Mel Heber began professionally training in 2007 while working with the Dubuque Regional Humane Society. There she was able to work with a variety of people as well as dogs and cats. She began to see patterns in the troubles new adopters might have after bringing home a new family member, many of which were fairly easily solved or prevented with the proper instruction. Mel has years of experience creating and leading obedience classes, as well as meeting with people one-on-one to help them solve behavior problems. Mel has helped dogs plagued by fearfulness, reactivity, and simple over-exuberence and impulse control problems. She has consulted on numerous litterbox issues and new-pet stress with cats, helping new adopters to make it easier for their pets to adjust to a new family member.
Mel is a member of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals) and has been certified as a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed) (she let her membership with them expire due to philosophical differences). She is an ABC Mentor Trainer, an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator, and an evaluator for K9to5 National Therapy Dog Registry. Her business, Paw In Hand LLC, is fully licensed and insured.
Mel lives in Dubuque, IA with her family, both two-legged and four-legged. Among her family is her husband and three boys. She has two cats adopted from the shelter- a shorthair orange tiger named ZugZug who came home with her in 2007, and then a shorthair tabby cat named Friendly who arrived in 2010, first as a foster cat, and then as a permanent member of the family after repeated fostering due to illness. Rounding out the family are two leopard geckos owned by her sons: Wizard and Little Lizard.
In February 2018, Paw In Hand adopted Zelda, a one year old mixed breed possibly with Golden Retriever and Collie, who has a friendly demeanor and excellent dog socialization and communication skills. Zelda came up as a stray from Arkansas along with her ten puppies and took over for retired demo dog Boo, learning obedience skills and helping to rehabilitate reactive dogs. She has her AKC Canine Good Citizen, Advanced CGC, CGC Urban Canine, and her Novice Trick Dog titles. She is learning scent detection and draftwork.
Mel has a lot of experience with fostering both dogs and cats in her home through the Dubuque Humane Society, and has cared for over 35 adult dogs, puppies, mama cats with kittens, and litters of kittens to get them ready for adoption.
Mel enjoys training her dogs in area searches (like drug detection dogs) and trailing (sniffing out where another pet went by following the scent leftover in the air) as well as draftwork (pulling a wagon or cart) and obedience. She loves teaching her dogs tricks to keep them busy and to fulfill their love of learning. Both of her cats also know basic tricks such as sit, high-five, and come.
Beyond cats and dogs, Mel has also worked with training fish, amphibians, and reptiles. She always loves a challenge, and especially loves transforming a troublesome pet into a much-loved companion with a harmonious relationship with its family. To do this, she realizes it is just as important to teach the family as it is to train the pet. Mel places a lot of emphasis on patience and communication by body-language, as well as methods such as classical and operant conditioning to get the desired result.
In 2019, Paw In Hand said goodbye to Lab mix Daboo and Rottweiler/Saint Bernard mutt Lennier. Boo was a certified Canine Good Citizen and had worked as a therapy dog, educational dog, and demo dog helping in group obedience and behavior modification classes. Boo was a capable scent detection dog and had successfully found a few lost cats and lured back lost dogs during her working years. Lenny had basically grown up in the shelter and was a reactive dog with a deep-seated fear of other dogs and kids. Intensive socialization and desensitization as well as behavior modification helped him become a calm, capable dog who was able to work as a demo dog and enjoy draftwork and scentwork.