Ayelet Blumberg: Sit, Roll, Love

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If Ayelet Blumberg were a dog, she would be a Jack Russel Terrier. She's small, friendly and a ball of energy. She's loved and worked with dogs her entire life, but only recently devoted personal time to creating a dog training business with Sabra Dog Training.

"I was extraordinarily unhappy and I realized that my boyfriend at the time was not going to marry me. I realized I wouldn't want to marry him. I just had to take a look at everything I wanted all over again. Working with dogs was the only thing that truly stuck."

In a city with thousands upon thousands of stray dogs, with only three shelters within the five boroughs, animal awareness and care is more important than ever.

You haven't always been a dog trainer, what made you take the leap?

I kind of gutted my life the way you gut a house. I literally quit everything in my life: boyfriend, house, and job. Everything that I thought was who I was. It's kind of cliché but I went traveling for five months. I decided to do everything I wanted to do. I've been volunteering with dogs for years and I was no longer satisfied doing it when I had the time. I knew I wanted my job to be involved with dogs. It's what it had to be.

Why dog training?

At first it was dog walking, which was totally unsatisfying. Then I did veterinary clinic work and assistant work and it just wasn't what I was looking for. I went back to the roots of where it all began with The Discovery Channel and National Geographic. This is super embarrassing, but I loved, "The Dog Whisperer." He's actually the reason I wanted to do dog training. When I started researching it, I realized how wrong he was and decided to scientifically figure out how dogs behave. I decided I wanted to do positive reinforcement training. I joined a dog meet up group. In February I started a dog training apprenticeship, and I just finished that and launched my company, Sabra Dog Training.

Politically, how do you feel about the way shelters handle dogs in NYC?

It's something I'm still trying to form an opinion on because I'm part of two different groups. Straight from the Heart is a rescue organization. Ten years ago they brought a suit against the city because there are no shelters in two of the five boroughs. The court mandated that every borough should have its own shelter. Ten years later nothing's happened. Shelters need some sort of reform in the city, but then you get into a deeper issue which is open admission vs. no-kill shelters. Every city needs an open admission shelter. A place to bring the strays to, but you need to make difficult calls everyday because you have to decide which animals to euthanize on a daily basis. How much time is this dog going to get before we announce him un-adoptable? Then there's the other side, which is the no-kill rescue groups. Lots of people believe every animal deserves a chance. There was a Michael Vick dog that couldn't be adopted out because it was too dangerous. They accepted the life of that dog. I believe every dog deserves a chance at life, but the more I read and see, some dogs might not ever fully recover from the abuse they've experienced, to a point where they actually feel safe. Is there a solution? Is there an answer? I don't know. There are so many philosophies on what is right.

So what goes into dog training? How do you deal with the dogs?

It depends on the dog. It greatly depends on the client because it's all about owner compliance. Sometimes you see people who come in and maybe it was their boyfriend or girlfriend that convinced them to try training. So they don't feel that they need it because they feel they have complete control of their dog. So one thing I learned from the teacher I apprenticed under: when a client really wants to try something, and it's just the worst idea ever, you let them try it because they won't let up.

Any client horror stories?

Well there's this one dog who's a very serious food guarder. We were trying to work out different desensitization programs to do with the dog. You don't want to push the dog beyond its threshold. The husband says, "This dog will never bite me." Meanwhile I'm thinking: this is an animal with teeth, it will bite anyone if provoked beyond its tolerance threshold. The husband-in my opinion-was showing off. Luckily we were dealing with a Shitzu not a Rottweiler, and I was comfortable letting him learn the hard way. I told him to stop, but he said, "He's not gonna bite me." So I stepped back and said okay. The dog snatched the treat out of the man's hand, and I thought that would be enough to make him back off. But he reached down to try to get the treat out of his mouth, and the dog repeatedly bit him. Luckily because it was a Shitzu the only thing that was injured was the man's ego, but from now on (at least I hope) he'll take what I say more seriously.

Then there are other clients-I did a free phone consult with someone in Miami, who was ready to bring their dog back to the shelter. They weren't prepared for the responsibility of taking care of a puppy. My favorite cases are those that make sure the dog keeps a home, rather than putting it right in a shelter. Because she had tried everything she was kind of at the end of her rope, and she was very willing to try anything. Those are the kind of sessions I find most rewarding. You're changing the life of an animal and a family. It's painful to give a dog away. My focus, even in my business, was that any dog that was rescued receives a ten percent discount off of any service I offer. There are too many dogs that need to be adopted.

Do you have a dog?

No, I don't have any time for one. Between starting a business and working for someone else's, there's just no time. I'm big on owner responsibility. If you don't have the time or the money to take care of a dog: DON'TGETONE!

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