by Len Lear
Several days a week, local resident Ellie Beal leads a group of dogs through the area’s safer, less populated places on a hike of several miles. There the dogs do what dogs do best: they find out who’s the fastest, the strongest, who can chase the most squirrels.
Beal picks up the dogs at their owners’ houses in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Wyndmoor and Lafayette Hill and drops them off each day. Raised in Chestnut Hill and trained in Europe in dog behavior training with Jan Fennel (known as “The Dog Listener”), Beal has run a dog walking service for the last 12 years that takes dogs for a fun-filled afternoon.
“I don’t believe in just taking the dog out for a 15- or 20-minute walk,” Beal said. “I have mostly long-term clients who are really wonderful. In some families, I am two dogs in.”
At the heart of Beal’s method of dog training and controlling a pack is a relationship with each dog. Beal used to walk with her pack of dogs along a trail in the Wissahickon, but she does not go into the park nearly as much now because she has been “scared away.” (Apparently, not everyone likes to see a group of dogs walking towards them, no matter how cute they may be.)
The question is how to get a bunch of dogs to pay attention to you. Like people, every dog is different, and there are different ways to deal with different dogs. Beal prefers to work with puppies, who have yet to develop bad habits.
She can work with them more and teach them good behaviors early, like sitting as soon as they get out of the car. When it comes to rehabbing an overanxious dog, five miles through the woods, with a chance to dig his/her snout in the mud over every hill, it can be a difficult process.
“I just use routine and structure combined with body language and energy,” she said. But first you have to get to know the dog and how to deal with its personality, as you would with an annoying coworker or a three-year old. But once a connection’s been made, it becomes about body language.
As for dogs who won’t come, “My grandfather was a major general, and my mother was an opera singer,” Beal joked. Getting a dog to come is about command, tone and boom. “My voice is a leash,” she said. When you speak, it’s succinct. Hey. Here. Now. There’s no question about it. “And there’s no ‘Oh, so and so, please come.’”
After working for a few years selling Mercedes cars in Fort Washington in what she called a “soulless position” that she couldn’t see bringing about any positive meaning in the world, then working as a retail manager at El Quetzal in Chestnut Hill, Beal had decided to go back to school to become an animal rights lawyer.
It was 2003 and the same year she got her first dog, Josephine, a Russian wolfhound. She had been floundering the past few years, since moving back to the area from Boston, after having graduated from Simmons College in 1995 with a degree in philosophy and psychology.
She’d become friends with a local artist who owned a factory in Kensington and had a dog and was leading a far more interesting life than her own, she thought, meeting people at coffee shops, working on his craft and having enough free time to enjoy other activities.
So Ellie started waking up early in the mornings to walk her dog, Josephine, in the Wissahickon, where she started to meet more people doing the same with their dogs. Soon she was picking up their dogs in the morning just so her own would have other dogs to play with.
Soon she was dog walking and earning some extra cash, which she was going to need for law school. She was studying for her LSAT’s when she had a revelation. It was snowing and she was out for a walk with Josephine in the Wissahickon, when she started to think she could turn the dog walking into something sustainable. “I just thought, why go into crazy debt?”
So in 2008 Ellie went to Europe to participate in Fennel’s dog training program, using a variety of disciplines and behavioral tactics for training one or more dogs.
Some people who have seen Beal walking with her canine companions have labeled her “The Dog Whisperer.”
“It’s nice that a lot of people know me as that,” said Beal, 45-ish, who was raised in Chestnut Hill and attended Plymouth Meeting Friends School, Germantown Friends School and later Cushing Academy in Massachusetts.
Now she works five to six hours a day, walking around with a pack of humanity’s best friends.
For more information contact Ellie Beal at 215-205-8539.