A pooch yelps and the sound carries across a hotel conference room full of attentive listeners all waiting to hear the wise words of the man at center stage. Though one expects to hear a chorus of “Ssh!” resound throughout the room, the audience instead breaks into fits of laughter in response to the squeal.
“May be the first time anyone’s ever been heckled by a dog,” chuckles the man at center stage. The audience bursts into another round of laughter.
Warren Eckstein is no stranger to dog yelping and barking in the middle of his speaking engagements. In fact, Eckstein has made a 30-year-long career out of deciphering barks and yelps. This particular yelp might have been a heckle, the next may be an emotional outcry for attention, and even the next still may be a bark voicing fear of abandonment. Most humans wouldn’t be able to tell you either way, but Eckstein can tell you all about your pooch’s emotional state in a few seconds flat; in fact, he can do it all with a quick dog sit on his therapist’s couch.
Eckstein is internationally renowned as America’s first pet psychologist and better yet known for his humorous, yet informative banter on his popular radio talk show “The Pet Show” on WOR Radio in New York, where he tells it like it is to pet parents who want to know “What’s wrong with Pookie?” Pet parents are usually surprised at Eckstein’s response when they slowly realize that Eckstein’s pointing the finger in their direction. On his show he analyzes a pet and its human to help clarify behavioral problems by offering sound advice for behavioral changes.
Despite his stance that most likely a human’s lack of proper pet communication is to blame for a poochie’s neuroses, Eckstein makes his position clear while still adding evity to the situation with doses of love, humor, and guidance. His ultimate goal is to help pets and their humans live harmoniously through good communication. Truth be told, Eckstein’s philosophy is rooted in hugs and kisses. As opposed to dog trainers the likes of Cesar Millan, who use intimidation, fear, and force to scare an animal into submission, Eckstein demands that humans respect their pets and create changes in their animal’s behavior through patience, hugs, kisses, and of course a professional behavioral strategy to help their pet reach success.
It’s no wonder that Eckstein has built a following of pet lovers near and far that come out to support him in droves. Thursday evening, January 28, was no exception as his many fans, those with tails and those without, gathered at the Hotel Palomar, a Kimpton Hotel, in Westwood, California, for the hotel’s monthly dog-friendly event entitled “Sit, Bark, Sip!” Interestingly enough, Kimpton is the very first full-service hotel company to open its doors to four-legged guests and is continuing to be on the cutting edge of dog-friendly establishments by hosting these monthly events.
The evening brought out nearly a hundred pets and their humans. While the pooches sat, barked, and sipped, the humans sat, chatted, and sipped from glasses of wine and snacked on complimentary hors d’oeuvres provided by Hotel Palomar. In attendance were the neurotic, the not-so neurotic, animal rescue workers, those with daring dogs, large breeds, small breeds, the adopted, the rescued, and of course i Love Dogs (who happily provided the event organizers with complimentary doggie bags for those in attendance).
Mingling included much sniffing, barking, licks, and tricks. Trainer Bernie Yeszin and his dog, Golden Retriever Daisy, wowed the small room as Daisy popped out trick after trick. Sir Davidson, the motorcycle-riding German Shepherd, sat in the back of the room, calmly following his owner Jeremiah’s guidance. Then there were the kitties in crates, and the one sweet bunny cozily tucked away in his owner’s arms.
Eileen Smulson, founder & president of Operation Blankets of Love, attended in support of Eckstein and his work as a dogvocate of abandoned, abused, and neglected animals. Her organization collects blankets, pet beds, pet clothing, and pet toys to distribute among rescue organizations and shelters throughout Southern California. Also in attendance was Barbara Cowen of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who runs the therapy dog program at the hospital. A proponent of the program, Eckstein is expected to participate in a private speaking engagement with program volunteers later this month.
The evening then shifted its focus to the man and the couch. The event was called to order and both human eyes and sniffing noses sat in rapt attention. As his website describes, “[Eckstein] has worked with more than 40,000 pets including those of many well known celebrities. David Letterman, Cheryl Tiegs, Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Ferraro, Al Pacino, Rodney Dangerfield, and Phylicia Rashaad are just a few of many whom [Eckstein] has helped with pet problems.”
Eckstein shared several stories about how he came to be a pet expert and the multitude of adventures he embarked upon thereafter. From a pooch that peed all throughout Rodney Dangerfield’s house (Eckstein quoted Dangerfield as saying “What do I do, Warren? This dog’s peeing all over the place. I get no respect!”), to inspiring the “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment of David Letterman’s late night program, to being the first to bring animals onto NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Eckstein’s seen it all. He’s appeared on numerous national television programs and has been pet therapist to stars and their fans alike.
Yet Eckstein came from very humble beginnings and described how he went from studying to become a veterinarian to proclaiming to his parents that he wanted to be “America’s first pet psychologist.” His Jewish parents were none too excited about this, but he continued to pursue his dream and started his career taking out ads in the local Penny Saver that read, “Will teach your dog Yiddish for $15.” With humor in the passenger seat, Eckstein maneuvered his way directly into that top dog spot by proving that his skills went a long way in solving pet parents’ woes. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had a background as a military animal behaviorist with drug and bomb dogs.
The evening then shifted gears as Eckstein’s ever-so-popular “pets on the couch” presentation began. There were wriggles, barks, and tail wags throughout the room as pets and their humans made their way to the couch for a short session with Eckstein.
First to cozy up on the couch were Bichon Frise Bentley and mom Stephanie. Bentley’s problem was a fear of men swatting at him, most likely due to previous abuse from a male. After a quick test, Eckstein immediately confirmed that past abuse from a man was most definitely the case. He then went on to set her on the best program for counter-conditioning little Bentley. With lots of treats and practice, Eckstein assured Stephanie that Bentley would soon associate men with nothing but positive things.
Another pet parent brought up his overly social Pit Bull that unfortunately would frighten other owners with her need to greet and kiss every dog in her path. Eckstein quickly jumped to the defense of Pit Bulls, declaring them the most misaligned breed ever. Though this Pittie was a social gal who loved other dogs and humans, she’d have to learn to control her urges to give kisses. Eckstein gave her dad some advice on the couch and sent them away wagging.
The evening concluded with a passionate Eckstein speaking up in support of animal rescues and their very important work. He announced the establishment of his new venture, the Hugs and Kisses Animal Fund. He hopes this fund will infuse money into rescues across the country so that the workers themselves can dedicate their energy to rescuing and getting animals adopted. The announcement was received by applause, and passionate members of the community raised their hands to speak in support of his efforts by contributing their own services.
An exciting event, the “Sit, Bark, Sip!” gathering left those in attendance with smiles, and even little Warren Eckstein who attended (a rescued Chihuahua named after big Warren Eckstein) was waggin’ a tail.
Those who know and love Eckstein’s show, work, and passion will be happy to hear that a possible television show is in the talks, and cameramen were in attendance that evening to capture footage for a potential pilot.