Dogs in training at Big Dog Academy, Koosharem, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Big Dog Academy, St. George News
CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Dog owners seeking a solution to the uncertainty and annoyance of a poorly behaved pet need look no further than Big Dog Academy, a unique training facility in central Utah’s scenic Grass Valley.
At Big Dog Academy, Wayne Ogden is working to build unbreakable bonds between dogs and owners while writing his own story of redemption.
Ogden said he worked as a real estate agent until his “greediness and stupidity” landed him in federal prison in 2013. The facility where he was jailed launched a service dog training program for inmates. He spent the next five years training dogs for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, epilepsy and other medical conditions.
“I saw what a dog could do for a person,” he said. “It was life-changing, to say the least. A very bad situation for me turned out to be one of the most wonderful things in my life.”
Ogden completed 4,000 hours of instruction while incarcerated to become a certified dog trainer through the U.S. Department of Labor. Upon his release in May 2020, he partnered with a local landowner in Koosharem to create Big Dog Academy and put his unique skill set to work.
Big Dog Academy offers 30-day customizable boarding and basic training or puppy training packages. Owners receive video updates on their dog’s progress. Dogs are picked up and delivered back home at no cost in the Utah, Nevada and Colorado areas.
Big Dog Academy is located on a ranch at the edge of Fishlake National Forest. The property encompasses several hundred acres along with a massive indoor boarding facility.
The certified trainers at Big Dog Academy follow love-based and praise-based instruction methods. Dogs are never subjected to shock collars, scolding or hitting. Ogden said trainers also avoid giving treats for good behavior, which he believes leads to dogs performing for rewards rather than actually learning.
Some dogs arrive with deeper behavioral issues like aggression. Ogden said that through working, training and guidance, many of these problems take care of themselves quickly. Dogs receive exercise, entertainment, socialization and play along with training at the ranch; they’re kept busy from sunrise to sundown.
“It’s not just about us being good trainers,” he said. “They come here, and dogs get to be dogs – fulfilling what nature meant them to be.”
Owners may board their dogs at the ranch for a 14-day minimum, where they’ll enjoy walks, play time and interaction with dogs going through the training programs. Big Dog Academy also trains therapy, emotional support and medical alert service dogs through an intensive long-term process.
Big Dog Academy accepts dogs of any breed, any size, any age over 8 weeks and any temperament. Although some owners believe that older adult and senior dogs are already set in their ways, Ogden said this demographic is reliably the most well-behaved and responsive to training.
“The old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is really not true at all,” he said. “There is no prime age.”
When Ogden takes a dog home, he provides the owner with a video routine covering basic or newly learned skills. The owner must dedicate 15 minutes a day, two or three times a week, to the fundamentals, which are mostly easy one-word commands. As long as they remain committed, he guarantees their dog will continue to listen, follow their leadership and behave appropriately.
“A common misconception is that a dog is going to go to training for a while, come home and be perfect,” he said. “That’s unrealistic.”
Ogden said that training improves not only a dog’s quality of life but also the owner’s quality of life and enjoyment of their pet. Between vet bills, spaying or neutering, food, grooming, toys and other expenses, a dog is a big investment. The addition of $900 in a basic training or puppy training package at Big Dog Academy makes all the difference.
Big Dog Academy is dog training made easy, Ogden said. No dog has ever failed their one-of-a-kind program.
“We’re able to get through to any dog with love and praise,” he said.
Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.
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