Kyle Schwab's passion for underappreciated, misunderstood canines has gotten him in trouble over the years. It started during his senior year at Beverly Hills High School, when his father kicked him out of the house for bringing home a white boxer. In the years since, the former personal trainer, who's built like a human pit bull himself, has been incarcerated 13 times — six of them for “liberating” mistreated dogs from backyards, the other seven for fights with people who were abusing their dogs.
“I've been at this so long,” says the high-octane dog trainer, whose specialty is bully breeds. “I was once banned from the Laurel Canyon dog park in the mid-'80s for two years, for clocking some guy who was bringing his pit bull up there to fight other dogs.”
While Schwab may have become wiser and less prone to vigilante justice over the years, he is still a godsend to abandoned dogs (his Smashface Rescue finds them homes) and frustrated owners whose lives have been taken over by their seemingly uncontrollable canines. Schwab goes in where other trainers have failed (“I'm the last resort,” he says), and today he's at a house near the lowlands of Baldwin Hills, working with Anthony, a 65-pound pit bull who thankfully shows little interest in attacking the stranger — me — who has entered his domain on this clear Sunday morning.
“Before Kyle came, this would have been inconceivable,” says Julie, Anthony's grateful owner.
“For the last five years,” adds Julie's husband, Glen, “when we would have people over, which is rare, we'd have to sequester Anthony in the kitchen. And if they were here for three hours, he'd literally bark and cry for three hours. So the fact that he's loose and walking around with you — it's unbelievable.”
Unlike some trainers, who charge thousands of dollars and insist on taking the dog from its home, sometimes for months, Schwab believes in coming to your environment. And his price is a shockingly low $135 per two-hour session. “I don't call it training,” Schwab says. “My 'real-life' behavior modification and exposure is based on hikes, dog parks, car rides, cafés, street awareness and total aggression-control toward both humans and other dogs.”
And just how does he get results?
“You have to build the dog's confidence,” says Schwab, while munching from the box of bagels he's brought this morning. “But at the same time, claim your space, assert your dominance and let your dog know you are in charge. Training requires some physicality — because you have to dominate the dog and at the same time preserve your safety.”
I ask Schwab if he ever raises his voice with the canines.
“I don't say anything,” he reveals. “Sometimes I bite 'em on the face though. You have to bite 'em. That's the language they speak. But I don't recommend it to anybody.”
As effective as Schwab is, this isn't even his full-time gig. For years he's built custom furniture out of recycled wood for the likes of George Clooney, Sheryl Crow and Ozzy Osbourne. He's appeared on MTV's Cribs more than a dozen times, and he once owned four furniture stores in L.A., before liquidating to spend more time on his canine rescue and rehab work.
“As much as I love dogs, though, I really do this for the people,” Schwab says, as he lovingly pets Ninja, his hulking cane corso. “It makes me happy to know the owners can now do all the things they've been wanting to do with their dogs.”