In the late ‘90s, Jennifer and her family faced one of the hardest times in their lives. After fighting a more than 20-year battle with cancer, Jennifer’s father got the unfortunate news things were coming to an end.
Jennifer had two older dogs at the time, and her four children were quite young and not able to play with them due to the pet’s ages and own health issues. She decided to give them all the comfort they needed: a new puppy.
Neptune, a black Labrador mix, came to the Winkelman home. He not only helped their family; he also helped Jennifer’s dad.
“My dad came into my house at Christmas just drained and Neptune crawled up and put his head on dad’s chest. How does he know? Dogs are so intuitive as to who needs the loving,” she said. “Neptune is the reason I got into dog training. I got into training him and liked it so much that I took every training class I could find.”
About 10 years ago, Jennifer opened MidMo Dog Training Center in Tebbetts, offering dog obedience classes, behavioral training and therapy dog testing, to name a few services. She also takes her pack of five dogs, including Neptune, to special events, performing as the MidMo Waggers Drill Team. Three of the dogs are certified therapy dogs that have frequented nursing homes and the Missouri River Regional Library’s Tail Waggin’ Tutor’s Program. She assists with 4-H dog projects, serves as superintendent of the Cole County 4-H Dog Show and works with the Tipton Correctional Facility and Dogwood Animal Shelter in their Puppies for Parole Program.
A self-described “workaholic,” Jennifer has a passion for teaching others, instructing students at her Mid-Mo Conservatory of Dance, helping homeowners navigate the housing market as an award-winning Realtor at RE/MAX Jefferson City, home schooling her children, teaching violin and viola to aspiring musicians, and offering education through extracurricular activities such as choreographing dances in the Jefferson City Home Educators Teen Club’s spring 2018 musical, “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree.”
No matter if she is re-homing rescued dogs, leading a community event performance or finding the right home for a young family, Jennifer is thankful her heart is in helping people and their pets.
“I feel like dogs helped me out a lot during that time, so I feel like it is payback to them. … I just want to make the world a better place for people and dogs,” she said.
Jennifer’s compassion for animals started long before she trained dogs. Growing up across the Missouri River about five miles from where she currently lives and runs her businesses, Jennifer was surrounded by all kinds of animals on her family’s 30-acre farm.
“Where we were located … they could essentially roam free on the farm, though they were guilty of the occasional wondering further,” said Ernie Smith, Jennifer’s brother. “During our childhood the family went through ‘phases’ with farm animals. We went through a couple broods of chickens where we each had our pet chick, soon to grow up to be a chicken (the same went with ducks, goats and other animals). We had inside pets, too, fish, parakeets, hamsters; and we always had farm dogs. Looking back on it, it was quite the zoo.”
Jennifer was also into birds. She gave aid to many of the wild animals that came to their farm, with her mom encouraging these projects.
“I had a baby robin once. It still had its egg tooth; that is how little it was. I raised it until about four weeks. I would walk outside and it would land on my shoulder. … It matured and it was gone,” she said. “I just loved them all. For awhile I wanted to be a vet, but I didn’t go that route.”
After graduating from Jefferson City High School in 1990, she attended the Conservatory of Dance at University of Missouri – Kansas City, earning her bachelor’s degree in dance in 1996 and later her teaching certificate. She also owned and operated Dancenter and Spotlight Dance Wear from 1993-1999 and founded Encore Dance company in 1993, which has toured the local schools many times and worked with the Moscow Ballet in 2007 for their “The Nutcracker” performance.
Jennifer now has taught for more than 30 years, danced for more than 40 and opened MidMo Conservatory of Dance more than 10 years ago. Currently, 20 students learn ballet, tap, hip-hop and clogging, and perform in countless community events such as Kidsfest, Living Windows, Multicultural Festival, River City Fall Festival and Missouri River Regional Library District programs. She has played violin for 37 years and has taught violin and viola to all ages for the last 14 years.
Before training dogs at MidMo Dog Training Center, Jennifer and her pack of six dogs at the time and four children joined a dog performance team.
“With four kids and six dogs, every person in my family had a dog assigned to them,” she said. However, with her husband Bob’s work as an American Airlines pilot taking him away from home often, a long drive to practices and performances with the team, and the callout from friends to do shows in the capital city, Jennifer established the MidMo Waggers Dog Drill Team in 1999.
For about four years, Jennifer took her kids and their dogs, as well as other youth and their pets, to perform a variety of tricks, skits and family-friendly fun with their lovable pooches at a variety of community events. Now, only Jennifer’s family “pack” performs a handful of shows a year at events, the library and an annual activity at Trinity Lutheran School. The 20-minute show includes agility course runs, tricks, music, audience and dog interaction, care education and even a game show.
“We have a dog that has a buzzer and ‘talks,’ bringing an audience member up, asking them a question and seeing if the dog gets it first,” Jennifer said with a smile. “The kids ask lots of questions. … It helps them get more acclimated to dogs. Sometimes I will have someone come up and tell me that they taught their dog a trick. That is my goal is to get them to do more with their dogs.”
When Jennifer started MidMo Dog Training Center, one of the main purposes was to get owners to do more with their dogs. Being certified through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a certified AKC Canine Good Citizen Award evaluator and STAR Puppy evaluator, Jennifer primarily teaches obedience, behavior problems and agility.
When she first started her business, her site outside had no fences around the agility course, using portable ring gates every time they would practice. However to meet her increasing clientele and to hold classes year-round, she created a space in her home that duals as both a climate-controlled inside dog training center and dance studio.
When a new client comes to Jennifer, she first figures out what their goals are. If it is basic obedience, she recommends taking a Level 1 group class.
“The participants build on each other and by the end it seems they are most successful. They are learning everything despite all the distractions of other dogs and people,” she said.
By the end of the Level 1 basic obedience class, the dog and its owner knows commands such as sit, down and stay, as well as walking nicely on a leash among other calls. They also do exercises to make the dog attentive and relaxation exercises if they are nervous. In week five, the dogs also train on the agility equipment and do some dog sports.
“It is important to exercise your dog. If he knows his basic commands, he can sit and then run through the tunnel,” she said. “We can combine it all and it is a lot of fun for the dog and the owner.”
Each dog takes an AKC Canine Good Citizen test at the end of the six weeks, which includes 10 parts with things like being met by a friendly stranger, coming when called and walking around other dogs. They then move to Level 2, which includes learning to walk off a leash, more challenging rally dog sports and harder commands.
Carl Otten, a retiree living in Linn, got Duchess at 8 months old about a year ago. Currently enrolled in the Level 2 class, he is continuously impressed with how she follows basic commands and learning harder commands while enrolled at MidMo Dog Training Center. She rests at Otten’s feet while he sits at the computer, responds well to “yes” when she follows a command and is following those same commands with other members of Otten’s
“I have a 5-year-old grandson. We went for a walk together (recently), and the 5-year-old had her on the leash. When he would stop, she would stop,” he said. “One of the first things you learn is eye contact. We play all sorts of games with that. … Plus, Duchess gets the social contact with other dogs here, which she doesn’t get where I live.”
Otten appreciates the information and tips Jennifer offers with each class, such as ways to use leashes and when to get the dogs nails trimmed.
“It has helped Duchess tremendously training with Jennifer. … She is very knowledgeable and she has virtually in every lesson gave us tips to take care of the dog,” he said.
If an owner’s dog has more problem behaviors, they can take private lessons that are done at the center or the client’s home. For example, if the dog is attacking people at the front door, she will go to their house because it is location specific. Owners can also drop off their dog to train, and Jennifer often trains dogs she has rescued to re-home, with her brother Ernie, a married paint formulation chemist with six children living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, being a recipient.
Already taking care of a Chiwienie, named Hershey, Ernie learned about Duke, an 11-month-old Alaskan Malamute pup previously belonging to one of his sister’s past clients.
“We were not looking for another dog, furthest thing from my mind. When I saw his picture on Facebook, it was a surreal moment. I just knew I was meant to connect with that dog,” Ernie said. “Ironically my wife (Christina) had a similar thought, but thought her husband (me) would never go for getting another dog, so she did not bring it up. She was shocked when I asked her.”
Duke was renamed to Calor, which means fever, heat, love, passion, zeal, warm weather and warm glow in Latin which aptly describes this thick-coated, high-energy dog. Despite destroying a smart phone in 10 seconds among other issues the first week, Calor settled down and is growing into an awesome dog, Ernie said.
“Jennifer’s training made that first week survivable. Calor had a good grasp of the basic commands. He was also potty trained,” he said. “Jennifer did provide us with a nice packet of information about Calor’s previous training and tips on how to continue it. … Fundamentally, my sister is training humans, not dogs – training the trainers. It is a good thing for dog owners to learn these techniques and take ownership of their dog’s education.”
Jennifer takes that education beyond clients at the MidMo Dog Training Center; she brings it to the community. For about three years, she has worked with the Puppies for Parole Program with the Tipton Correctional Facility and Dogwood Animal Shelter in Osage Beach. Every other week, she trains more than 10 dogs and about 20 handlers – offenders at the prison – basic dog obedience and troubleshoots problems they may be having. The dogs live inside the cells with their handlers, who work with them all the time.
“Those dogs are all from Dogwood Animal Shelter, come into the prison, get trained and are adopted back out through DAS,” she said. “You get a dog that is already trained, has all these nice manners and good behavior.”
After the eight-week process, a graduation is held at the prison, with staff members, shelter representatives and handlers present. For Jennifer, it is truly touching to hear the offenders talk about their dog, their experience and show tricks they have taught them.
“I had them fill out a survey and read their personal comments. They described the different things the program taught them, how proud they were to be in it and how they helped them stay on task to what they need to be doing with their own behaviors. They learned troubleshooting problems when it came to their life and do it positively, just like when training their dog,” she said.
Other memories include the many successful stories of dogs that end up helping someone in need or get their own second chance.
“I had a client that said this dog (named Happy) had come up in their yard; someone had shot him. They were fostering him and didn’t know what to do. … I talked them into taking him to DAS so he could go through Puppies for Parole. We trained him there and now Happy is running around on someone’s farm. He got his second start.”
Children get their start in dog training through the 4-H program, in which Jennifer serves as the dog project leader to youth and their pets who compete in county and state-level fairs and competitive agility shows. She has seen multiple children receive scholarships, money and ribbons through these activities, including her three sons now 20-year-old Lucas, 18-year-old Tanner, 16-year-old Skyler and 14-year-old daughter Cori.
“I think it was good for them, because they are shy and normally wouldn’t put themselves on display,” she said. “It built leadership, communications, problem-solving skills and confidence in them. That is what I love about 4-H; it teaches life skills.”
Comfort, compassion and happiness are also important life skills to humans, and therapy dogs can provide that to them in spades. Serving as an evaluator for Therapy Dog International, Jennifer has three certified therapy dogs in her pack, which includes Neptune, two other black lab mixes Nitro and Ortin, a pit mix Faith and a terrier mix Scruffy.
She has seen multiple pet owners bring in their dogs to be evaluated to become a therapy dog, including Olive, the local celebrity therapy dog for Capital City CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Like Olive, who is a volunteer alongside her handler and CASA member Lisa Bax, both the dog and person must pass the test.
Jennifer said outside of successfully meeting the AKC Good Citizen test requirements, a therapy dog must also learn to “leave it,” or not pick up dropped or loose medication, have polite behavior through a doorway, appropriately approach wheelchairs, walkers and crutches on a visit, and be good around children.
“I do get contacted quite a bit about taking the therapy dog test. … I have never had anybody that has not been successful,” she said.
Jennifer has also seen successes after becoming a Realtor for RE/ MAX Jefferson city, earning the 2017 Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors Community Achievement Award recently for her involvement with the Puppies for Parole program.
She finds no matter what avenue in which she is teaching, working or learning, positive reinforcement builds a good relationship. With dog training it is essential.
“I love that dog training is so positive and if done correctly builds a good relationship between a dog and a person,” she said. “When I first started, I didn’t realize dogs were so trainable. One of the first classes I was in, you were supposed to put a treat down and teach the ‘leave it’ command. The dog sat there and looked and didn’t take it. Revelation, dogs are smart. … As people, we don’t believe our dogs are capable of the things that they do. … The main thing is to get involved with your dogs.”
For more information about the next therapy dog test from 3-4 p.m. June 10 at MidMo Dog Training Center and other classes and training, call 573-645-6153 or visit MidMoDogs.com.