Being outside with a dog gets us out of our heads, forcing us to focus on the moment.
As a therapist, I know the value in learning to be present and dogs have the ability to help us cultivate presence. When I’m out with Duck, my one year old lab, trying to reinforce behaviors we’ve worked on, he knows the instant my attention shifts slightly. If I remember something, “Oh crap, I forgot to put milk on the grocery list.” At that very second, Duck will take off to explore something far more interesting than me. He serves as a constant reminder to let go of the running dialogue in my head. If I’m having a day where I can’t stop thinking about something that’s bothering me, I won’t work with Duck. We will end up sliding backwards in our training and both get frustrated, so it’s not worth it. Working with Duck and any of my other dogs has made me realize that training a dog is an exercise in learning to be present.
In my work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, I often see a reflection of modern life in the clients that I work with. Everyone is over stimulated, anxious, worried, overworked, unhappy, and struggling to find meaning in their lives. They’re also not spending a lot of time outdoors, which research has shown is detrimental to our health. I often encourage my clients to spend time outdoors as part of their therapy. There are a lot of ways that you can spend time in the outdoors (I have tried many of them), but the one activity that made me feel the most alive, connected, and rooted in myself was hunting with a dog that I had trained myself.
I grew up with hunting dogs, mainly British Labradors (like Duck), but I did not hunt much as a child. That came later in life. I tried hunting as a child, but it felt like it was something that the boys were meant to do.
I learned to love hunting when I started to hunt with women, and as I began to hunt more, I noticed I became more confident in myself. As an adult, I noticed that hunting with men often turned competitive or I would not be given the space to figure something out on my own, it was either done for me or I was told how to do it. That did not make for an encouraging learning environment, nor did it build my confidence. (This is certainly not true of all men, as I have had many kind and patient male mentors in my life.) Men and women are socialized differently, which results in different ways of learning. As I learned from other women, I realized how important creating a positive learning environment was. I looked for other women to learn from in the hunting dog world and I realized something was missing, so I decided to create it myself. I grew determined to find a way to offer the experience of training a hunting dog to more women.
I recently started an organization called Girls With Gundogs to offer retreats for women to teach them how to train their own hunting dogs. My intention is not to be the next expert dog trainer. My intention is to create a positive learning environment and to give women the confidence that they too can train their own hunting dog, regardless of whether they hunt or not. My ultimate hope is that by training a hunting dog, these women will also want to take up hunting if they don’t hunt already. I hope that they too will be able to feel the peace that comes from being in the woods with a good dog.
Last modified: October 11, 2017