Dog training

How to use a whistle to train a dog







Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of using a whistle to control your dog more effectively in the field. (Photo by: Jordan Horak)


My obsession with highland hunting dates back decades, long before the internet was a thing and information was readily available. As a result, there was a lot of trial and error with my methods. While there were many mistakes that made success more difficult, these experiences also provided a basis for what not to do (and occasionally, what to do). My first dog was a very busy yellow lab from the American field test lines. He liked to go hard on the court and, in retrospect, he was perhaps a little too dog-like for an 11-year-old boy who learned mostly by trial and error.

One of those “mistakes” included a significant amount of yelling while trying to keep my original dog “Cato” hunting with me. I remember a scenario that played out over and over: I was trying to sneak up on cunning roosters on a calm morning that required a considerable amount of stealth, given the daily dance I was playing with these birds. I would enter the court with a few sweet words to Cato, reminding him that I needed his full cooperation, but as we progressed down the court those words would quickly be forgotten and shouting would ensue. It would, of course, have little effect on Cato, but much more effect on the birds as I watched them flush out across the field.

At the time, I remember being extremely frustrated, but also unable to find a solution. Little did I know that there was an inexpensive, readily available tool that would have helped my sideshow in the field tremendously. Enter the whistle.


WHY USE A WHISTLE?

It was over a decade later that I finally understood the importance of using whistles with hunting dogs, and now it’s an irreplaceable tool that is ALWAYS with me, whether I train or that I hunt. Why? Because the benefits are so great compared to using my voice that I could never go back to not using a whistle. Some of these benefits are more obvious than others, but here are the main benefits I have experienced.

Distance: This is perhaps the most obvious. A whistle has a much greater ability to be heard at a longer distance than our voice. Hopefully we won’t have to take advantage of this quality very often, but it’s nice to have. Sometimes it’s necessary for our dogs to be a considerable distance away from us (like a long fetch), and other times it happens inadvertently (yes, I’ve had dogs that stray farther than they shouldn’t, and on rare occasions they’ve backfired in grouse wood). In these cases, it can be a lifesaver to have a whistle around your neck!

dog trainer with whistle
Keep a whistle around your neck and you’ll always have a way to communicate with your dog, even at very long distances or in thick cover. (Photo by: Jordan Horak)

Less disturbing for birds: When we use our voice to communicate with our dog, the birds hear it and they automatically know that someone has invaded their space. Birds under pressure will automatically be put on alert, but even birds without pressure will be disturbed by noise. Wild game birds don’t seem to be completely oblivious to the whistle, but in my experience they don’t seem to be affected by whistles as much. This is a huge advantage for us as it allows us to communicate with our dogs while maintaining a certain level of discretion.

Pied Piper Effect: I don’t really know why (although I’m sure there’s a scientific reason), but dogs simply react better to the whistle than to our voices, especially when out in the field. My theory is that the whistle is at a tone that makes it easier for the dog to hear, but whatever the reason, using a whistle usually results in a better response from our dogs. Obviously, this does not eliminate the need for training, but if there is a simple tool that automatically improves our dog’s response to commands, it is in our interest to try it.

Easier: Frankly, I find it exhausting to spend an afternoon talking (sometimes very loudly) to my dog ​​as I cross a field. Even if it didn’t bother the birds, it would exhaust my patience. A whistle requires very little effort to create noise, even at higher decibels. It may take some practice and time to get to the point where you can hold a whistle in your mouth without thinking, but when you get to that point it’s almost effortless to use the whistle.

SPECIFIC COMMANDS FOR USING THE WHISTLE

How we use the whistle is important. If it’s just a random blown noise generator, it won’t be as effective as it could be. I like to think of the whistle as an extension of my voice, so if I have a voice command for a behavior, chances are I have a whistle command for the behavior too. The main ones I use are ‘sit’, ‘come’, ‘turn’ and the one I call a ‘draw’ whistle.

“Sit” and “come” are quite self-explanatory. You can use any whistle sequence you want, but I use a high whistle for “sit” and for “come” I use a series of three short whistles in rapid succession. If your dog doesn’t respond to the sitting whistle the first time, it’s important to make sure your subsequent whistles are at a large enough interval that they won’t be mistaken for the upcoming whistle. For the come whistle, it is important to keep the three blasts distinct and in quick succession. Rather than using my lungs to control the toots, I use my tongue to open and close the whistle as I blow. This keeps the fingers neat and distinct. It takes a bit of practice to figure this out, so don’t be afraid to train away from your dog (and probably away from people for that matter!)

“Round” is a little more complex. Essentially, it’s a command to help my dog ​​stand in front of me. If he’s gone on one side and I want him on the other side, two whistles let him know I’d like him to step aside in front of me (and the whistle is often accompanied by a gesture or hand signal that specifically lets him know which direction I would like him to go).

My “to draw” the whistle is something i invented to let my dog ​​know that he is too far away from me and that i would like him to come closer to me. I differentiate this from my “come on” whistle because I like my commands to be precise. When I just want my dog ​​to come back partway, I blow a long, soft whistle. This causes the dog to back up towards me, and I can then use a hand signal to throw the dog at a 90 degree angle when it has closed the distance from me to what I consider to be an appropriate range.

dog trainer with whistle and cocker spaniel
With a little practice, your dog will easily learn to take whistle commands, sometimes more effectively than your voice. (Photo by: Jordan Horak)

HOW TO PRACTICE THE WHISTLE

Teaching your dog to respond to the whistle doesn’t have to be complicated, but there are a few principles to keep in mind. Please don’t just buy a whistle and start tugging at it indiscriminately – this won’t help your dog and could in fact be counterproductive as it will create confusion.

Have a process: I like to start by first teaching a behavior, then giving it a voice command (i.e. “sit”), then layering the whistle with the voice command, then finally using the whistle alone. What I don’t want to do is start whistling asking for a behavior that my dog ​​doesn’t already know, because now he’s trying to learn two things (the behavior and the whistle) at the same time, and that usually leads to confusion.

To be coherent: It cannot be overstated. Be consistent with how you use the whistle! If a toot means “to sit”, it always means to sit. If three toots means “come”, it must always mean “come”. We must consider the whistle as a simple but precise language. If we whistle indiscriminately hoping for our specific response, we will end up being disappointed and our dog will only be confused.

Don’t overdo it: Listening to someone repeatedly yell at their dog while crossing a field is at the top of my list of most annoying things ever (like nails on a chalkboard), but whistling like you’re in a symphony orchestra n isn’t much better. So don’t be that guy! As a general rule, less is more – if we only use the whistle when really needed it will be more valuable to your dog, so keep that in mind.

WHICH WHISTLE TO USE?

There are many whistle options on the market, and I imagine they all have their pros and cons. Because I mainly hunt and train spaniels, I like to use a relatively quiet whistle. The Acme 210.5 whistle is perfect for me. If I wanted a little more distance, I could upgrade to the Acme 211.5 whistle. These whistles are both pealess whistles that rarely freeze in cold weather and have the ability to be blown very softly. At the other end of the spectrum are pea whistles, some with amplifiers attached which are capable of producing extremely loud explosions but are inferior at communicating silently.

Dog trainer training place with cocker spaniel
A whistle can easily become an integral part of your dog training kit. (Photo by: Jordan Horak)

When choosing your whistle, you need to think about how you are going to use it. Since I rarely handle dogs at a distance greater than 100 yards, the quieter whistles are perfect for me. If you need more distance, you’ll probably want to look for something with a polka dot that can produce more volume. Either way, I recommend sticking to just one whistle to avoid confusing your dog.

In a world full of complex gadgets and gadgets, the whistle may seem like little, but I would say it is as indispensable as the boots on the feet and the gun in the hands. Think about the best whistle for your hunting style, start incorporating it into your training, and you’ll likely see a marked improvement in your pup’s cooperation and your level of enjoyment while hunting.