Teaching is at the center of all Jennifer Winkelman does as a Cole County 4-H leader.
Sometimes her students are the youth, and sometimes they are the dogs.
About a decade ago, she taught her new puppy, Neptune, how to be a comfort to her family in difficult times. From that, she would discover the joy of teaching dogs new skills and showing others how to have compassion for their pets and pet rescues.
Winkelman, project leader of the Cole County 4-H Spin club, began leading the Cole County dog project about a decade ago when her oldest of four children joined 4-H — about the time she was teaching Neptune.
4-H Spin club meets for an hour every Saturday for six-week sessions. Winkelman teaches the youth and pets walking drills, kneeling, steps for special tests and basic obedience.
A dog lover her whole life, Winkelman grew up south of Jefferson City and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Now, she knows the career path was not a match.
"We grew up on a small farm," Winkelman said, "the kind of farm where every animal is a member of your family."
Winkelman and her husband, Bob, have a pack of five dogs: Neptune, Scruffy, Nitro, Ortin and Faith. The latter was a rescue from a shelter and was next in line to be euthanized.
After training Neptune, she was impressed with how brilliant dogs are, and she became a certified dog trainer through Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers.
Her favorite part of working with 4-H youth has been passing that lesson along to them.
"A lot of dog training is learning positive reinforcement," she said. "They learn a way to deal with stress and problems in a positive way."
When teaching a command, the exhibitor should avoid yelling or punishing the dog, she said. It is better to redirect or come up with a replacement behavior.
One positive reinforcement for the Winkelman pack is a call for a cookie, which is sometimes cheese.
Cole County 4-H youth show their skills at the county fair in July. They demonstrate what they learn and communicate to judges how they teach the skills.
If youth are interested, she said, she hopes the group will be inspired to go past basic obedience and perform shows for the community.
In her free time, Winkelman assists people with finding homes for rescues and obtaining service dogs. She said she hopes to one day help more Missourians find companionship in dogs.