Dog trainer helps foster communication

Jon Benz is pictured with an eight-year old yellow lab named Ace outside of J & M Retrievers.

MOUNTAIN IRON — For Jon Benz, helping dog owners efficiently communicate with their pets is all in a day’s work.

“Training is a good thing,” Benz said during a recent interview. “So, whether you’re looking to just have a good companion, or have that dog hunt in the field — it all comes down to obedience.”

Setting a good foundation is key.

“Having a good solid foundation of having a good obedience dog helps you with anything,” he added. Some of the typical commands Benz recommends dogs learn include to sit, stay, here, and heel.

More than two decades of training experience.

When he was just 12 years old, Benz began helping out at a dog kennel and boarding facility near his home. Over the past 20 years, he’s noticed a number of changes pertaining to dogs that are for the better. For example, there were more dogs that lived in outdoor kennels, and now there are very few that live outdoors year round — most dogs live inside with people.

“The quality of dog food has come a long way, the training world has come a long way,” he said.

Benz’s earliest experiences with advanced dog training was with a male yellow lab that was from a litter born to a female dog his family owned.

“I did the hunt tests, field tests and things and then started training for friends and family — then eventually for other people to where we got to today,” Benz said.

A new adventure starts

In 2012, he and his wife, Michelle began a new adventure, when they started J & M Retrievers — a boarding, training and breeding kennel in Mountain Iron.

Yellow labs remain the couple’s breed of choice.

The versatility of the yellow labs, Benz said makes them adaptable to both upland hunting and waterfowl hunting. There are also many breeds who do very well in different hunting aspects — it’s a matter of personal preference, he noted.

The Benz’s dogs live in their house. “They can be that couch potato (at home), and we get in the field and it’s game on, work, work, work,” Benz said, comparing the change in energy to an on-and-off switch.

J & M Retrievers offers puppy socialization classes for ages, from 10 weeks to five months. Once a dog reaches mental maturity at around seven months, that’s when formal training typically starts. There are two options for training at J & M; an in-facility training where the dog is trained while staying at the kennel, or on a one-on-one basis with a dog and its owner.

Socialization is important to puppies.

From the time a person first gets a puppy socialization is key.

Benz said he encourages owners to get their dog out around other dogs, around people, at different places, and even to stores that allow dogs.

“Socialize, socialize, socialize — it’s a huge thing,” he said, adding that “the more comfortable and outgoing a dog is for a lot of situations really helps with training.”

Communication is an essential part of training.

When working with dogs, Benz said communication is important.

“If it’s unclear — we’re going to have problems,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of restating something.

One reason Benz said he prefers the one-on-one training, is it allows the trainer to address the individual needs of the dog.

On average, Benz trains nine dogs a month in-facility that he trains and about five to six dogs a month enrolled in one-on-one training with their owners. That’s in addition to dogs who are being boarded at the kennel.

Every dog is unique.

Benz recalled repeat customers who bring in a second dog and find there may be some similarities, but also each dog is unique.

When training a dog, breed mannerisms and the handler capability are taken into consideration.

“You’re basically training a team, you’re not just training the dog,” said Benz.

If an owner finds something that works well with their dog, Benz said it’s an indication that there’s communication with their dog and they should use it.

“There’s more than one way to train a dog,” Benz often tells his clients.

Just as each person is an individual, Benz said each dog is relevant. It doesn’t matter if your dog is a “top dog,” it still may enjoy hunting, and gets the job done. There are other dogs that are just a good companion for their owner.

“If you’re happy at the end of the day with the result that your dog puts out – how much happier can you get?” said Benz.

“I always tell people that your own dog is the best dog in the world,” he said.


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