Puppy love

Professional dog walkers in the capital, with experience in canine training are offering more than convenience for busy pet owners

man walking lots of dogs 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
man walking lots of dogs 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Pearl, a rescued terrier mix, brought along some bad doggie habits when she moved to Jerusalem this year with her owners from the US. She jumped on people, charged out the front door whenever it opened, barked at other dogs and lunged at cats. She did not respond when her owners called her name.
But since they hired professional dog walker Roi Levy, Pearl is a perfect princess pooch – or at least a lot more well-behaved than she was before.
“Roi has made a huge difference in our lives, and in the behavior of our terrible terrier, as he’s strict on canine discipline,” says Anne-Marie O’Connor of East Talpiot-Arnona.
Though Jerusalem is not Israel’s canine capital – that distinction clearly belongs to Tel Aviv, where about 27,000 pet dogs are registered compared to 11,500 in Jerusalem – the availability of professional dog walkers is growing here. These are not teens walking pooches to make pocket money. Many adult dog-walkers have experience in canine discipline and offer more than just a convenient way for busy owners to give dogs their daily constitutional.
Katamon resident David Sidman, a professional dog trainer and partner in the Kelevland luxury kennel, says daily walks are essential for a dog’s social and physical well-being. However, if the walker does not know how to handle the dog properly, the experience can be negative for both pet and owner.
When Sidman walks multiple dogs he’s been hired to train, he teaches them to work together as a cohesive unit. “I implement obedience in my walks.
Every time we’re waiting to cross a street, they must sit or lie down, and they have to heel on the way.
I power walk to keep it fast and upbeat, getting the dog’s energy out, so by the time the dog is returned, he’s very balanced mentally and physically.”
Levy got into the business gradually, while he was working for an electronics firm in the Har Hotzvim Industrial Park. Living in nearby Ramot, he wanted to socialize his pet dog without having to drive to one of the city’s dog runs, located much farther south in Sacher Park, Arnona, San Simon and Beit Hakerem.
“About two years ago, I started a group that meets with our dogs and walks together,” Levy says. “Some of the dogs had behavior problems, and I asked the owners if I could help as a favor. I started training for money about a year ago. People then started asking me to walk their dogs.”
Levy’s first paid client owned a French bulldog that bit other pets in the park and ran around wildly.
“After two months of working with her, I started to take her along with another dog to socialize her. A dog with problem behavior is helped by a dog with calm behavior,” he explains.
Levy now spends his entire day with canines, walking them and teaching dogs and owners discipline tricks he learned from experience or from online experts. He walks dogs morning and evening, in Ramot, Arnona, Gilo and the German Colony.
“Dogs need exercise every day to get their energy out and see the world,” he says. “Sometimes people can’t do it themselves because of their work hours or other obligations, and then they ask me to do it.
A lot of people hire me because they cannot control their own dog. When I bring the dogs home after the walk, they see a change – they’re calmer – so they hire me to train them, and how to walk without the dog pulling the leash.”
Keeping them in line is just a matter of showing who’s boss, he says.
“When all the dogs see me as the pack leader, they know they can’t fight. The pack leader sets the tone of when they walk and when they stop. They know they need to follow me, and if sometimes they fight, they know when I say ‘stop,’ it stops. It’s very simple.”
Many of those who hire Levy are Englishspeakers, but he also has fellow native Israelis.
Puppy love He charges regular customers NIS 25 an hour, and NIS 30 for occasional customers.
O’Connor says she could not afford to hire a dogwalker when she lived in Los Angeles. “There, the best dog-walkers become celebrities making six figures, like the one who walks Reese Witherspoon’s dogs,” she says.
She adds that affordable pet services could cut down on abandonments. O’Connor recently rescued a stray black Lab mix and is offering her for adoption with the enticement of 10 free walks from Levy, whom she initially discovered through his Facebook page.
Ruth Chanak, an immigrant from Holland living in Arnona with her seven-year-old son, started walking dogs for a living this year. She is a trained occupational therapist but has not yet recertified in Israel.
They have three regular clients and are walking up to four dogs twice or three times a day. They also care for canines in their home when owners are on vacation. Eventually, Chanak would like to use dogs in occupational therapy for children.
Her dog-walking career began when they took a lost dog to the vet and were able to reunite it with its owner. “My son liked the dog so much that the owner said he could come and take it out as much as he wants,” Chanak says. “It all started that way. I see it as a miracle from God.”
Katamon resident Abie Shammah also got into the business through what he sees as divine providence.
After his aliya from Brooklyn in 2010, Shammah met a Jerusalem woman who later became his wife. She was looking for a job and heard about an opportunity to take over someone’s dog-walking business. Shammah accompanied her to the interview and instantly clicked with the proprietor, so all agreed he should acquire the man’s clients.
Now he takes numerous dogs on six-day-a-week “pack walks.” Like Levy, he finds that unstable dogs learn beautifully from well-behaved peers.
“Some clients pay me just to walk them and drop them off after an hour. Other dogs stay with me for the day,” says Shammah. “We take a shorter walk in the morning, and in the afternoon we go for about three hours. We do running and walking and discipline training. I teach them how to live in a city environment, how to deal with other dogs as well as cats, cars, motorcycles, people and loud noises.”
He also established the Best In Breed Doggie Day Camp last spring, and a two-week obedience camp for seemingly incorrigible dogs.
“I grew up with dogs throughout my life,” says Shammah, whose degree in business management and finance has come in handy. “And I used to work with the mentally disabled, so I understand nonverbal communication; I understand their wants and needs.”
He is a big fan of the former TV show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, and at least one of his clients considers Shammah in the same league.
Yehonatan Macarov of Abu Tor explains that he and his wife adopted their pet dog, Duba, at a Jerusalem Loves Dogs adoption day. Duba was a big, happy mutt with a tragic story. She’d been left in a ditch, her ears and most of her tail severed. She had repeatedly been adopted and returned. The Macarovs almost gave up on her as well.
“She was very aggressive at first toward my wife, and later when we had a baby we were horrified about having her around our son,” says Macarov. “We got three dog trainers to come help us out. Each did a pretty okay job. Then we heard about Abie. Honestly, the guy is a magician. He really understood Duba and literally transformed her, and as a result, transformed our lives. My son now sits on her, poking her and playing with her.”
Duba is a loyal member of Shammah’s afternoon pack walk. “He walks with her every afternoon for hours,” says Macarov. “When they come home, he reports how she was and what they’ve been working on.”
Says Shammah, “When I started exercising her, I could get through to her because they learn better when they’re tired. I started working with her a year ago, and she’s like my star now.”