just one individual would do one thing, we (could accomplish so much). You’ve just got to do something.”