Ivy's success depends as much on me as it does on her. The breed and her working line allows her to do many things naturally within the gun dog environment. This is not the case for the handler! Following Sunday's training session at Bloxworth I reflected on the various exercises and realised that I need to spend as much time learning how to be a great handler as I do learning to apply the principles of effective and positive gun dog training.
What constitutes being a 'great handler'? Without years of gun dog experience and knowledge I can't offer a definitive answer but I'm keen to explore this area. I am constantly evaluating what I'm doing and when I am doing it whilst training. When I start a training exercise I occasionally modify what I am doing depending on the response I get from Ivy. When something untoward does happen during an exercise I try to reflect on what's going on in the midst of the exercise itself. The result is known as 'reflection-in-action' Schön (1983) - I'm thinking and reflecting about what I'm doing as a handler during the exercise and this helps me as I complete the task. Reflection-in-action focuses on practising critically.
A perfect example of this process occurred on Sunday as our experienced trainer led a group of four retrievers and handlers through a double retrieve. During the exercise the trainer is making decisions about the suitability of this particular task, which exercise to do next by assessing the success of each exercise at the same time as we are conducting the task. The trainer also observes the handler's actions and behaviour and offers guidance during and following the exercise. This reflective process is vital and so beneficial in working towards becoming a 'great handler'.
As I work on my double retrieves this week with Ivy I will try to focus on my reflect-in-action as part of the learning process and find out what is different and how I can change my thinking during the exercise. Schön, D. A. (1987). Teaching artistry through reflection-in-action. In Educating the reflective practitioner (pp. 22-40). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.