Alex Oldenburg formally trained and showed her first dog in grade 8 as part of 4-H, a passion that will stay with her until adulthood. The Mapleton native and Mankato transplant began attending dog training classes for dog shows up to 4-H before teaching her own classes.
Now the MSU graduate is celebrating two years of running MESSY Dog Training, a downtown business she started with her 4-Her colleague Antonia Langr in 2016. The name comes from the names of the dogs that inspired them. to become better trainers and pet owners. New opportunities this year have led Langr to sell his half of the business to Oldenburg, which is in the process of assuming full ownership.
Oldenburg has a specific mission on how best to train dogs, whether it be for dog shows, teaching tricks or learning puppies to behave.
“I wanted to offer classes with science-based positive reinforcement dog training and couldn’t find that in the Mankato area,” Oldenburg said.
With this, the two saw an opportunity and a service that they could provide. Between April and September 2016, MESSY Dog went from a concept to a reality. They rented an old auto mechanic shop at 127 E. Washington Street, next to the Coffee Hag. In the evening, the old garage fills up with an average of 20 dogs and their owners.
“She teaches you how to teach your dog,” student Layne Haroldson explained. “It’s supposed to be one-on-one, you and your dog and you develop that connection. She will learn our own strategies and develop them in her training style which allows us to work on a personalized basis. She adapts to her training technique.
Haroldson, a high school student from Amboy taking post-secondary education at Bethany Lutheran College, met Oldenburg until 4-H when he was in his fourth grade. Haroldson said Oldenburg takes the positive reinforcement approach by using a device that makes a loud clicking noise when the dog demonstrates model behavior.
“She teaches primarily through clicker training,” said Haroldson. “The click tells the dog that he behaved correctly and that he is going to be rewarded with a treat.”
Oldenburg teaches a variety of classes with a capacity of eight dogs and their owners per class. They range from basic socialization for puppies to teaching dogs tricks and skills for formal dog shows. Like humans, Oldenburg said puppies have a critical time for socialization and learning.
“Puppies have a really critical socialization period that happens from when they are around four weeks old until they are around 12 to 16 weeks old,” Oldenburg said. “If they miss that, there will be a lot of trouble down the road. This is where we see a lot of dogs who are really afraid of things that they haven’t been exposed to. If we don’t take our dogs along. when they’re little and don’t take them out to see things and have different experiences, then they tend to grow up a lot more fearful because they didn’t have that exposure when they were young.
The puppy experience class aims to expose puppies to the unknown. This may involve exposing them to new objects and making them comfortable around new people and other dogs. The course is taught on a continuous admissions basis, allowing pet owners to enroll their puppies anytime before they reach 16 weeks of age.
As puppies develop into dogs, they learn obedience skills like gently walking on a leash, sitting down, coming when called, and staying calm in public situations.
Train the brain
One aspect of dog training that Oldenburg says is often overlooked is the need to exercise the dog’s brain. To do this, she uses different puzzle toys that you put food in. The dog searches for food using its scent and basic problem-solving skills. Oldenburg likens it to hide and seek with the dog using his nose. One technique involves the use of a grip mat. It’s a piece of rubber with holes in the bottom and a fleece attached to it. The dog must sniff and find the hidden treat.
“We are very often good at thinking about the physical exercise our dog needs – going for walks, playing fetch – but a lot of people miss the mental component,” Oldenburg said. “That’s why we have dogs that have problematic boring behaviors and they chew things and they make up their own things to do because their brains were still ready to go.”
After graduating in biology with a concentration in zoology, Oldenburg seriously thought about going to veterinary school. She decided not to do it due to the massive student debt he would accumulate. She attends seminars and draws on her formal education and current theories of animal behavior when teaching her own classes.
This background also helps get the word out to pet owners through the local veterinary community.
“A lot of local veterinary clinics recommend us,” Oldenburg said. “We went around and talked with each one, explained that this is why we train the way we do. Our training is in line with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. He follows their recommendations for the use of punishment and the use of dominance in dog training. As veterinarians interested in behavior, they really like to recommend us to their clients because we follow these guidelines. “
For Oldenburg, that means focusing on the positive rather than the negative when working with dogs and their owners.
“We’ve come a long way since our understanding of dominance and found that it’s not really the way dogs think and learn best. They learn best in a reward-based system when we focus on teaching dogs what we want, rather than telling them ‘don’t do that’. We are really focused on using rewards and trying to get the best behaviors from our dogs and to minimize the use of any punishment. “
Messy dog training
127 E. Washington St., Mankato