Category Archives: Training

Fidelio in the Press.

Image by:  Bill Sallans

Image by: Bill Sallans

Fidelio Dog Works has always been a word of mouth business. I’ve kept it like that for a host of reasons over the last 13 years. In fact, a lot of my clientele really doesn’t like ‘publicity’ at all and they’ve always appreciated that we are discrete with stories about corporate jets, estates, horse ranches, hunting lodges, and the other goodies that goes along with that clientele.  But recently we’ve been getting a bit more exposure and it’s nice to be appreciated in a more public way than we have sought for the last 13 years.

Tribeza, the super glossy Austin magazine just did a piece on us and it was so nice to see that the journalist really ‘got’ what we do here at Fidelio. I particularly liked how she described what we do and the way we train as artisanal and very specific to the clients.  That’s true: we are, and we always will be.  She also notes that we stay small for a reason, which is also true. The article gives the feel of Fidelio — we like what we do and we do it very very well.

So while not every one of our clients has President Obama, or former President Bush, over for dinner on a regular basis, we’ve been there, done that. And if we can deal with the intricacies of handling their dog during presidential visits, we’re more than likely able to help you with your pup too.

We’re grateful for the recognition.

Steve Haynes

Austin Dog Trainer

Fidelio Dog Works

Ruminations on elderly dogs and training that is just for them

Old Gwennie

On my calendar today I’ve got an appointment with a client I worked with years ago.  I got a panicked call last weekend from her that there had been a dog fight in her household, and it was a serious one with blood, stitches, and all that bad stuff. The odd part was that the owners weren’t home at the time and that makes several alarm bells go off in my head.

It turns out that the recipient of all the abuse has turned 15 years old recently and has been really slowing down.  This is a scenario I see quite a bit actually. The old dog starts to decline in health a bit and the young ones start to “move up” the ladder.  I had it happen in my house several years ago with my beloved schnauzer Hallie.  When we got the puppy 13 years ago things didn’t go smoothly at all and a couple of years later the picking on behavior was in clear evidence.  It was painful to watch but difficult to curb as it was happening when I was away or out of sight.

There are a LOT of things to do about this bullying behavior but none of them are completely effective.  It’s best to just increase the level of general obedience required by the younger one and to mind any situation that might elicit bullying (treats, special toys…) when you are leaving the house.  But all in all, I fear this behavior is a bit of the more Animal side of the “animal kingdom” that shows up in our well ordered living rooms and kitchens.  And it makes us uncomfortable.


On another note regarding old dogs, my 13 year old spaniel Gwennie has, as of this weekend completely lost her hearing.  She’s a great old dog, but on trail walks recently I noticed she simply could not hear my “come” commands any longer. This gets a bit dicey because she’s never been good around cars and now she’ll just bolt out in the street when she doesn’t hear me give her a reminder.

So, out comes the vibration collar and a bit of remedial training for old Gwennie.

I put the collar on her and started showing her to look for me when she felt it vibrate.  Since she’s super food motivated, this wasn’t that difficult just vibrate the collar and when she looks my way, get her a treat quickly.  This took about 10 minutes with her.

Next, I started making her come over to me for the treats when the vibration happened.  Basically I was a vibrating slot machine that ALWAYS paid out!  It worked like a charm.  Then we were set and out we went on a hike.  That old dog came over to me every time I vibrated the collar and was thrilled to be out and about again in the woods without me chasing after her.  Success!!! and JOY!

As I work with clients longer and longer I’m starting to get some of the dogs I trained 10 and 12 years ago as clients again for issues that come up with the elderly ones.  Things are different for sure with them but I do get the feeling that some of them may remember me from the old days and just maybe are happy that I can help them a bit as they slow down.  Not to mention that seeing these dogs again makes me happy and makes me realize just how many thousands of dog’s I’ve worked with over the years.


Steve Haynes

Austin Dog Trainer

Fidelio Dog Works

Clicker Training is the Stuff!

The go to tool for serious dog training

The go to tool for serious dog training

This picture above is a humble device. Every dog trainer worth anything has experience with them and should have one in their training bag right now.  It’s a hunk of plastic with a small metal chunk in it that makes a click when you press it.  It’s a child’s toy really, but when used correctly it is the most powerful dog training tool you can own.

Clickers have been around FOREVER in dog training, well at least since the 40’s or so when operant conditioning came into it’s own.  I’ve used them for years and have incorporated them into training regimens for clients when I thought them appropriate.  Teaching with a clicker isn’t seamless, there are steps to be gone through, but this technique is worth the up front effort.  Getting started with a clicker looks something like this when done correctly:

Conditioning the clicker:  In most cases I like to know if clients are going to want to do clicker work before I arrive.  If they do, I ask them to accomplish certain tasks before I even get there so that we can dive right in with the actual training.

First thing is to build an association with the sound of the clicker.  The technical term for that (if anything here is technical that is) is called Clicker Conditioning.  The way I do this is to sit down with the puppy at meal times and basically hand feed it food.  I’ll click the clicker and hand the puppy a piece of food immediately.  Now, here is the hard part, I’ll do this roughly for 1,000 pieces of food before I actually start to use the clicker for anything other than just the conditioning phase. It’s a LOT of repetition for sure, but it will be worth it.

After the conditioning phase is over, I’ll start with really simple commands like sit, down, go into your crate….and shape those very quickly.  Then I’ll move onto things like “move with me on a leash, lift your paw up when the leash gets under it, and more complex behaviors”.  Nothing is really to small for clicker work.

Once the beginnings of the training is in progress you can start to string together the individual clicker reinforced commands into more complicated things such as the come command.  That’s where the beauty of this work really happens. And that’s where dogs will start to offer up behaviors in hopes of doing things right for you.  This is where the real learning starts to take place with dogs, the anticipation of what their human might want from them.

Using the clicker correctly:  To start with, you can’t do clicker training if you don’t have a clicker on you.  Buy a BUNCH of them and stick them all over the house, or better yet, get some of those zip line thingies that all office dwellers use to hold their access cards and hook the clickers up to that.  Just make sure you have it on you when you walk through the door of the house and make doubly sure you have some treats on you to reinforce the behavior when you click the darned thing.

Actual use:  Figure out what you’re doing or trying to get the dog to accomplish.  There are tons of videos on youtube and a search on Google will give you more clicker stuff than you can digest in a lifetime, but the basic idea is to “mark” the behaviors that you want promptly and accurately which will make those behaviors continue and increase.  Used correctly it is incredibly accurate.

The accuracy you can achieve in clicker work for commands is incredible.  You can, for instance, fine tune a sit at heel command to an amazing degree and get the puppy to sit in EXACTLY the right place and Look Up at you at EXACTLY the right time.  I always tell clients that if they want to accomplish very specific behaviors with their dogs that a clicker is the way to go.

Clicker training is VERY VERY FAST when used properly and when the dog is conditioned appropriately.  I’ve had puppies working on an early heel command within minutes using this method and I HIGHLY recommend it as a way to get your puppy up to speed quickly, or as a more efficient method of teaching an “old dog new tricks”.

You have to know what you’re doing by “marking” the right behavior but once you get the hang of it dog catch on very quickly.  On of my favorite analogies about clicker training is it is very similar to stone carving in that you chip away little piece by little piece until you shape the behavior you want from your dog.  A great example of this is what my six year old daughter did recently with our puppy.  She wanted to teach our puppy to close the front door when it came inside.  The breakdown on how she did this looked like this:

Teach the puppy to put it’s nose on the door.

Get the puppy to slightly move the door with it’s nose.

Get the puppy to push the door until it hit the door frame (almost closed)

Get the puppy to push the door hard enough that it closed all the way and engaged the latch.

Doing all of this took my daughter two days and a total of about 2 1/2 hours.  It wasn’t hard really it just took patience.  The problem she had was that the puppy tried to close the door using it’s paw instead of it’s nose.  Not good if you don’t want a scratched door, so she spent a lot of time working on him just using his nose.  All in all, that’s a pretty complicated command for a dog but you see how quickly it was accomplished using a clicker as the tool.

Simple right??  Well, not so much.  When you’ve got a clicker in your hand there is a LOT of stuff going on and most people have a tough time marking the behavior, handing out rewards, holding the leash, walking, watching……you get the idea.  It takes practice for both the trainer and the dog but it’s worth it.

Clickers are CHEAP.  It’s nothing at all to buy 20 of them and have them spread around the house so that there is always one available to work on behaviors.  Remember, that randomization is the core of getting a dog trained and it is always best to be ready to train at any moment rather than having a set schedule.  If you have clickers laying around, and treats in your pocket, you’ll always be ready to “mark” and reinforce the behaviors you want your pup to perform.  Something like….I don’t know….walking up to you and sitting for pats rather than jumping up on you perhaps?

My ultimate wish as a dog trainer is that everyone would take the time to do clicker conditioning and spend the effort to do at least the basic training using a clicker.  It’ll never happen of course because most people are far to impatient to sit there through the conditioning process, but it would make things so much more enjoyable for the puppies and dogs, and the owners would see marked progress in the training much more quickly.  The other benefit is that we, as trainers, would have to use fewer corrections and fewer negative reinforcement commands and that makes everyone happier.

Steve Haynes

Austin Dog Trainer

Fidelio Dog Works


Teaching a puppy to close the door

Friday evening my daughter said, “daddy, I want to teach the puppy something new.  Something not easy.”  Now, when I’m on billable time that usually makes me cringe because I know how much work that phrase “Teach the puppy something hard” can cost a client.  Well what to do here came to me in a flash.

In days past, my old dog Gwennie would close the front door after she and all the other dogs came in the house.  Well, Gwennie is 13 now and “retired” as far as work is concerned, and we haven’t had that door closing luxury in a while.  So, the phrase “something not easy” rang with clear signal.

My daughter and I started working with Super on Friday evening.  Here is the video of Super when he was starting out.


Things went well, my daughter worked hard on Friday and Saturday for about 30 minutes each day on this and by this evening Super was doing very well closing the practice door.  Not bad for a little more than an hour of work for a six year old.




The next step this week is transferring Super’s knowledge of closing the practice door to the real door.  It’ll take another session, but as you can see from the video, he’s doing pretty well and I don’t think we are far away from getting him to close the door after himself when he comes in.  Now, if I could just get my three year old daughter to do that….


Steve Haynes

Austin Dog Trainer

Fidelio Dog Works

Having your six year old train the retriever puppy…Bliss for me.

It’s holiday time and around my place that means to much time inside the house.  I’ve got kids at home and a puppy (nine months now, but still a puppy) that needs lots of exercise.  Parental dilemma for sure, or is it?

So, let me think about this for a minute, the puppy needs some cleanup work on his retrieve, return, and hand delivery.  The six year old needs LOTS of time outside the house in the cold to tire her out for an early bed time.  I’ve got a plan.

I ordered these silly retrieve trainers about a month ago that are supposed to help with retrieve issues.  They are nothing really, and I’ve manufactured a similar thing out of found objects many times in my training career.  But, there they were in the catalog and they were relatively inexpensive, so I ordered some.

Basically you shove some treats in this tube and throw it.  The dog has to bring it back to you for you to open it and give him a reward for the retrieve.  Super simple, super easy, super lazy, but it works and it works well.

I pulled one of these out this week and showed my six year old dog training daughter how to use it.  Showed her how to throw it (she’s really good at this part) and showed her how to get the puppy to deliver it to her.  She knows the “out” command for getting Super to release things so we’re good there.

When we went outside yesterday to start work, I tossed the thing about 4 times to make sure Super was in work mode and then my daughter said “can I do it daddy?”  That was all it took.  We were outside for hours over the last couple of days, and man has that puppy gotten a total retrieve workout.  Retrieving from the brush, from the street, from the weeds, from a tree limb, you name it and he’s gone after it.

At the end of the day the puppy is totally exhausted from the work.  He’s tired from the retrieve work fur sure, but it’s all the sits, downs, around, halts and all the other stuff my daughter throws in there while he’s waiting for the next bumper toss. The best part of the whole arrangement though is that Tom Sawyer thing. You know, the part where he gets all the other kids to pain the fence for him.  Yeah, I get to sit there and top off the treat toy every 20 minutes or so, and my six year old does all the hard work.  Now THAT is a dog trainer’s dream come true….tired kids, tired puppy, and I just get to sit back and supervise.

This is how you work on the proper retrieve if you are a six year old dog trainer.

The down stay:


The wind up:


More wind up (she is six after all)


Prepare for liftoff:


You can’t hear this but she just said “Take it” to the puppy




the “Out” command completed and ready to go again


Happy Holidays to us all and get those kids and puppies out in the cold to play.


Steve Haynes

Fidelio Dog Works