Just a couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Legends of Dog Training luncheon at the National Field Trial Museum in Grand Junction, Tennessee. As I was sitting in the audience, I looked around me. I was one of the youngest people in the crowd of attendees—I’m 35. Every dog-training legend speaking that day was a man—I am not a man.
Many of these brilliant, talented men spoke of their worry over the future of the birds and the future of what is ultimately their lifestyle. I heard them. This was not the first time I had been one of the youngest and one of the few females in a room celebrating an outdoor field sport of some kind. However, I’m hoping that it will be one of the last times that it happens.
Growing up the daughter of a gundog trainer, Robert Milner, I didn’t see a lot of women training dogs. To be honest, that may have unconsciously influenced why I didn’t choose dog training as my profession. I chose psychiatry instead, which is not unlike dog training. I use a lot of behavioral interventions with people who are struggling and want to be a better version of themselves. It’s not too different from someone bringing me a Labrador and saying, “Please help. I can’t get him to hunt.”
In my profession, I’ve spent a lot of time observing people sitting in a chair across the room from me. On many occasions I have wanted to drag that person out of the office and into a field where I could put a working dog on birds in front of them. They would get out of their heads instantly. Their anxiety would disappear. Given my upbringing, I had a choice—I could keep sitting in that room, or I could offer something different.
Having a relationship with a working hunting dog that you trained yourself is unlike anything else you can experience in life. There is a magic to it that I want more women to have the opportunity to experience. As a result, I have started an organization called Girls With Gundogs. Our motto is to “empower women through relationships with their dogs and through experiences in the outdoors.” I hope that by offering women the chance to train their own working dogs, more women will try hunting, too.
Girls With Gundogs is starting by offering two-day dog-training retreats staffed only by women. The weekends will focus on building camaraderie among the women attendees while learning about positive-reinforcement-based gundog training. Day one will include lessons on clicker training a young puppy. Day two will include the opportunity to work a fully trained gundog in the field. We will eat all of our meals together and get to know each other, all while learning about the history of women in field sports. For women who may be more experienced in hunting and working dogs, we will tailor the weekend to offer something challenging for them to learn as well. It will also benefit those newer to the sport to meet more experienced outdoorswomen.
This is just the beginning. Over time Girls With Gundogs will offer more opportunities for women to try something new in the field sports, expanding this important segment of the hunting population. With hard work, someday soon I won’t be the only woman in the room anymore.