Steve DeBono


Steve DeBono is the owner of DeBono Dog Training in Austin, TX and is currently working on attaining a PhD in Animal Personality Psychology at the University of Austin at Texas. As part of his work with UT, he will be heading to Melbourne, Australia for a few months to work with the Australian Customs Detector Dog program.  He is very excited about this and hopes anyone from Melbourne reading this contacts him.  

Steve is currently exploring ways to escape the shackles of training norms and help people communicate more naturally and fluidly with their pets.  He offers private training services and the occassional class in Austin. For details please visit

Steve was raised on the small Mediterranean island of Malta, and then moved to Manhattan at age 10. In Malta, there were always 3 or 4 Pharaoh Hounds roaming his family's farm. For trivia aficionados, the country's national dog breed is the Pharaoh, not the Maltese! It was with this motley crew that his training education began.  

In 2004, Steve founded Petato Pet Services, a dog walking and pet sitting company in Brooklyn, NY with a unique (at the time) focus on the behavioral health of the pets. Steve sold Petato in 2010 to focus solely on training in Austin, TX. He also volunteers with Austin Pets Alive!, an organization that pulls and re-homes dogs from the city shelter that are at immediate risk of euthanasia. He shares his home with Moatie the Dobie mix, Sonny the Heeler mix, Alan the Poodle mix, and Fern, a very tolerant cat who also happens to be a real life princess.

Follow Steve on Twitter at and Facebook at

Blog posts by Steve DeBono

The P.A.W. System for overcoming any dog behavior problem

Perception, Action, and the Will. It occurred to me that these three disciplines could be easily adapted into a system for methodically overcoming any dog behavior obstacle (replacing the term “behavior problem” which I believe has more negative baggage). It also occurred to me that despite my long-standing distaste for overused dog clichés, I had no choice but to name the system “P.A.W.”

"You're Very Nice, But Get Away From Me, Weirdo”: A few words on puppy socialization

On Sunday, after an hour of taking in the sights, sounds, and scents of a local farmers market, I felt the unmistakable pang of hunger in my belly. I decided to grab a late lunch at a nearby patio eating spot.

Eyes hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses, I was casually strolling the half mile to my intended destination while studying the young professionals, hipsters, families, and (confession) the attractive women that peppered downtown on this beautiful spring day. Smiles were abundant and everyone seemed in high spirits.

“Hi!” I hear someone say to my right. I turn and see an...

Moatie is the best dog Steve DeBono Dog Trainer Austin Texas has ever known

Hey You! Cue THIS!

I'm generally pretty quiet with my dogs, other than chatting with them about my day or maybe what I had for lunch.  I’ll praise them when they do something I like and direct them in some way if I need to alter their behavior.  If we're on an off-leash hike, there are days that they might never hear a word from me, yet I’m still constantly asking them for behaviors and responses. 

My silence gives me leverage.  I want the sound and tone of my voice to mean something... I couldn't give two craps whether they understand my words.  If I'm walking one way and they go the other, I'm not going to yell "COME!” at the top of my lungs.  What leverage would that give me when it's actually important for them to respond?  How is the dog supposed to know that "This time he really means it!" if my tone is always one of urgency?


The Story of Morris (or "What is My Job Here??")

My first visit to Morris' home was not out of the ordinary.  When I entered the home, his mom was clinging onto this very big wiggly 2 year old Black Lab mix's choke collar for dear life, attempting to prevent him from leaping at me. Clearly friendly, I instructed Mom to let Morris loose, and he predictably jumped all over me, mouthing my arms hard, grabbing at my clothes. I ignored him the best I could, but he was very persistent. For the next hour, I observed Morris repeatedly pushing boundaries... jumping on counters, jumping right on top of a coffee table, snatching at my treat pouch... he was a nightmare of obnoxious adolescent dog behavior.

However, it didn't take long to figure out that Morris wasn't a bad dude. In fact, he was pretty amazing. Playful, engaged, and smart as a whip, Morris picked up on everything I threw at him within seconds. He learned with excitement and vigor, always seeming to ask “What's next???!”

Dog Trainer Steve DeBono Austin Texas

Stuck in a Rut? Take an Improv Class!

We've all been there. You find yourself saying the same things over and over again. Working through the same old problems. The dogs start to annoy you. The clients really start to annoy you. You feel like your skills are not improving and maybe even worsening. You feel like you've “lost it”.

You're in a rut.

Sometimes you attend a seminar, or read a new book, or simply allow the passage of time to get you past these frustrating points. Other times, you need something else.

I recently went through one such rut. I didn't feel like I was getting any better at what I do. I wasn't communicating to my clients efficiently. It was like there was no real energy behind my words... no conviction. I was speaking like someone who had said the same things over and over again. I felt like a robot programmed to explain the concept of “house training”.

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