As a shy child growing up in Long Island, Warren Eckstein turned to the turtles, geese and ducks in the wooded sanctuary behind his house for companionship and understanding. Now, people across the world turn to this noted animal expert and behaviorist for answers, advice and miracles.
“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 on 100 other stations across the nation.
Known as everything from the “Dr. Phil of Animals” to trainer extraordinaire, Eckstein prefers to call himself a pet social worker. He has spent his life learning how to understand animals—and using that knowledge 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 uses his common-sense training approach to help both pet and owner form a healthy family unit.
“[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.”
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 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 from famous people (like David Letterman) and everyday folks.
“It’s always a better idea to figure out why [bad behavior happens],” says Eckstein of 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 named Skyler, and Cisko, a spunky Chihuahua—were both rescued: Skyler from the streets after someone painted her blue, and Cisko from a horrific backyard-breeder situation in Acton, Calif.
“When you save a dog’s life, they know it and they pay it back every day of theirs,” he says.
Eckstein, who is has been 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 feels very strongly that everyone, no matter the 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 they can do in their own little way.”
1. Treat your own dog like a family member by celebrating her birthday, encouraging her good traits and spending quality time with her.
2. Host a birthday party where the children bring dog toys, blankets or food instead of gifts. Then donate the goodies to your local shelter;
3. If you see a homeless dog, do something. Call your shelter, try to safely contain it, post signs;
4. Encourage teachers to conduct lessons on proper pet care and humane animal treatment;
5. Help local Girl Scout, Boy Scout or other groups organize donation drives for shelters;
6. Form socializing playgroups and a disaster plan with your dog-owning neighbors;
7. Volunteer your services. For example, groomers can spend one day a month beautifying shelter dogs;
8. Spread the word about 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.”