Owner of Pet Resort Coaches 3 Generations of ‘Bat Dogs’ for Trenton Thunder
By JENNIFER AMATO
A New Jersey dog training facility that boards and works with dogs from all over the East Coast may have found its “Rookie” of the year.
Green Leaf Pet Resort & Hotel owner Shelly Leibowitz recently took on the training of Rookie, the latest bat-retrieving dog for the Trenton Thunder baseball team.
This is nothing new for the esteemed dog trainer. About seven years ago, Leibowitz — who also owns Shelly’s School for Dogs, formerly of Freehold and now located at Green Leaf in Millstone Township — was called upon to train Rookie’s father, Home Run Derby, who has been serving as bat dog for the minor league team since his father, Chase That Golden Thunder, died at age 12 in 2013 after serving as bat dog since 2003.
Leibowitz began training Rookie on and off the leash. He then trained the now 16- month-old golden retriever on how to stay in the dugout with the players, retrieve baseball bats carefully without leaving teeth marks, and bring water in a basket to the umpires. The dogs also must learn to deal with sounds such as music, announcements, thousands of screaming fans and the players on the field.
“Regardless of what they see, regardless of what they hear, they have to go out and go around the baseball players and grab that bat. They have to do it in a very timely fashion, or else the game is held up,” Leibowitz said. “It’s a great deal of fun for me to go ahead and train the dogs.”
Rookie made his debut at the stadium in April. Eric Lipsman, senior vice president of corporate sales and partnerships for the AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, owns Rookie and Derby and brings them to the stadium every day.
“People go to the games not necessarily to see the game, but to see the dogs,” Leibowitz said. “Dogs are incredible. They put a smile on everybody’s face.”
Leibowitz is no stranger to the smile that comes from being around dogs.
The New York native and current Millstone resident has spent the past 45 years training dogs.
In his 20s, Leibowitz heard about the dog sport of schutzhund, which is German for “protection dog,” and met other people in Brooklyn with similar interests. In Europe, German shepherds can only be bred if they receive a degree in schutzhund, which tests tracking, obedience, protection and temperament.
Leibowitz eventually founded the Garden State Schutzhund Club and was chosen in 2007 to represent the U.S. on the Schutzhund World Team.
“No matter how good you are as a trainer, certain dogs are better to do certain things than others,” Leibowitz said of the intensive process of selecting a dog that can excel at a high level. He said one must have a keen eye and be in the right place at the right time, starting with a puppy about 10- 18 months old.
Leibowitz also trained dogs for a private security firm that needed canines to sniff for explosives at an airport; he had learned the practice from a premier dog trainer who taught tricks to circus dogs. For a time, he traveled to Maryland every weekend to work with dogs for narcotics and explosives training.
Afterward, he was assigned to schools and businesses for narcotics searches, and worked with a team at a nuclear plant construction site in Philadelphia.
Leibowitz also imports dogs from Europe for local police departments, because he said the schutzhund training ensures a higher standard of a purebred dog. In the United States, any two dogs can be bred together. However, state law requires police departments to appoint one of their own certified officers to conduct the training.
At Green Leaf, dog training includes areas such as housebreaking, chewing, mouthing and bolting out the door. Trainers also have to combat issues such as aggression, fear and anxiety in dogs.
“I enjoy doing it. I like to take a dog who can’t find its tail [because it is hidden out of fear] and doesn’t want to walk in here … and by the time we’re done training, its tail is up and he’s acclimated,” Leibowitz said. “The owner is happy, but it’s making the dog so much happier. They are frightened … and then they’re happy out there in the world.
“You want it so that the dog understands what’s expected. You’ll find the dog is much happier … and the confidence level is always higher with a dog who’s trained.”
Leibowitz personally trains all of his trainers, who cannot work alone with a dog until they have at least a year of training. They then teach the dogs — who are of any breed and can weigh anywhere from 2 to 175 pounds — how to deal with a plethora of distractions, such as traffic, bicycles, people in wheelchairs, baby carriages and staircases.
The old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is untrue, according to Leibowitz. He said his facility trained a 12- year-old dog that needed to be taught how to walk on a leash instead of roaming freely in the backyard when his owners moved to a retirement village.
Yet there is much more to the 54-acre property of Green Leaf than just training. The former blueberry farm opened almost four years ago as a pet resort and hotel. Different day care areas provide playtime for the pups, both inside and outside. Each room has its own heat and air conditioning, as well as UV lights to kill bacteria.
To provide exercise, fun or rehabilitation, a 20-by-40-foot salt-based pool that is 4 1/2 feet deep is located just off the lobby. A new nature trail for dogs to walk for a half-hour may be open to clients in the future. And a kitchen is designed specifically to prepare food for the dogs, since some clients want food cooked for their dogs instead of giving them canned or dry food, according to Leibowitz.
Although the 24,000-square-foot building is geared toward dogs, grooming is available for dogs and cats.
There is also a “pawtique” with a variety of pet-related items for sale.
For owners who want their dogs to have an extended stay, Green Leaf offers a boarding facility. Each dog is taken out to play a minimum of five times a day between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., Leibowitz said.
The dogs come from all over the East Coast, with many from New York’s five boroughs. Green Leaf currently offers pickup and delivery service to New York City three times each week.
“[City owners] want to get their dogs out of the city and put into a farm-type atmosphere,” Leibowitz said.
Though there can be 100 to 150 dogs at Green Leaf at any given time, Leibowitz has three dogs of his own — a German shepherd named Darco, a bichon named Razzy and a Chihuahua named Rico.
Although Green Leaf does not adopt out or rescue dogs, Leibowitz will periodically sell to individuals, selectively, based on the person and the temperament of the dog.