It’s officially Summer 2018. Why does that matter? Because I’m a high school teacher and my season just ended. But I’m also a gun dog guy. And like teaching, my other season just ended, too. It’s the summer and we all want to take a look back at how our season ended.
In a lot of ways, teaching high school students is synonymous with teaching gun dogs.
Each day I clock in to work from 7:45 to 3:30 just to go home and clock in to the “grass classroom.” It sounds a bit funky, but it’s true. I’m a dog handler, to be sure, but I’m also a student of the dog. Just like my students, my dog teaches me more and more each day about myself. I’m not inclined to say that my students are smarter than me (though they would probably pay to hear that), but I am honest about one fact: they see everything. Every action, every reaction, they catch it, and so does the dog. Your anger, your frustration, the good, the bad, it’s written all over you like graffiti in a public school bathroom.
So what does this all mean? It means that communication is what makes a good teacher. Learning to give it, and learning to receive it. Learning to let that student be, and learning when to answer the right questions. The thing about dogs is that they ask questions when they need to; otherwise, let them work. We all have this grand idea about what we want our students to have gained each day. But oftentimes, because we know (or think we know) so much, we inhibit that student’s growth. We intervene when it’s not necessary, and get frustrated when the student is confused.
The things about dogs is simple: they will ask you when they need help, much like my students. No teacher wants a student who is uninterested, and no handler wants a dog that won’t find and retrieve game. The way in which you go about getting to the solution is key.
So consider this: start with a lesson plan for your bird dog training. I hate doing them from week to week. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes direction. It takes perseverance to see the work being done, and done well. But no student gets it right the first time, and if they do, well, lucky you. The dogs are no different. The key to developing their lesson plan is of course the same: start with the end in mind. Just like county standards, you as a trainer have a standard. That could be a breed club standard or just your own personal standard. It really doesn’t matter because the dog is your student.
What matters is the process that leads to full understanding and comprehension. It’s about doing the work with the student and not for them. What I mean, in dog terms, is to allow your dog to do the work and ask questions when it needs help. You will know it when they do. They search and search, they process, they filter out answers, and when they can’t figure it out, no matter how far they are, they’ll always turn back and look at you. Isn’t that what we expect our students to do? If they still don’t get it, stay after school for tutorial — i.e., back to yard work.
Either way, whether in a classroom setting or in the field, always remember you as a teacher are a student of the dog.
Durrell Smith is a 28 year old Georgia native, visual artist, wing shooter, and dog handler. While creating compelling ink and watercolor illustrations based on his field experiences and hunting dogs, he also runs a podcast called The Gun Dog Notebook, which can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud. Aside from hunting upland game and waterfowl, he participates in Hunt Tests with his Labrador Retriever. As a first generation hunter, Durrell seeks to learn and contribute to the community by connecting with visionaries and veterans within the bird dog community who are willing to share stories and knowledge about the various breeds, creating a bridge to welcome new and novice dog handlers to the gun dog community.