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Paw &Order

photo Jamie Shaw’s life has gone to the dogs, and that’s just how she likes it

Jamie Shaw, the owner of The Dog School, a training facility in Williston, and boarding kennels at her Huntington home, is a widely recognized expert in canine behavior and communication. She’s pictured here with her pals, from left, Kobe, a Shiloh shepherd; Pippit, a Papillon; Wyatt, a Cairn terrier mix; and Jiggs, a border collie.

by Janet Essman Franz

Jamie Shaw communed with dogs before she could talk to people. As a toddler, she dragged her mother toward any dog she saw. By age 7, she had memorized the Encyclopaedia Britannica section on dogs and was versed in canine ancestry, breeds, and training commands.

At 13 she adopted a miniature poodle named Koko, with which she spent countless hours teaching to follow her commands. “I trained him to do tons of tricks. He could jump in my arms, sit pretty, shake, play dead, and dance on his hind legs,” Shaw says. And thus, her career as a dog trainer was under way.

Shaw owns The Dog School, a training facility with new quarters on Leroy Road in Williston. She recently moved the school from Richmond, where it had been located for 13 years. Shaw also boards dogs at her home in Huntington and counsels clients in their homes throughout Chittenden, Franklin, and Addison counties.

Dog owners seek Shaw’s advice in dealing with aggressive and misbehaving dogs, using nontraditional, gentle training methods. She provides private behavioral consultations and leads group sessions for dogs with aggression issues. The Dog School offers classes for “spirited” or antagonistic dogs, and obedience training and agility skills for fun and competition.

Widely recognized among dog people as an expert in canine behavior and communication, Shaw lectures on animal behavior for the department of animal science at the University of Vermont. She wrote the book Dog to Dog Communication: The Right Way to Socialize Your Dog, published in October by Globe Pequot Press, an imprint of The Lyons Press.

“She has tremendous insight into dog behavior and empathy with dogs,” says Lisa Barrett, who teaches agility classes at The Dog School and competes in and judges agility competitions. Barrett wrote the foreword to Shaw’s book.

An accomplished dog trainer in her own right, Barrett uses a more academic and less instinctive approach than Shaw’s. “I come at my dog training from reading a lot and going to training seminars,” she says. “Jamie just really has an amazing ability to perceive things from the dogs’ points of view and to communicate it in ways that people can act upon.”

To illustrate, Barrett recalls a client who had a problem with a dog that, when let out at night, barked loudly and disturbed the neighbors. “Instead of coming up with some long protocol on how to keep the dog from barking, Jamie suggested giving it a big dog biscuit just before it goes outside. With the biscuit in her mouth, the dog could not bark. I thought that was an ingenious solution! A different trainer might have suggested putting a citronella or electronic collar on the dog, so it would be punished for barking. Instead, Jamie set it up so the dog didn’t want to bark.”

photo Alicia Olson cares for boarders and teaches classes. Visiting her in the office of The Dog School are her dogs Tai Bo, a golden retriever, and Chiyo, a border collie. They’re joined by their friend Leo, a Havanese.

Shaw says her fondness for dogs was inborn, rather than a learned trait. Born in Chicago and raised in Evanston, Ill., she has two older brothers, neither of whom has a dog. “I had an innate drawing to animals. My mother, father, brothers and cousins were not dog-lovers,” she says. “I got some rare gene that made me passionate about animals at a young age.”

She recalls playing animal-focused games with her cousin Claire. “We played with stuffed animals instead of dolls, and vet’s office instead of doctor’s office.”

She admits to having more dog friends than human ones during childhood. “I was an outcast as a kid. I wore glasses and braces, had stringy hair and had a hard time making friends. I was raised Jewish in an area that was very Christian, and I felt ostracized,” she says. Her family was close, however. Her extended family lived in the Chicago region, and she saw them often. “My cousins were a huge part of my growing up, and my extended family life was very supportive and loving.”

Shaw came to Vermont in 1980 at age 18 to attend Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, where she earned a two-year degree in rural resource management with an emphasis on agriculture. “I didn’t really have a plan, but I wanted to work with animals,” she says. “I never sat down and said, ‘I want to start a dog school.’” Instead, her career came to her.

After college, she worked for O’Neil’s Boarding Kennels in Shelburne. One day, she recalls, “a woman came in and said, ‘I really need help with my golden retriever puppy. I can’t train him.’” Shaw offered to help.

She worked with the retriever once a week for several months. Success with that first client led to hanging a sign in the kennel advertising private dog training, which brought more clients. Word spread, and soon Shaw was teaching outdoor classes at the kennel.

As her clientele expanded, Shaw looked for an indoor area to hold classes. She rented space at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington and the Williston armory while still doing private training in clients’ homes.

During this time, Shaw took a job as animal control officer for South Burlington. It was there she met her future husband, Drew Bloom, who was a police officer. They shared a love of animals and nature. “He had three rescued cats when I met him,” she says. “We were both into hiking, backpacking and the outdoors.”

Today the couple live in Huntington with their 10-year-old daughter, Halle, and a variety of pets including six dogs, two cats and three potbellied pigs. Their home is a 160-year-old farmhouse on the edge of a dirt road, with 5 acres, one of which is fenced in for the dogs to run freely, and a barn for the pigs. Shaw also owns a 2.5-acre plot of land where she holds outdoor agility classes in summer.

In 1994, seeking a more permanent indoor space to conduct training and behavioral consultations, she rented a 2,200-square-foot building in Richmond and hung a shingle for Canine K-12. In 2003 she changed the name to The Dog School, “because no one could remember Canine K-12,” she says. She operated in Richmond until last July, when she purchased the site in Williston.

The Williston facility is larger, at 3,300 square feet, and in a population center that supports a greater number and variety of classes. Shaw renovated to create a spacious learning area, with top-of-the-line flooring for jumping exercises, and a comfortable room for private consultations. Owning the facility will allow Shaw to lease an area to a dog groomer. “It’s a complimentary business. We can bring each other clients,” she says. My name in the dog community will help someone get started.”

Shaw provides overnight boarding at her home, where dogs are treated like family: They lounge on the furniture and some even sleep in bed with Shaw and Bloom. Large dogs stay in a 12-by-15-foot room with a doggie door that opens to a fenced yard. They rotate through the main house throughout the day. Small dogs stay in the house full time. Shaw takes the boarders hiking off-premises daily. They swim in a pond or go on snowshoeing and sledding excursions. All dogs are bathed, with nails clipped and ears cleaned, before they go home.

With these extras, boarding at Shaw’s costs more than at other kennels, yet she has no trouble attracting clients and is usually at her eight-dog capacity during holidays and school vacations. Shaw’s clients are loyal and long-term.

Claudia Abae-Hundsdoerfer has boarded her dogs at Shaw’s for several years. As owner of a fashion photography production company, she travels abroad frequently and for weeks at a time. Her dog, Phèlix, enjoys his “vacations” with Shaw’s family. “Jamie really understands ‘fur-persons,’” says Abae-Hundsdoerfer. “Phèlix sits on her lap as she writes me e-mails every day. She treats him like her own child.”

photoJiggs shows off his agility skills at
The Dog School’s training facility in Williston.

She appreciates the little extras that come with boarding, from baths and nail clippings to personalized training. “Jamie always asks what she should work on with a pet. She taught Phèlix to walk on a leash and come better when we call him.”

Boarding services, rather than classes and consultations, provide the bulk of Shaw’s income. “This is where I make most of my money,” she says. There are lulls in winter and late spring, however, so Shaw must budget herself.

Running a kennel makes taking vacations difficult, too. She says she has to find “a really competent, reliable house sitter” to care for her own pets as well as the boarders. “We tend to not go away very often, and we never travel on holidays,” says Shaw, adding that her family is very understanding.

She employs Alicia Olson to work 15 hours a week caring for the boarders and teaching classes. Olson gives baths, cleans the dog room and “pooper scoops” in the yard, “the same kind of stuff I do,” Shaw says. Another employee, Jean Paul Mills, works 30 to 35 hours weekly teaching obedience classes and performing administrative tasks at the school. Two independent trainers, Barrett and Sam Punchar, also teach classes.

Caring for boarders, running The Dog School and teaching make Shaw’s days long, but she always has time for family. “As a family we play together, whether it’s a game of Monopoly or going for a walk in the woods.” She and Halle train their dogs Jigs and Pippit together in agility lessons each Sunday. Shaw’s work is her hobby, she says, and she does it for love, not money.

“You’re not going to get rich being a dog trainer. It’s not lucrative, but after 20 years I’m really lucky that I wake up in the morning and want to go to work.” •

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