Kyle Smith has been dog's best friend as long as he can remember.
The wiry 28-year-old Millstadt native, who lives in St. Louis, is a dog behaviorist-psychologist ("kind of like a doggie therapist) whose website is stldogwhisperer.com
Kyle, a former paramedic who has a bachelor's in business administration from Lindenwood University, went into business for himself last year. He trains dogs at his home and at clients' homes in Missouri and Illinois. His fee is $95 an hour.
He's worked with aggressive dogs to a 6-pound Yorkie with anxiety issues, said his wife, Gretchen.
"She would bark at you when you would sneeze. By the time they leave, they are completely different dogs."
It all started with a German shepherd named Jake.
"I was 2 years old," said Kyle. "My dad (Robin Smith) took Jake to police canine training and started training him for home protection. I watched him work with Jake. I remember him teaching him to heel, stay, lie down."
"I worked with the dog every single day," said Robin, of Mascoutah. "Kyle just picked up on a lot of stuff. He liked it."
As a teen living in New Baden, Kyle took care of neighborhood dogs.
"I started realizing I had a knack."
A next door neighbor left Lindsey, a German shepherd, in Kyle's care for five days.
"My responsibility was letting her out, walking her and feeding her. I trained her to sit, stay and lie down. I had her sit a quarter mile away. She waited for me to yell and she came running."
Another neighbor had an aggressive husky mix named Squirt.
"Her owner wasn't around much. I felt sorry for her. She'd run up and down the fence barking at you. That was the only life she knew. All the kids in the neighborhood knew not to mess with Squirt."
"I started feeding her treats. but I realized giving the food was only a temporary fix for the aggression. I watched how she behaved when the owner went into the yard. Her total demeanor changed."
One day, Kyle jumped the fence.
"I didn't tell my parents. Squirt came running up and gave me kisses. I went into the garage and got blankets from home. I brought her food, treats, fresh water. I went over every day."
He read books on dog psychology and studied dog body language. He worked with friends' dogs, easily training them to follow or to stay. A friend, Louise Kennedy, told him he had a knack.
"I knew I was communicating with them, but how am I doing it?"
Kyle became a paramedic for MedStar Ambulance, but continued his interest, studying packs of feral dogs in and around East St. Louis.
"I started interacting with dogs who were scared of humans. I was nonchalant. That's how they were. If you walk past and pretend a dog's not there, they are more at ease."
Dogs look at humans as part of their pack, he said. They look for guidance and intuitively sense when humans are upset, frustrated, angry, fearful, nervous, happy, excited.
"Our emotions are written all over our body and in the tone of voice we use."
Kyle's life took a detour -- and nearly ended -- when he fell from an eighth-floor loft balcony in downtown St. Louis on March 5, 2010.
One minute, he was on a slippery wet window ledge; the next, he was on the ground 80 feet below. He was rushed to St. Louis University Hospital.
"I broke almost every bone in my face," said Kyle.
"He has plates and screws in his face," said dad Robin. "When you look at his X-ray, he looks like The Terminator."
"I knocked out teeth," said Kyle. "I lost my right arm. My femur was fractured. I had 15 surgeries in 10 days. They kept me unconscious. I woke up on day 10."
He felt lucky.
"In five years as a paramedic, I had seen lots of things. I had seen a guy fall from 40 feet into mud. He was dead on impact. All I did was lose an arm. Everything else in life is back to normal.
"SLU gets kudos, especially orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lisa Cannada."
"I have my memory. Everything is still there. I had a ton of support from friends and family "
First order of business: Learn to be a lefty.
"After I woke up, I looked at Mom (Sandy Hagarty, of Collinsville) and said, 'I have to learn to write again.'"
One of the first things he wrote was: "I am going to train dogs for a living."
Kyle was out of the hospital in 17 days and out of a wheelchair in a month.
"The first thing I did was walk my dog."
"He appreciates life a lot more," said his dad. "When we were getting him out of the hospital, he was so happy to still be alive.
"I am happy for him. He really likes (working with dogs). He really liked being a paramedic, too. He found something he loved to do and can still function. I am shocked at how well he's done with losing his right arm."
Kyle met his wife Gretchen in 2011. Both worked at Stray Rescue of St. Louis.
"I was cleaning kennels, not the most glamorous job in the world," said Gretchen, 26. "I had to walk dogs a lot. I was walkng a dog that wouldn't listen. Kyle walks up. He helped me.
"He showed me what I did wrong. If I was approaching an aggressive dog, I would take the lead, put it on the dog's neck, and take him out. With an aggressive dog, when you come at them, they take offense. They think you are coming to attack.
"The way to approach is to let him smell me, get used to me. It works."
On their first date, Kyle cooked dinner.
"He was cute," said Gretchen, a part-time payroll clerk. "He wanted to make mashed potatoes. He said, 'There are a couple things I can't do. One is peel potatoes, and you are going to have to cut up my meat.'"
Cooking is one challenge. Taking care of an infant is another.
"I am not going to lie," said Gretchen, holding their 5-month-old. "I worried about the one-arm thing with a baby. Babies are fragile."
Their son arrived July 18.
"I had to have an emergency C-section," she said. "They handed the baby to Kyle. He was the first person to hold him. He was nervous. I could see it on his face."
They named the little guy Dexter.
"It means right arm," said Gretchen, looking at their sleepy son. "He's Kyle's right-hand man. Kyle's an awesome dad. He does an excellent job."
Her energetic husband is determined.
"Nothing holds him back. He goes hunting. He has to climb a tree to get into the deer stand. He climbs around like it's nothing. It makes me nervous. I know he's accident prone."
But an expert at working with dogs and their owners.
Gretchen watched him calm her "problem child" Luna, a brown and white pit bull-bull mastiff mix.
"She's 110 pounds of pure muscle," said Gretchen. "She chewed everything up. She was hyper. I studied massage therapy. You study a lot about energy. He has very calming energy. He puts their minds at ease."
They also have Zeus, a light tan pit bull mix and a three-legged retriever-mix named Doug that needs a good home.
"Mine are so well trained, they train others to not be aggressive," Kyle said. "I do a lot of boarding for close clients. There are no cages, no crates. They get to lie on the couch just like at home. Their dog is part of another family."
On a recent Sunday morning, Kyle knelt down for a lick from Lucy, a sweet sheltie pup. He was in the kitchen of the Browns' home in south St. Louis.
With help from Kyle, the Brown family -- Mike and Tari, daughter Amelia, 12, and son Adam, 8 -- are in the process of training their new pet.
That day's lesson? Learning to stay calm on a walk when squirrels, other dogs and people cross her path.
"When we are coming up to a dog and she's trying to lunge and jump, what should I do?" said Tari, a Realtor, who walks Lucy 3 1/2 miles a day in Tower Grove Park.
"Have her sit," said Kyle.
"If she won't stay, should I bring her a treat?"
The idea is to keep the dog's attention. Kyle and Tari did this with a "chi, chi, chi," an "eh, eh, eh" or by snapping their fingers.
"That gets her to look right at you," said Kyle. "If that doesn't work, you have to give her a bite (a little hit on the side). ... If you give a correction and she doesn't look, the correction doesn't mean anything. Slow down. See how much that brings her back."
On that gray, damp day, dog walkers were scarce. Lucy was ready for action when a family with a bigger dog approached. Tari got Lucy to sit before allowing her to check out the other dog.
Kyle estimates he has worked with Lucy a dozen times, and boarded her a few days when the family was away.
Among the things Lucy has learned? Not to steal buns from the dinner table, how to ring a backdoor bell to go out and how to wind down at night.
Among the things the Browns have learned? How a calm approach and patience help. How to give Lucy structure. Dogs need rules, boundaries, guidelines, said Kyle.
"It's as much training us," said Tari.
Lucy, at first, was a timid pet that wouldn't climb steps and barked at the family guinea pig. Now, the two pets try to share a water bowl.
Amelia and Adam have taught Lucy to sit, and to shake. Rolling over is next. They share in her care.
"The amazing thing about Kyle," said Tari, "is you don't realize at first how dogs react to him. He comes in and 15 minutes later, you're wondering, whose dogs are those? Where's that behavior we are trying to modify?
"Lucy reacts differently to us. The technique is the same, but the result is not always the same."
Lucy used to be wild at night.
"That was her time to jump on the table, jump around the furniture. We couldn't get her to stop."
But she didn't misbehave for Kyle.
"When I walk in the door, Lucy's behavior changes, issues disappear," he said. "I can't get her to be bad."
The Browns recorded Lucy in action.
Later, Kyle had them stand up, then approach Lucy.
"It's more important to communicate through body language," he said, "than by saying, 'Lucy, cut it out, cut it out.' That gets her excited."
The process took a month.
"We joked we were going to get a life-size cutout of Kyle," said Mike. "She's to the point if we haven't taken her out, she looks at Tari and goes 'woof, woof' quietly."
"She's becoming a gentle soul," said Tari.
To contact Kyle, call (314) 600-6929 or email@example.com