Author Archives: Steve

What the H…. does neurosurgery have to do with dog training?

This blog post is going to be a little bit long form. I’m sorry about that but sometimes the connections that I make in my work require it.

I’ve been a New Yorker subscriber for years and years and years and every once in a while a little item pops up that just amazes me. In this week’s New Yorker there was an article about Dr. Henry Marsh from England. Dr. Marsh is a very well-known and respected neurosurgeon. The article is discussing his latest book which is more or less a biography. The thing that makes it interesting is that he delves into his failures as a neurosurgeon. He dwells in the dark region of failures and traces those back to his own human faults pride, hubris, overwhelming desire to help, and others.

Now granted, being a dog trainer is nothing compared to the responsibilities of being a neurosurgeon, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve looked back and I’ve seen my own failings with clients and with dogs over the years. Perhaps that is what my clients pay for, this experience, this knowledge that comes with doing something so many thousands of times. Still, the successes don’t ring out nearly as clearly as the failures over the years and that is grist for the mill.

As I get older, there are things that I no longer feel myself capable of. Dr. Marsh’s book, recants a line that is said when he, as a younger man,  consults an older surgeon about a case. The older surgeon says “It’s a young man’s operation,I’ve told them you should do it”. Needless to say, things do not turn out in the best form for either the Dr. or the patient, but this is a valuable lesson that all of us must learn. This is the way I feel now days when I’m confronted with a client desperately in need of help with an aggressive dog that is a biter. Over the years I’ve lost feelings in one of my fingers, I have nerve damage in the other hand, and I’ve developed arthritis in my hands from handling the leash for so long. None of this stops me from doing my day-to-day training activities with clients, but it does prevent me from doing the most difficult things which I previously loved working on and which made the workaday life of a dog trainer interesting.

That phrase “It’s a young man’s operation” has been stuck in my head the last few days and it’s definitely making me think about my career. Without consciously realizing it for the past year, I’ve been referring these very difficult cases off to “younger men”. It’s been difficult. The intellectual component alone of dealing with those cases was always very stimulating not to mention the adrenaline issues that came with face-to-face work with those dogs. I regret that I’ve passed the phase where I must give them to “younger men and women” but here I have arrived.

Dog training, high-level dog training anyway, which we’ve always specialized in, is a highly intellectual activity. Very rarely is it simply getting the dog to do what you needed to do, but far more often it is getting the Person to do what you need. Figuring out how to explain things to people in a way that they will understand, how to show them the mechanical skills that they need to work with the dog, and then figuring out how to get the dog to understand that person involves far more brainpower than brawn. And as I said, after thousands and thousands and thousands of clients at this point I can think back on every turning point where I learn something valuable and failed a client or their dog. Hopefully, and I truly hope this, all of this experience is valuable to the next client whose front door I walk through.

For those of you that wish to learn a little bit more about Dr. Henry Marsh here is a link to a documentary that he was in several years ago. Although it has absolutely nothing to do directly with dog training it has everything to do with dog training. I highly recommend its viewing.

The English Surgeon:

Steve Haynes

Austin Dog Trainer

Getting a puppy, and the dog-less dog trainer

Mims  001




I lost both of my dogs over last summer and for the first time in my whole life I’ve been dog-less for  the past six months.  It’s been weird.

The standard things bother me, coming home between clients to an absolutely silent house with no tail banging against the kennel.  No rushing home to get the dog tended and gnashing my teeth while in traffic knowing the puppy has to go out to potty or ELSE. The thing that bothers me most though is the quiet stuff, the walking outside and reaching down to pat a head or scratch a fuzzy ear, and just the joy of watching a puppy run in front of me on the trails and in the cul de sac.

And then an email comes.

My favorite breeder of Welsh Springers emailed me this week about some puppies.  I’ve had welsh springers for the past 20 years and she knows that I lost both of mine last summer.  She was emailing me to offer one of her pups. She knows I Iost mine and can’t stand that I don’t have one now.  Normally there is a HUGE waiting list for her dogs so the opportunity to get on without the 3 or 4 year wait is appealing.  At least immediately appealing.

My personality somehow isn’t like the vast amount of the population though.  I have a habit of looking at all of the tough things to be done when an opportunity arises.  Some people call me a glass half empty guy, I think it’s more akin to an utter and brutal realist kind of guy.  There was an article recently in the New Yorker about people like me and it explained that people like me understand better how we’ll feel in the future, not just how we ‘Imagine” we’ll feel.  I’ll go along with that completely.

Of course, I emailed the breeder back and got the info on the pups that are coming in January.  They would be just what I would want.  A very nice cross between full bore hunting dogs and show line dogs. But then my personality kicks in and I start thinking of how much work this is going to be.

The truth of dog training is that even if you’ve been doing it forever like me, that doesn’t make training a puppy that much easier.  I still have to do HUGE repetitions just like I beg my clients to do, I still have to take the puppy out every 20 minutes like I plead with my clients to, and it still takes me months and months to get a puppy trained to a decent level of citizenship.  The main difference between me and my clients is that I absolutely KNOW what I am in for and that is a terrifying thought. As soon as I run up against this line of thought the brakes on puppy cuteness go on and I start to veer away from the email client and phone and avoid all contact with breeders on my “personal” list.



My last puppy was a great dog.  Best I’ve ever had actually, and that’s saying something.  He trained beautifully, wanted to work, and was kind to all.  But he still took a HUGE amount of work and it took me right at 2 years to get him where I wanted him.

When I look at that and think 2 more years to get a puppy to a level I’m happy with them my mind just goes numb and my will to get another one diminishes.  I guess I’m getting old or something.  I’m certainly no spring chicken any longer and I guess I realize the cost of doing the puppy thing to other portions of life.  Ridiculous things for a dog trainer to say, I know but there it is.

Lately, I’ve been getting the question “what kind of dog do you have” a lot from clients.  I am always more than a little bit embarrassed when I tell them  that I don’t have one for the first time in my life.  That statement is always followed by an odd confused silence from the client and then an abrupt change of conversation back to the training at hand.  It’s embarrassing for sure and I know that I’ll have to rectify the situation at some point but I don’t think I’ll be getting a puppy from this January litter. Or maybe from the February litter from my other favorite breeder or the March litter from the Wirehair Griffon breeder I deal with.


Steve Haynes, the dog-less dog trainer.

Fidelio Dog Works


Working with Aggressive dogs-risk reward equation.

agressive shepherd pic


Forty years of dog training and fourteen years of doing it all day every day are rolled into this post.  Proceed with caution.

There’s a dirty secret amongst dog trainers. None of us will ever admit to one another that we’ve ever been bitten by a dog. It’s a mark of pride,particularly prevalent amongst younger dog trainers who deal with aggressive dogs.We’re going to talk a bit about what happens when trainers work with aggressive dogs a bit…it won’t be pretty.

When you first begin as a dog trainer your skills are limited. You have to work in a fairly narrow channel dealing with dogs on basic behaviors, and basic training techniques. As your skills get better, your timing improves, and your knowledge of dog behavior gets more robust, you start branching out and looking for different challenges. One of the best and toughest challenges out there are dogs that are aggressive, and that have bitten people or have injured people in the past.

I’ve been dealing with aggressive dogs for MANY years now. I’ve dealt with some pretty bad cases, and through most of that I was young dog trainer and thought that I was pretty much invincible. I’m no longer young, and certainly not invincible nowadays. Dealing with aggressive dogs is a heartbreaking endeavor for most trainers and behaviorists. I simply do not believe that you can cure aggression, true aggression. I believe that you can manage it to a certain degree, set up scenarios where it is as controlled as possible, and avoid situations where it most likely will occur, but never out and out cure it.

Over all of my years of doing this type of work the number of absolute success stories that I’ve had is extremely small. The saying that I tend to use with clients is “something always falls through the cracks” and then I get called the dog has injured someone and things go downhill rapidly from there. It’s a pessimistic view I know, but it’s one that has repeated itself over and over and over for the past 14 years.

I’ve always been confident with these dogs, never been afraid of them, but the past two years have changed things for me. Late last year was injured by very large dog. We were working with this dog in a vet’s office trying to teach it to have good manners as the vet entered the exam room. When the vet appeared the dog lunged at her attempted to attack her and as I was grabbing the dog it twisted its head around in managed to break one of my fingers in a number of locations.  It was a serious and possibly career ending injury. Not a good day at the office.

The upshot of this sessions was that the client was charged an extra $20 as an aggression charge and I ended up with slightly over $50,000 worth of medical bills for all of the surgeries, rehab, and all the other craziness that goes along with an injury that could eliminate the use of your hand. It’s taken a little over a year now I can move my fingers, they more or less work, they hurt all the time, and all the pain and suffering that I went through for that extra $20 for an aggressive dog has caused me to reevaluate the cost-benefit analysis of working with such animals.

Then, last November happened. I was called out by client to evaluate an older German Shepherd that they had gotten from a high quality breeder. The dog been returned to the breeder for unspecified reasons which immediately set alarm bells off in my head. I went through the session with these people asking questions; what had the dog done, how had it behaved in the household, and they noticed any strange behavior from the dog… It was a fairly standard interview initially.

The client’s point of concern was that the dog had pinned their grandmother against the wall when she let it out of the crate. A serious occurrence for sure and one that I was concerned about, but I saw no aggressive behavior in my interactions with the dog initially. As I was preparing to leave and giving instructions to the owners of what I would be looking for from the dog over the next week or so, the clients housekeeper leaned over the dog and the shepherd immediately jumped up and took a large bite out of the housekeeper’s arm and pinned the housekeeper against the wall, standing on its hind legs and barking aggressively directly in her face. It was so violent and so sudden even I was scared. We got the dog under control, immediately snapped on a leash, and brought it over to stand by me. It never entered my head that something bad would happen next. As I was telling owners to get the housekeeper to a doctor I gently reached down to pet the dog’s head and he grabbed my arm and began slinging me around the room like a ragdoll. The whole time it was happening I kept thinking “I wonder how much this is going to cost”? I went limp and let the dog think it killed me and it backed away. The instant I moved to straighten up, it came back and got me in the hip with another bite. Another very bad day at the office. Luckily the November incident didn’t cause any lasting damage. I had some bone deep puncture wounds, and got an infection from the bite, and suffered Dr. bills. I walked away from the incident thinking I’m not sure this is worth doing any longer. In the last year I have been effectively put out of work for three months because of dog bites.

I’m not sure what’s going on in the dog world, but the incidence of aggression seems to be going up dramatically as are their intensity. This is a problem for the owners and all the dog trainers out there. It’s regrettable to me that I won’t be able to work with these types of dogs any longer. I simply cannot stand the injury level to my body and the effect it has on my family when I am unable to perform my duties at home because of work injuries.

These dogs need help, these owners need help, but I don’t see a clear safety net for the trainers that deal with these dogs. How can the average dog trainer be incapacitated for three months of the year and still earn a living doing what they do? Owners of these dogs need to realize the risks they bear when having them in their house. It’s a tough view, and goes against the grain of current belief that “all dogs can and must be saved”.

What brings my decision into ultimate clarity for me is that this dog in November was in a family home with a four-year-old daughter. What on earth would have happened if that four-year-old girl had come over and given that dog a Pat as it was standing by me. What would’ve happened to her? My stomach churns just just at the barest thought of it.

We will be referring aggressive dogs that have actually injured people out to other trainers that specialize in that work going forward. The risk reward equation is not in our favor.

Steve Haynes

And then there were none…


And then…there were none.

Epilipsy wins.

There’s a line in a book I read recently that said “there aren’t many easy ways out of this life.” Super proved that this week. We lost him to whatever ailment it was that he had. At least I was home with him.

I always tell my clients that you get one dog in your life that fits like a perfect puzzle piece. I’ve never had a dog like Super before and I’ve had and known many dogs in my life. He was just “right” for me. He was kind, gentle, crisp in his commands, and loved to play and be with his people. He always got along with other dogs and I never once saw a single sign of aggression or foul humor from him. He just “fit” me perfectly.

The thought of a dog trainer being dogless horrifies me, but at the moment I can’t even imagine having another. Loosing both of my own dogs inside of 3 months makes this one very tough year.

We still dont’ know what happened or what caused this with Super, but I’m incredibly grateful to the kind folks at Firehouse Clinic and Central Texas Veterenary Specialty Hospital for tweaking the meds to the point where Super had as good a last two weeks as he possibly could. He played, he escorted the kids down to bed each night, and he was almost his old self for a while. I could not have asked for more, but I’m going to miss him terribly.

Losing an old dog is one thing. You’ve had a long life with them and so many memories to look back on. It’s bad for sure, but loosing a puppy is something else entirely. All of that future, all of that promise, all of those yet to happen memories just wasted away into…..nothing. I have a hole now. A big giant hole and I’m going to have a hard time filling this one.

For the first time in over 30 years I am dogless and I don’t relish the idea of coming home to a house without a thumping wagging tail to greet me.

Rest in Peace Super. I hope there are birds and squirrels galore wherever you may be. I’ll miss you terribly.


Patience with the puppy PLEASE.


Gomez on the rock



How I stopped worrying and learned to Love training the puppy…


Puppies are cute. Puppies are funny. Then it changes, puppies bite. Puppies chew….you get the idea.


As a dog trainer, and a damned good one at that, I had an interesting project this year. A very good client of mine hired me to find a certain type of puppy for them which I did. The only problem was that the puppy was going to be available 2 days after this client was leaving on vacation for three months. No problem, we agreed, I would keep this little guy and train and raise him like he was my own until they get back from vacation. This is DEFINITELY something I would do if I could afford it myself. I mean, someone else potty training your puppy for you! Crate training! Oh yeah, sign me up NOW! Here is the check.


I’ve raised puppies before and I’ve board and trained dogs many times, but this long term board and train of a brand new puppy is something a bit….shall we say, different, it’s neither fish nor fowl. He’s a puppy and he’s living with me as my personal puppy but he isn’t mine. I can’t give him all the leeway he needs to learn things in a timefrarme without a deadline….right?


The connundrum for me as a trainer is that I know this puppy has to be “ready” for his owner when they arrive back in town. He MUST master certain skills and display certain abilities by the day I turn him over to his owner. The problem is, that he is a PUPPY and learns things at his own rate. He’s smart, no question. He learns things fast fast fast, no question. But I’ve had a constant fear that he “won’t be ready” in time to go home. We have a program, a path, a plan, but still….the clock is ticking.


Then, just this week, I realized something. This puppy is what he is. He’s not perfect yet (though he’s better than your puppy I pretty much guarantee you), he doesn’t perform 100% in chaotic situations yet (no dog does ever), and he still chews on shoes if you leave them on the floor in front of him (every puppy will). He’s a puppy. A very well trained, obedient, and well socialized, confident puppy but just a puppy and will absolutely still be one the day I turn him over to his owner.


While fretting out loud about the situation the other day my wife reminded me to deliver a note with this puppy when I turn him over. The note she said should be:


“This is a puppy. If you leave shoes out on the floor he will eat them, and if you play with him for to long before taking him outside to pee, he WILL have an accident in the house.”


That pretty much sums it up. This puppy will heel of leash, come when called quite readily, sit and stay for a reasonable amount of time, go to his place and into his kennel on command, jump up and get off of things on command, back away from something when you tell him to, high five, shake, roll over, play dead, fist bump, retrieve, leave it, and wait on command, wipe his whiskers after he drinks water automatically, but he’s still a puppy and he damned sure will chew up your Manolos if you leave them on the floor in front of him.


I’ve loved this project, and am supremely grateful I’ve gotten paid to raise and train this puppy. Ownership by proxy I suppose one might call it. This is the sort of long term project I would like to do move of in the future. My only worry is how to make people understand that despite the hundreds, or dare I say thousand(s) of hours I spent training him, he’s still a puppy and not a machine. He’s going to eat something valuable at some point. I’m just glad he didn’t go for my wife’s Manolos while he was with us.