Dog whistle training is largely misunderstood. Can you believe there are some people who believe dogs are inherently able to understand that a whistle means to come back? Many of us have seen the fine work performed by sheepdog handlers and the exceptional level of whistle control they have with their dogs.
In this guide, K9 Magazine's Ryan O'Meara examines how to teach your dog to recall on the whistle.
I started to train my first dog from the moment he came home with me. It was fun. It was, if I’m totally honest, pretty easy, too. He was a Labrador and his eagerness to learn and please me made training him fun, enjoyable and almost without exception, flawlessly simple. Then he grew up. Things began to change. Luckily for me, I discovered the most important dog training tool I’ve ever used. I swore by it then, I still do now. I’ll gladly tell you what it is. Jackson was my first dog.
A handsome yellow Labrador.
As a puppy, I taught him to do lots of things. Sit, stay, come back, walk to heel, lie down, bark on command, give a paw – all, so much fun, so easy to accomplish.
Then, almost overnight, he started acting like a teenager.
Probably because he was one!
More worryingly, I had moved him on to a point where I actually wanted to compete with him in working tests and trials.
He had everything in his locker; he was fast, strong, intelligent, REALLY intelligent and he loved to work.
But his recall was – at best 50/50.
If I’m totally honest, he’d only ever recall if the level of distraction and temptations around him were minimal.
Fortunately for me, I was learning the art of whistle training.
Fortunately for me, every dog I’ve ever trained since – regardless of breed, regardless of discipline, regardless of exactly what level the dog was at – have ALL been trained using a whistle.
It’s only now, at a point where I know more of the theory of canine learning that I appreciate just how and why whistle training is so incredibly potent.
The whistle, you see, is constant, consistent, emotionless and incredibly easy to operate – you don’t even need to charge it up, follow an instruction manual or get a new one every other month.
They cost less than a tenner, yet I still have the same whistle I used 10 years ago and which has been utilised to train hundreds of dogs.
I won’t go into the technicalities of how to teach whistle training right now (that’s something for later!) but I will happily explain some of the principles that make the whistle so incredibly valuable:
Dog Whistle Training: Why It Works
1) A whistle can be used by ANYONE! Now I know that seems obvious, but think about it. Most family dogs have many different voices in their ears, day in day out. A whistle sounds the same whoever is blowing it. Whether it’s a child or the dog’s owner, the dog trained to recall to a whistle will do so regardless of who is blowing it. Although there ARE ways in which you can make your whistle recall unique to you.
2) A whistle lacks emotion. Ever tried to recall your dog when you're in a panic? Or a hurry? Or even when you’re a bit angry? Think your dog can’t tell? Think again! A whistle lacks emotion and it is consistent – something which is absolutely crucial to successful dog commands.
3) The sound of a whistle carries a long way, not everyone’s voice does. Besides, nobody wants to be the person at the park who’s bellowing at their dog to come back. A whistle is a sharp, sophisticated way to communicate with a dog outdoors.
4) Dogs love the whistle. If trained properly, the sound of a whistle can be as exciting to a dog as the sound of the biscuit tin being opened (yes, THAT exciting!). Believe me, my dogs go absolutely mad for the sound of the whistle and there is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the world that prevents them recalling when I blow that whistle. Don’t believe me?
Using a whistle you can:
Have a bulletproof, 100% recall
Ensure your dog is safe, off the lead in public
Impress all of your dog-owning friends with a dog that comes back, first time EVERY time!
Teach your dog to stop and stay at a distance
Achieve almost ‘sheepdog handler’ like control of your dog, regardless of breed
Have a simple, easy to follow dog training system that you can apply to ALL of your dogs, now and in the future
But before we move on to achieving ‘Total Recall’, you need to make sure you are properly equipped.
Here is the ONLY whistle I recommend. The Acme 2.10 & 1/2 whistle.
Note: I do not recommend a silent whistle, I don’t ask people to make do with a slightly different model, I don’t advise people get any old whistle – No. I recommend ONLY the Acme 2.10 & 1/2 (Acme two ten and a half) whistle.
That model and that model only.
I’m not saying other whistles might not work, but believe me – I’ve used plenty.
I’ve used a horn whistle, a thunderer whistle, an Acme 2.11 whistle and always, always, always I revert back to the Acme 2.10 & 1/2 for the most successful results.
Should you buy one?
Well, at less than £8.00 for the BEST piece of dog training equipment in the entire world that will last for years and can be used on ANY dog, now or in the future, doesn’t need batteries and won’t ever run out?
I’d say that was coming close to bargain of the century! Wouldn’t you?
How to Teach Your Dog To Come Back Using a Whistle
I'll keep this short, simple and to the point - because this really doesn't need to be over complicated.
Step 1: Associate the whistle with GREAT things.
What I mean by this is, get the dog used to hearing the sound of the whistle ONLY when something fun and exciting is happening. For example, you could use the whistle when the dog is about to be fed. You could use the whistle when you are about to take the dog out for a walk. Basically, whatever it is that your dog loves, use the whistle to get them to associate great things with that sound.
Step 2: Use the whistle in the home to begin with. Wait for an opportunity when your dog is calm, give several tweets on the whistle and reward lavishly when he comes back to you. Do this sparingly. You need the dog to succeed. Don't set the up to fail. This isn't a challenge.
Step 3: Use the whistle when the dog is in the garden at a point where he's not paying attention to what you're doing. Give several short, sharp tweets on the whistle and even consider running off in the opposite direction so he chases you. Again, reward well. You can move this step to using the whistle to call the dog for his dinner. He will begin to associate the whistle sound with great excitement and something worth returning for.
Step 4: Use the whistle in public, but in a confined area. Only use the whistle at a stage where the dog is not running away and is MOST likely to return to you. Again, you are not trying to set the dog up for failure, you want him to succeed. When he recalls to you, reward.
Step 5: Begin to use the whistle (again, only sparingly - NEVER overuse the whistle while you are in the early training phase) when the dog is further away from you in a public place but when there are NO distractions which are likely to make him 'fail'.
The process is to use the whistle as the single recall device when you're out with your dog. But remember, to condition your dog first to get used to the sound of the whistle and have the dog make the association between the whistle sound and very good emotions. Imagine this, if you have a dog who reacts positively to the sound of the fridge door being opened, you could use the whistle at the same time as opening the fridge door - the dog will associate one sound with the other.
You are trying to achieve a reaction from your dog which makes the sound of the whistle so overwhelmingly positive, they will want to come back to you.
Always reward lavishly, particularly in the early stages of training
If the dog does not come back for any reason STOP whistling. The last thing you should do is simply stand there whistling away and have the dog ignore you - that's a disaster and would also suggest that the foundation sound-association work hasn't yet been properly put in place.