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 of learning to be present. Dogs have the ability to help us cultivate that presence.
When I’m out with my one year old lab, Duck, he knows the instant my attention shifts. For example, “Oh crap, I forgot to put milk on the grocery list.” At that very second, Duck will take off to explore something more interesting. He serves as a constant reminder to let go of the running dialogue in my head. Instead, I need to be reinforcing behaviors we’ve worked on. If I’m having a day where I can’t get my mind off something, I won’t work with Duck. Why? Because, our training will slide and we’ll get frustrated. 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 see the strains of modern life reflected in my clients. Everyone is anxious, unhappy, and overworked. They struggle 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. For myself personally, I have tried a lot of ways to spend time outside. The one activity that has made me feel the most alive and rooted in myself, however, is hunting with a dog I’ve 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 meant only for the boys.
The more I hunted, the more confident I became. I noticed as an adult that hunting with men often turned competitive. I also felt like I didn’t get the space to figure something out on my own. It was either explained to me or I was told how to do it. That did not exactly make for an encouraging learning environment and it certainly didn’t help with building my confidence. This is not true of all men; many kind and patient mentors I have had in life are male. Because men and women socialize differently, they learn differently too.
I learned to love hunting when I started to hunt with women. As I learned from other women, I realized the importance of creating a positive working environment. In my quest to find this, I discovered how hard it was to find resources. I grew determined to find a way to offer the experience of training a hunting dog to more women. My solution was to create it myself.
I recently started an organization called Girls With Gundogs to offer retreats for women to teach them how to train their own hunting dogs. I don’t want to be the next expert dog trainer. Rather, my intention is to create a positive learning environment that gives women the confidence they need to 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 already. I hope that they too will be able to feel the peace that comes from being in the woods with a good dog.
Lee Lee Milner is the Founder of Girls with Gundogs, an organization with the goal to empower women through relationships with their dogs and through experiences in the outdoors. When Lee Lee is not outside with her dogs, she is seeing patients as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in her private telepsychiatry practice or life coaching via Skype.