Whistle Commands

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Distance, heavy cover or wind conditions can make it difficult or impossible for the dog to hear verbal commands. Therefore, in many situations, whistle commands are superior to verbal commands.

Through the process of "chaining," it is easy to teach the dog to recognize that a particular whistle is a substitute for a command that the dog already knows. "Chaining" happens when an unknown cue (the sound of the whistle) directly precedes a known cue (the verbal command). The dog soon recognizes that the first thing accurately predicts the second thing. Then the dog will respond as though the first event were the same as the second.

Of course, there will be times when the dog views your whistle commands as something it doesn't want to do. Therefore, you will want to use your Tri-Tronics collar to reinforce whistle commands in a timely manner

Which Whistle Means What?

In general, pointing dogs should know three different whistle commands. One whistle command should mean, "come in," all the way to the handler. The second should mean "all right," go on, begin or resume the hunt. And a third whistle command should be a locator signal when the dog is hunting out of sight of the handler. The sound of this whistle will let the dog know where the handler is so that it can orient itself to the handler's position. This sound will also signal the dog to bend in the field and hunt toward the front

Trainers of versatile hunting dogs will also want a fourth whistle command, one that means stop and look at the handler for a directional hand signal.

The choice of what whistle command to use for each purpose is up to you. We prefer a three-whistle trill ("Tweet-tweet-tweet") to signal the dog to come in, repeated until the dog is coming, and again whenever the dog dallies on the way. We use two short toots to send the dog on, and one long, soft roll to let the dog know where the handler is and to bend the dog to the front if need be. For the versatile hunting dog that needs a whistle command to stop, we use one short, sharp blast.

Many trainers teach the dog to respond to whistle commands when they train the "three-action introduction" to the collar. But if your dog has already been taught the three-action introduction with verbal commands, and you have just now decided to add whistle commands, go back into the yard to teach them.

Teaching the "Come-in" Whistle

Before starting, be sure your dog knows how to turn off the collar by coming to you on a verbal command. See the "three-action introduction" in Parts I and II of this series in the January/February and March/April, 1993, issues of the Pointing Dog Journal.

Blow the "come-in" whistle a moment before you give the dog the verbal command to return to you. This will cause the dog to anticipate the command when it hears the whistle, and it will begin to respond to the whistle alone.

Next, to make the whistle a reliable command, follow it with low-level continuous stimulation as you give the verbal command "Here." The dog will soon start to respond to the whistle in order to avoid the reinforced verbal command. Repeat this lesson until you see the dog turning toward you quickly when you blow the whistle.

From this point on, you can use your "come-in" whistle without a verbal command. If the dog should ignore the whistle, follow up by pressing the button as you repeat the command.

Teaching the "All Right" Whistle

This whistle will be used to send the dog on, such as when you release it to hunt. It can also be useful for shaping the hunting pattern of a dog that has a tendency to potter or cut back. In addition, with a well-timed whistle command, you can encourage the dog to hunt farther away from you if that is what you desire.

To introduce the "all right" whistle, release the dog to hunt by blowing the whistle just before using your verbal command "All Right." Soon the dog will respond to this whistle with enthusiasm.

Now your dog will recognize that the "all right" whistle means that it is free to go on. But if you want to use the "all right" whistle to counteract cutting back or pottering, it is essential that the dog respects the whistle as a command, and not as permission to go. We base this lesson on the dog's understanding of turning off the collar by going away from the handler. This was taught as the Second Action in the three-action introduction (see Part III of this series in the May/June, 1993, issue of the Pointing Dog Journal).

Set up a 3' x 3' x 2" platform in the yard. Since your dog was trained to turn off stimulation by going to a crate, set up the dog's familiar crate on top of the platform and send the dog to it a few times. After reviewing this lesson, remove the crate and put it out of the dog's sight, but leave the platform in the same location. Now send the dog to the platform. The dog will soon identify the platform as the equivalent to the crate.

Next, as a review, have the dog turn off low-level stimulation by going away from you. To do this, press the button and command the dog to go to the platform. Release the button as the dog leaves your side.

After you have reviewed the exercise, start to blow your "all right" whistle a moment before you give the verbal command, and accompany the verbal command with low-level stimulation. Soon you'll see the dog move toward the platform when it hears the whistle, because it won't want to wait for the reinforced verbal command.

Next, teach the dog to respond to the "all right" whistle when it is at a distance from you. Leave the dog standing and facing you about four feet from the platform. You should stand about eight feet away from the dog. Give the dog a verbal command to go to the platform and praise it calmly when it gets there. If the dog doesn't go, press the low button and help it by moving toward the platform as you repeat the verbal command.

Once your dog will go on the verbal command without your help, repeat the exercise, but precede the command with the "all right" whistle. Gradually drop the verbal command, and rely on the whistle alone to send the dog away from you to the platform. If the dog stops along the way, immediately use mild stimulation for reinforcement and then a verbal command to get the dog to continue to the platform. Release the button when the dog starts toward the platform.

Gradually increase the distances between the dog and the platform and between you and the dog. Eventually you should be able to leave the dog standing about 50 feet away from the platform, with you standing another 50 feet away, and the dog should move promptly toward the platform when it hears the whistle command.

Transition to the Field

Now instead of sending the dog to a platform, you will be send it further to an easily identifiable objective such as a productive brush pile. Reinforce your whistle command only if you have to repeat it.

Teaching the "Locator Whistle"

Assuming that the dog has already been taught to run a good ground pattern (see Part VI of this series in the November/December, 1993, issue of Pointing Dog Journal), teaching a locator whistle is especially easy. With the dog hunting within sight of you, blow the locator signal at times when the dog is hunting off to one side or has finished its cast. Be sure you are moving away from the dog, so that when it turns it can see that you have changed direction.

If the dog does not adjust its hunting pattern to move to the front, then follow up with low-level stimulation as you repeat your command and continue to move away from the dog. Release the button the moment the dog turns.

The "Stop Whistle" for the Versatile Dog

One short whistle blast is used to stop a dog before giving it a hand signal. This is used primarily for the versatile hunting dog. We will cover this topic in a future article on preparing the NAVHDA dog for the Invitational Championship.

First appeared in:
Pointing Dog Journal
, January/February 1995.

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