Selecting a whistle for your hunting or sporting dog – what to consider
If you are looking for a whistle for training your hunting or gun dog, you may be shocked at how many options there are. It can be confusing. In this post I will explain the use of whistles in training and help you understand the kind of whistle you should use to train your gun dog.
Why use a whistle to train my hunting dog?
Whistles are used as a form of communication with your dog in the field. But this does not happen on its own. Your retriever must be taught to respond to the whistle.
It is a lot like teaching your dog a second language. During obedience training, you taught your dog commands like SIT, HERE, HEAL, etc. Your dog learned a response for each word you taught him. When you whistle train your retriever, you are doing the same thing, only replacing words with whistles. For hunting dogs, there are basically two whistle commands – SIT and HERE (or COME).
Advantages of using a whistle to communicate to your retriever
There are many advantages to using a whistle to communicate to your dog in the field.
- Whistle sound travels further than voice
- Whistles create a clear definitive command
- Whistles allow you to command without emotion or pleading
- Save your voice and more peaceful hunting
What to consider when selecting a whistle for my gun dog
While it may be tempting to think all whistles are the same, they are not. Sporting dog whistles are designed for function in the field. The main difference between the designs is tone, distance the sound travels and the design of the whistle.
Here are some of the decisions you will need to make when selecting a whistle for your hunting dog.
Pea or pealess whistle?
Pea is the term used to describe the small cork ball inside some whistles. The pea vibrates within the whistle allowing you to form a “trill” sound. Some people prefer whistles with a pea for this reason. But there is one downfall. If you live somewhere with cold winters, the saliva from your mouth will enter the whistle and freeze the pea so that it no longer works. For this reason, I use a pealess whistle. Pealess whistles do not have a cork ball in them and are unaffected by the cold.
If you decide to use a whistle with a pea, it is a good idea to carry a backup whistle in case the pea freezes up and stops working.
Plastic or metal?
Most whistles designed for hunting or sporting breeds are made from high-density plastic. But a few are made from metal.
Metal whistles look nice, but again you must consider your winters. Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows what happens when you put your tongue on metal in the winter. Putting wet lips on a metal whistle in extreme cold could cause a similar situation.
Regular or mega whistle?
Mega whistles have a plastic megaphone attached to a regular whistle. The megaphone pushes the sound away from the handler toward the dog. These are especially popular for owners or trainers who compete their dogs in hunt tests or field trials, or for hunters that hunt in windy conditions where it can be difficult for the dog to hear the whistle.
It may also be easier on the handler’s ears, given that the sound is directed away.
Choosing your whistle
Here are some questions that may help you decide what whistle would be best for you:
- Will I be using my retriever to hunt?
- If so, what kind of hunting.
- How far away from me is my dog usually?
- What kind of conditions can I experience when I hunt? Wind? Cold?
- Will I be competing in hunt tests or field trials?
- Is my retriever mostly a family dog or companion dog?
- What are the weather conditions I will be exposed to while using my whistle?
How to train your dog to respond to whistle commands
As I stated before, your retriever MUST be trained to respond to whistle commands. It does not happen automatically.
The most common whistle commands are one blast or toot on the whistle for SIT and three blasts in a row for HERE or COME.
You train your retriever to respond to whistles by working on obedience. Start by reviewing your commands using words. Make sure that your dog is responsive to your voice and is obeying the voice commands quickly and accurately. If your dog does not respond to your voice commands, this is not the time to start whistle training. Go back and work on each voice command until the dog is responding quickly and accurately to each command.
Teaching SIT with whistle
Once your dog is responding to your voice commands, you can start adding in the whistle. Do this by saying the voice command SIT, toot the whistle one blast. then say SIT again. When your dog obeys, praise him.
Continue working on SIT adding the whistle with the command. Repetition is key. Give your dog time to understand that the whistle means the same thing as the verbal command and then slowly phase out the verbal command and use only the whistle command.
Please note. It is important to understand that SIT at your side and remote SIT (away from you) is not the same in a dog’s mind. You must teach these two types of SIT individually, both with voice commands and with the whistle.
Teaching HERE or COME with whistle
Follow a similar training regimen as stated above. Have your dog SIT, walk away from him. Call him to you using a verbal command of HERE or COME and toot the whistle three times quickly, then repeat the command. Repeat this action many times and slowly phase out the verbal command leaving only the whistle command.
Your dog will become remarkably familiar with the whistle you decide to use. Like your dog knows your voice, he will also know your whistle. So if you decide to change whistles, understand that you may need to do a little conditioning with your dog so that he understands that the new whistle means the same thing as the old one did.
Final thoughts on what kind of whistle to use to train my gun dog
Whistles are an extremely useful tool when training your hunting or gun dog. They make communication in the field much easier, but you must take the time to whistle train your dog. Do not expect this to happen automatically and with no work on your part.
If you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.