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Episode 21: Whistle commands

Drew: Today we're going to talk about dog whistles and training a dog on the whistle commands—here and sit. Joe, how would you train something like that or introduce a dog to the whistle?

Joe: Well, the way I start on a whistle is I'll take the dog and I'll make him walk on a lead and tell him to sit, get him sitting. Then what I'll do is I'll tweet and sit, tweet and sit. And the reason I tweet first is because when the dog hears the sound, he knows the command "sit" is coming right after. So he learns that command is coming, so when he hears the sound he sits.

We use one single blast for sitting. And when we want to call a dog in we use three whistle blasts. Whenever we want to call a dog in, we put them on a long check cord, we've got him sitting down, and then we'll tweet, tweet, tweet, pull him in, get him coming to us. That's basically how we do it.

Drew: You use a three tweet, I use kind of a two. As long as you are consistent with whatever you are using...

Joe: Exactly.

Steve: That's the biggest thing, is you've got to pick what your whistle commands are going to be, and you've got to train them, and then you've got to stick with it. Because that's the part that the dog's keying in on, is the consistency.

Joe: Right. If you want to make it one long whistle blast to come in, do it all the time. Don't change it around. Myself, I use one single blast to make them sit. And I use three whistle blasts to make them come in.

The reason we use the whistle is because at a distance, you can't be hollering out there "sit". Or if a dog is running through water, he's not going to hear your voice. When he gets out 50 yards or 100 and he's chasing a bird, he's not going to hear you, especially in grass; it's hitting up against his ears in the water.

And when you are blowing a whistle in the water, you want to try to time your dog when he's jumping up so that he can hear you. Because as long as it's splashing, chances are he's not going to hear you.

There's a lot of different kinds of whistles and we sell a bunch of them. This, conceptually, is sort of new as far as the megaphone type whistles. We've got three or four different companies that are making those now.

They do two things. It's a megaphone; it pushes the sound out further, which is great on a long retrieve. It also pushes some of the sound away from you, which helps a little bit.

Drew: But just that Acme insert, just that part on my calling, it's not big and bulky.

Steve: I like to do that. For me, if I'm going to use that type of megaphone whistle, I'm going to have the same kind of small whistle so that I can keep the sounds similar. Most dogs can handle it. If you've got a dog out here and he's trained on it, the differences between them is not so great that they're not going to pick up on it. But I like to have a backup with me no matter what. That's something a lot of folks miss out on.

I leaned down one day and closed the tailgate of my truck and my whistle was hanging in it and shattered it. And I'm sitting there going, "Great." Fortunately, I had a backup.

You'll find even different tones within the whistles as far as the same whistles. You want to experiment with them and find something that you like. There's pea-less whistles and whistles that have a pea in them. It's a little cork ball. It changes the sound a little bit. A lot of folks like a pea-less whistle if they hunt in extremely cold weather. A pea will freeze up on you once it gets enough spit on it.

Drew: We don't have that problem.

Steve: No. I've never seen it...

Drew: Unless it swells from humidity.

Steve: Exactly.

Joe: Another thing about the whistle, when you are using the whistle with your dog, if your dog is real close, you don't want to blow a real hard blast. You want to progressively get louder as the dog gets further away from you. Because whenever the dog's at 300 yards, it's not going to hear that real loud blast. It's going to hear a small blast. So you want to make your blasts consistent.

Drew: I was the exact opposite. I thought that it needed to be pressure needed to be consistent at all times, so I wanted to blow that same loud.

Steve: Well, it's kind of like yelling at your dog. If he's real close you just don't have to do as much. And we start whistle commands out really close. Teaching it at heel, that's the best place to start. A lot of folks want to add that in at 50, or 75, or 100 yards; and you just can't do it.

We talked about feeding the dog and after you've got him sitting consistently you can add the whistle in right there and start him out close. But it doesn't have to be loud. You don't want it to be something that's overpowering.

Drew: Just like the different ones in the whistles, the different tones in our voice, we all know that the dogs can tell by attitude...

Joe: That's right! Yeah, they know when they're in trouble.

Drew: And that's your Honey Brake gun dog tip of the week.

Whistle commands are so important in dog training because they are used to reinforce commands. In order to understand how to incorporate whistle commands into your puppy’s training you should brush up on the different commands that can be taught, how to follow through with the actual training, and the different kinds of hunting related whistles that exist.

While you are hunting, you will be faced with many situations where you need something that can emphasize the importance of your spoken command or even as a supplement to it. Let’s face it, sometimes your dog may be stubborn or sometimes he cannot hear you well. With a whistle, however, even if your dog is 300 yards out in a field he can follow your command. If you were to yell the command at him from that distance, chances are he would have no idea what cue you were giving him. When your dog is running through mud and water it is also hard for him to hear your spoken command. The whistle works to reinforce your instructions even in those kinds of conditions. By learning that a certain blast means retrieve (or whatever other command you assign to a given number, length, or tone of blasts) your dog can go fetch the bird and bring it back without being able to hear your voice.

The most important aspect of training whistle commands is to be consistent. Once you assign a number of whistle blasts to particular commands they must not change so your dog can learn what is expected of him. You may designate a number and length of blasts to commands such as “sit”, “heel”, and “come”. The “sit” command is usually the best one to start out teaching to your pup. Depending on your preference, you can use one whistle blast to teach your dog to sit. One easy way to begin this training is while you are feeding your dog get him to sit, blow the whistle, give the command “sit”, and push his rear end down. Keep doing this and consistently use one blast. Never increase the amount of blasts or use another command in conjunction with the single blast.

After your dog has mastered the “sit” command, you can use two or three blasts to teach him to “come” to you. Whatever your preference is, stick to the same amount of blasts. Keep a check cord on the dog, whistle, say “here”, and pull them to you. Continue the training, be repetitious, and eventually when your dog hears a certain number of blasts he will get in the habit of coming to you even without the command being spoken.

A great tip that will come in handy is to never blow really hard on the whistle when your dog is close by. If you do this you will startle your dog, which will make it difficult for him to respond well to whistle commands. Start out with softer (quieter) blasts and then progressively blow the whistle harder. Begin with your puppy near your side, command him to heel, and then gradually add in distance. You can incrementally use louder blasts as your dog gets farther away from you. So, even if your dog is several hundred yards out in the field, he will hear the blast and follow your lead. Again, always make your whistle blasts consistent so that there is no confusion for your dog on what command he is meant to be following.

Not only can you assign number of blasts to your commands, but there are also many different types of whistles that give off varying tones. For example, a megaphone whistle is used to push sound out further and away from you. It is an effective tool when you need the whistle blasts to be heard from a good distance away from where you are stationed. A Roy Gonia “Commander” Whistle is good when you are hunting on heavy weather days. They have a lower tone that can be heard through fog, snow, and rain. An Acme “Thunderer” Whistle is produced in a couple of different sizes and is compression molded from plastic. Even the smaller version of the Thunderer is louder and more durable than the original Acme #660 Whistle. Mini Fox Whistles are some of the best whistles to keep on hand. They are specifically manufactured to be heard above all types of noise (thundering gale-force winds and even breaking waves in the ocean). So, even though they are little they are really effective tools for dog training and so much more. If you are looking for something even more powerful, the Acme T2000 Tornado, it has two high pitched frequencies for loudness in close proximity to the whistle and a third lower pitch for farther distances. All three of the frequencies sound at the same time and make it one of the world’s most powerful whistles. It is audible in virtually all weather conditions. However, you have to be aware of the pitch a whistle blast gives, not solely how loud it is.

There’s an assortment of whistles that give off different pitches. If you use a particular pitch for a given command, stick with it. Dogs can often pick up on different pitches, so even if you only blast once (using an unusually high pitched whistle blast) your dog may not follow your command to sit (if you normally use a lower pitched whistle).

The majority of sport whistles (and some hunting ones) contain a “pea”. This type of whistle has a small light ball that rattles on the inside. This little ball is referred to as the pea and it gives off a vibrating motion as the whistle is blown, which creates a different sound effect than a pea-less whistle. With the pea, the sound given off is intensified. However, when a whistle does not contain a pea in its chamber, it is capable of still working after it gets wet. Even in pouring down rain you will have the ability to send off penetrating whistle blasts to command your dogs.

Aside from educating yourself on types of whistles, pitches, and training techniques associated with whistle commands, there are also a couple of common sense tips you should keep in mind. Always keep a couple of spare whistles around in case you lose or break the whistle you usually depend on. Accidents happen and you don’t want to be out in the field with no way to effectively communicate with your dogs. In addition, though “sit”, “heel,”, and “come” are the most common commands associated with whistles, you can always teach other commands. Remember to be consistent and repetitious until your dog really seems to catch on to what the whistle blasts stand for. Don’t get too complicated or fancy with commands, always follow through with your dog’s training, and be patient.

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