BY MARY WICOFF
The ring bearer waited patiently for the cue, and then trotted down the aisle with the wedding rings in a basket — in her mouth.
The attendant was Shudders, a Jack Russell belonging to Amanda Chamberlain, and the big event was Amanda’s marriage to Jim Silvers.
The dog was perfectly behaved, and everything went off without a hitch — thanks to Chamberlain’s background as a dog trainer and owner of Paws & Pals Academy.
In fact, anyone can train a dog — and even a cat — if you make it fun and use lots of positive reinforcement, she said.
Chamberlain, who lives in Attica, Ind., is a certified dog trainer who’s been giving classes in the Danville area for four years. A new set of classes is slated to begin this month.
Besides Shutters, 4, she has a three-legged cat named Leggo.
A native of the Rensselaer, Ind., area, Chamberlain graduated from Purdue University as a registered veterinary technician. She formerly worked at Vermilion Hillcrest in Danville and at Country Critter Care in Attica, and now works part-time at Creekside in Lafayette, Ind.
As a vet tech, she said, “I saw a real need for education and positive reinforcement.”
She’s been training pets for more than 10 years, but became serious about her mission in the past five years, and now trains six days a week. She gives both group and private lessons. The groups are limited to seven people, and the in-home classes are limited to seven people a week.
Chamberlain travels a 35-mile radius from Attica; after that, she charges a travel fee for in-home clients.
The biggest problem between people and pets is that we don’t speak the same language.
“My job as a trainer is to open the lines of communication,” she said, “and teach English as a second language.”
An owner has to be committed to changing his or her dog’s behavior for the better.
“As dogs become more a part of our life, it’s our job that these dogs set the right example in the public eye,” Chamberlain said, referring to pet-friendly stores and cafes.
Also, everyone wants his dog to be well-behaved when company comes.
Training, however, doesn’t need to be an hour-long intense session. In fact, it’s better to make it fun and to train dogs at convenient times, such as during commercials while watching television. “If you’re going to interact with your dog, you have time to do positive reinforcement,” she said.
Chamberlain has a blue rug in her kitchen where her dog and yes, her cat, stay when she’s cooking. They know they get treats on the rug, and so there’s no reason to sniff around the kitchen for tidbits.
The better the treats, the better the pets work. For example, she likes to give very small samples of hot dogs (cut into 200 pieces), boiled chicken breast, cheese and pasta noodles. Dogs also like baby carrots, canned pumpkin (not pie filling), tomatoes, watermelon, apples, ice cubes and strawberries.
Chamberlain also uses clicker training. The clicker produces a unique noise that’s paired with a food or toy reward. When a dog hears the noise, he knows a “paycheck” is coming.
The clicker is quick — just a second passes between the desired behavior and the noise. Then, the owner has time to hand out a treat.
In one of her classes, the first session is devoted to the owners — without dogs — trying to follow directions while someone else uses a clicker. They put themselves in the dogs’ shoes, and realize what it’s like to do something without understanding the words.
“We expect a lot out of our dogs and don’t put ourselves in their place,” she said.
If a person is too serious about training, she said, he needs to step back and relax. The dog will learn better.
“It’s about enjoying your dog and being able to communicate with each other. If it’s not fun for you, it’s not fun for the dog.”
Chamberlain uses her medical background as a vet tech, as well. For example, if a dog suddenly becomes aggressive, he could have an infected ear or tooth. If a cat stops using its litter box, it could have a urinary tract infection.
Overall, Chamberlain loves her job, adding, “I’m really excited to offer training and behavior modification in the area.”
All classes meet at Pet Supplies Plus at the Village Mall.
— The Wednesday classes begin May 15:
The five-week elementary class is open to puppies older than 20 weeks; it meets from 5:45-6:45 p.m.
The four-week puppy kindergarten class is for ages 8-20 weeks; it meets 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays. This class stresses socialization.
— The Sunday classes begin May 19.
The elementary class meets at 11:30 a.m., and focuses on basic skills and clicker training.
The advanced class meets at 2:30 p.m. This is for dogs that want to earn bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degrees in this program created by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
For private lessons, consultation fee is $75; fees vary after that.
The idea of positive reinforcement is a sound one — just like children, dogs learn best with praise. Danville-area pets are lucky to find someone who speaks their language.
For more information, visit the website http://www.pals-paws.com or find Pals & Paws Academy on Facebook. You also may e-mail Amanda Chamberlain at PalsPawsAcademy@gmail.com or call (219) 863-3334.
The website also contains a list of resources for those who want to learn more about training.
The Pets column runs every four weeks. If you would like to have your pet featured, contact Mary Wicoff at 477-5161, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Commercial-News, 17 W. North, Danville, IL 61832.