Dog whistles and dog whistle training
Dog whistles were traditionally considered the domain of the gun dog and herding dog handler. They are now becoming increasingly popular with the wider dog training community as well as many pet dog owners who want to achieve better distance control of their dogs and are more than just dog accessories.
This article discusses the fundamentals of dog whistles, whistle training and the most common commands associated with this type of training method. Even though you do not need to be a dog trainer to do whistle training, it is not something you dive into without understanding the fundamentals of dog training. This article assumes the reader has a basic knowledge and understanding of dog training techniques.
Why and which dog whistle?
Historically, the reason a whistle became the tool of choice for distance training was the need for minimal verbal noise during hunting or shooting. Nothing is scarier to a wild animal than the sound of a human voice. In addition, dog’s ears are more tuned to the higher frequencies of whistles than they are to voices. These frequencies also travel greater distances- hence their benefit in achieving better distance control.
You will see from our dog whistle collection (see products below) that there is a huge array of different dog whistles on the market. Some are made from metal, some are plastic and you can even find some made from stag or buffalo horn (but not in our store !). There is what is known as the ‘Thunderer’, which is like a referee’s whistle. At the other extreme there is the quite inappropriately named ‘Silent Dog Whistle’, which by the way is not silent, but it does operate at a very high frequency which is considerable more audible to dogs than it is to humans. In between these there are a large number of dog whistles operating at different frequencies; some are variable frequency, some have peas and some do not, others combine two whistles into one to have dual frequencies.
Gundog handlers will often have their own dog whistle preference depending on the breeds they handle or how energetic their dogs are. Many of them prefer plastic dog whistles because they can be more comfortably held in your mouth, thus keeping both hands free. In summary, whistle selection is far from a precise science, but if you want some guidance, our selection of Acme Dog Whistles (below) is accompanied by a brief explanation of the preferred usage of each whistle.
We always recommend using a lanyard (see below). These are lengths of knotted cord that allow you to hang your dog whistle to hang around your neck. These save a lot of scrambling around in pockets or on the floor when you drop it.
What commands can I use a dog whistle for ?
You can use a dog whistle for almost any command, but the primary benefit is to communicate the commands you are likely to need when your dog is at a distance from you. Although there are ‘standard’ conventions for most whistle commands, don’t feel limited to these. The most important thing is consistency, so decide on your signals and stick to them. Here are the 3 main dog whistle commands :
How do I start dog whistle Training?
First of all, using a dog whistle requires a bit of practice. Try generating the rising and falling notes, long blasts and short pips. Practice the ‘spit’ blow to produce short sharp notes. This requires you to put your tongue over the end of the whistle and effectively do a spitting action !
THE SIT The distant ‘sit’ is the most important command to master early in your whistle training programme. When your dog is in the sit position, you are more likely to have their full attention to any follow up commands. The added benefit of mastering this command is that it stabilises any situation. Assuming that the command ‘sit’ does not occur in the middle of the road, a sitting dog is calm and out of trouble or danger, ready for the next command.
Lets assume that your dog has mastered the close up sit command accompanied by a raised hand signal. Start to replace the verbal command (i.e. continue with the hand signal) with the whistle command. This is one long blow- but not too loud- while you are working close up to your dog. If they don’t respond correctly, then add the verbal ‘sit’ command. With practice, your dog will gradually respond to just the whistle and perhaps the hand signal for reinforcement.
Don’t attempt to dive into long distance ‘sits’ at this stage- you will need to build this up slowly. Start by practicing the sit position at just a couple of steps back. When they do this successfully, go back to the dog and praise them warmly. Don’t be tempted to call your dog towards you as they will understand the returning to you as successful completion of the exercise. If, as you increase the distance, your dog attempts to move (or crawl) towards you, repeat the command again. It will take a large number of training sessions to build up the distance, remember – small steps at a time. When your dog is able to sit at considerable distances (say 50m), you can then start to practice moving out of your dog’s sight for a short period. Then start to build up the amount of time you are out of sight.
COMING WHEN CALLED You must have the ability to recall your dog, no matter what the situation or other temptations. The best way to achieve this is by ensuring that returning to you is a rewarding and highly pleasurable experience available to them. To do this it is essential that you never punish your dog for returning to you regardless of what they were doing before (or how angry it made you!).
Recalling a young puppy is often quite easy as they often lack the confidence to wander far away. It is important to take advantage of this period in building the recall command and associating it with very positive experiences. To get your dog’s attention and make it return to you, be prepared to step out of your comfort zone in terms of your own behaviour. Use high pitched voices, clap your hands, jump up and down. Make yourself seem as interesting as possible to your dog. If you are really desperate, use a treat or run in the opposite direction to your dog. Their natural chase instinct nearly always gets their attention and brings them running. When they get to you, heap on the praise, hug them, play a short game or a tummy rub. Anything that makes them think returning to you is just the real business.
Start to introduce the whistle when recalling. To start with, you could just whistle yourself unaided and gradually move onto the dog whistle as your distances increase. Assuming your dog is able to sit on command, practice walking away from them a short distance, then using the pip-pip to recall. Sometimes return to your dog instead of doing the recall. This will stop your dog anticipating the command or always assume a sit/stay is followed by a recall.
If at any time your dog seems confused, keep calm and don’t start shouting (this will only make things worse). Go back to commands that your dog has mastered and start to build up slowly again. Training is always two steps forwards and one back. Be prepared for this and to take it in your stride (excuse the pun!). Remember praise = success – ignore = fail.
Other than gun and herding dog handlers, most people are happy to achieve successful distance sits and distance recalls with their dog whistle. You can, however, move onto more advance commands involving directing your dog to particular locations to retrieve objects and much more. Further details about this can be found in the many books available on the subject.. If you want to get more involved with gun dogs and gun dog training, look up the British Association for Shooting and Gundogs.