Getting Started with Dog Whistle Training
Dog whistle training is an effective way to develop control over your dog while he is either physically out of sight or out of earshot of a voice command. Working dogs such as hunting dogs, search and rescue, and show dogs often need to have numerous ways to communicate with their handler. Dog whistle training helps keep animals safe while doing their jobs for humans.
However, working dogs aren’t the only ones that can benefit from whistle training. You can learn to use a whistle to help any dog respond better to commands and even stop a dog from barking. Professional dog trainers agree that consistency is the key with all dog training.
Understanding Dog Whistle Training
Training your puppy using a whistle has advantages over using voice commands. While you’ll have to practice using a dog whistle, once you get the hang of it, training your dog becomes much easier. He’ll know exactly what you want him to do through consistent commands. Like all training, dog whistle training becomes much easier when practicing the right things.
Voice commands can get inconsistent quickly. When you use voice commands, your tone of voice may accidentally communicate frustration or anger. Training an energetic (and at times stubborn) animal will test even those with the best of patience. If you lose your patience, your pup will recognize that you’re not happy and he’ll get confused. When you first start whistle training, first master basic voice commands followed by the whistle.
If you and your dog compete in dog trials, the dog whistle has clear advantages. When using your voice to give one command, you may place your body incorrectly leading to an inaudible command, thus confusion and errors. Using a dog whistle may help you to avoid these types of human errors.
Getting a New Puppy: Positive Reinforcement Training
Puppies start learning as soon as they are born. Good pet owners and breeders begin working on socializing puppies early and start basic obedience training when puppies are just weeks old. As soon as a puppy opens his eyes and begins walking, you can start some training. Just like human babies, a puppy’s attention span is short. Whistle training that uses higher frequencies that you might not even hear isn’t what you want to do first.
You need to start with simple voice commands that you can also hear and control. Realize that the short attention span means you can’t work for hours with your puppy. In fact, you’ll want to work for just a few minutes at a time. A good frequency of training sessions is three times a day where your puppy can succeed. Keep them short and sweet, focusing on one command at a time (sit, stay, down, and come). As soon as the puppy is 7 to 8 weeks old with a good handle on simple voice commands, you can begin whistle training.
From a Verbal Cue to Whistle Commands
Early training often uses a short leash with voice commands and positive reinforcement training such as loving pets or treats. This sets up an environment for success. Begin training your puppy with basic commands including sit, down, stay, and come. Using treats or dry food for a reward will let your puppy know when he has done what you told him to do.
Pro tip: If your puppy does something wrong and you want him to come to you, don’t use “come” to correct him. If your intent is to discipline him, he will quickly associate “come” with something bad. This is why short leash training is effective in controlling young distracted puppies – essentially, they can’t escape your commands.
When you begin practicing whistle commands, say a basic voice command and then give the whistle sequence. Because your puppy already knows voice commands, he will now associate it with the whistle as well. For instance, if you want to train your dog to sit away from you. Give a single, short blast. When you give the “recall” command, create a different whistle command. A few short whistles in succession is the most common recall whistle command.
Keeping whistle commands in alignment with common practice is good for two reasons. First, it allows any handler to control your dog if necessary. Second, many dog whistles are silent to human ears. You may not realize your dog is hearing a command from another dog owner. Consistency is critical for your dog’s success and safety.
High Frequencies and Dog Ears
Your dog’s hearing is so much more intense than a human’s hearing ability. They hear higher-pitched sounds well above the level that we can ever hope to hear. Human ears aren’t able to hear much higher than 20,000 hertz which is the top of the range of the human voice but a dog can easily hear a sound that reaches from 47,000 to about 65,000 hertz.
Dogs’ ancestors are wolves, who survived by being able to hear the tiniest sound so they could capture and eat prey. In fact, a dog’s hearing is so sensitive he can detect earthquakes before humans feel it because he can hear the rumbling. It also means that a vacuum cleaner will be painfully loud to him – which is why he’ll freak out when you try to clean up all that dog hair.
A dog’s hearing is so acute that he can pick out the difference between a C-natural and a C-sharp. Ultrasonic whistles work at such a high frequency that our ears can’t hear the sound – but your dog can. These ultrasonic sounds are also loud to dogs, getting their attention. In fact, they can be like a bullhorn next to their ears. Keep that in mind as you blow – it doesn’t need to be with your full lung force for them to hear it.
How Dog Whistles Work
When you blow through the mouthpiece of your dog whistle, a high-pitched sound comes from the other end. These whistles are made from different materials, such as metal or plastic. Choose from either pealess whistles or those with a small pea-like ball inside. Each whistle has its own tone and pitch. This is vital to keep in mind as you consider what you want to buy. If you choose an ultrasonic whistle, train your dog consistently.
The whistle you choose should allow you to teach your dog so he carries out commands. But, remember that if you buy a whistle and lose it, it’s not just a matter of finding a replacement to buy and begin using the next day. It needs to be compatible. The sound and tone of the new whistle may be completely different from what you had before.
This means that your dog has to go through a new training period as you teach her to respond to the new whistle. While he’ll recognize the sequence of sounds, he won’t recognize the pitch or tone and you may have to play with the adjustable frequency feature to fine-tune things. This means you’re going to have to teach your dog to recognize the sounds from your new whistle. This may take from 10 to 14 days. Knowing you may lose a whistle, have an exact backup whistle just in case.
Training Your Dog with Whistles
The process of training follows many of the same principles of positive reinforcement training. You want to set up training where you control your dog, give consistent commands, and reward success.
Leash Dog and Enclosed Areas
Pups that get distracted or overly-excited can’t listen to your commands very well. Move to a quiet room with few distractions. Have a special dog treat or a favorite toy handy so that when he responds correctly you can reward him.
Schedule training for a time when your dog is likely to be hungry. Remember the frequency of training is critical to success. The process is simple: voice command followed by whistle command, when your dog complies, a treat reward is given.
If your puppy is stubborn, leash on him and use a head collar so you can have additional control. With his leash and a head collar, you’ll won’t be chasing your dog around or having to repeat the command. As soon as he obeys, release the pressure.
Treat Training: The Best in Positive Reinforcement Rewards
Ideally, your dog finds your love and affection to be the absolute best reward for following commands. However, an irresistible liver treat is so tempting and captivating, that it will keep his attention long enough for you to give a command and get a response. Some dogs will work for any treat while others need slightly more aromatic treats to waft the right smell to their noses.
A treat pouch is a great way to keep treats on hand so you can quickly do short training sessions. It doesn’t take long for your dog to know that the treat pouch means goodies and he will only get them for following commands. As your dog learns the commands, alter the reward with praise and loving belly rubs for the treat. This shows your dog that there are other rewards for obedience and ultimately your love and praise are what drives most dogs to follow commands.
Give a Whistle Command Only Once
As with any command you give your dog, give it only once and make sure you can reinforce the desired action. This means when you start going with whistles exclusively, you will need to make sure your dog is crystal clear on what the whistle command is. Some dog owners give a voice command repeatedly, expecting their dog to obey. This is a mistake. Your dog actually learns that it’s okay to delay obeying your command until he’s ready.
The same pitfall happens with inexperienced whistle command trainers. Give commands only once, then wait for a few beats and force compliance with the leash and collar. By whistling the same command over and over, you’re training your dog that disobeying commands is okay.
Slowly Phase Food Rewards Out
At first, give your pup a treat every time he responds correctly to any command, voice or whistle. As positive reinforcement training, the treats give immediately after the command is successfully done explain to your dog that they did the correct behavior. As he becomes consistent with commands, phase out treats and replace them with love and petting.
As more time passes, treats are less important than a “good boy” and a pat on his head. These are your “secondary reinforcers,” which are replacing the treats. Having multiple ways to reward your dog is important to getting compliance even when food isn’t around or convenient.
Secondary reinforcers are important for two reasons. First, you don’t want your dog to respond only to a treat. Second, you may not always have treats ready when you want heim to obey. Remember that working dogs are often far away receiving commands – treats aren’t convenient.
Short Training Sessions Daily
Your puppy has a short attention span. A higher frequency of short training sessions will be much more effective in helping her to learn to obey your commands. You may only be able to start with a few minutes in the first few sessions.
Try to work up to several 15-minute training sessions daily. Keep sessions short. Focus on the basic commands such as stay, sit, and down. You don’t want to extend training to the point that your dog is tired and starts to make mistakes. Short now is the best plan for long-term success.
Once he is used to obeying you in a quiet room, expand training, moving to every room of your home and outside. Get the rest of your family involved in training so that your dog obeys each member of your family.
Include these commands into daily events. For instance, during feeding, tell him (or give the whistle command) for “sit.” Use this command at other times such as when you want him to sit before allowing him in or out of the house.
Whistles for Deaf Dogs
Deaf dogs have developed a problem within their ears, reducing their ability to hear well. Some breeds are more prone to deafness from birth as a congenital issue while other working dogs such as gun dogs develop damage from being around loud noises. If your dog isn’t completely deaf, he may be able to respond to a lower frequency whistle – one audible to the human ear.
It is difficult, if not impossible for hard-of-hearing dogs to hear a regular training whistle. Add a lower-frequency or emergency whistle to your training toolbox. These whistles are extremely loud at hit lower-frequencies many hard-of-hearing dogs are able to hear and discern. Add hand signals to your training routines so that your dog will learn various cues by sound and sight.
Even though he is hard-of-hearing, your dog may continue to respond to your cue during training sessions. Practice and train outside with your dog where you can control him but help him learn the cues of a louder whistle. Keep in mind that most of these whistles for hard-of-hearing dogs are audible to you so be prepared with your own hearing protection as you start to work farther distances that require louder whistle blows.
Hunting Dogs and Gun Dogs
Begin to train your hunting dogs early, when they are still puppies. Using a professional dog trainer can help training. Learning from others with experience will help a new dog owner and trainer avoid common mistakes.
A whistle is essential for hunting dog training because they are almost always out of sight or human voice range at some point in a hunt. Hunting dogs will learn how to respond to a whistle commands such as heeling (perhaps with a horse), swimming and retrieving. Retriever field trials involve each one of these activities, including running through small ponds.
Gun dog training teaches your pet to search and flush, hunt and retrieve game that has been shot. It’s important to get gun dogs conditioned to the sounds of gunshots but keep that conditioning separate with obedience training at first.
Safety Issues for Dogs
Any time you take your dog out for training time, safety the most important thing to keep in mind. You don’t want your pup or dog running into traffic, interacting with an aggressive dog, or wild animal. Make sure training environments are safe and secure when he is learning until he consistently pays attention to your signals and the whistle at all times.
Hunting and working dogs tend to do anything and everything to complete the job. This means they can find themselves in dangerous water or approaching aggressive animals. This is why you need to have total control over your dog and be aware of his surroundings to recall him when he is in danger.
Whether you are training your dog from the beginning or for a specific activity, consistency in commands, whistles, and training is key. Most dog owners who utilize whistle commands mix them up with voice commands and often hand signals depending on the situation. This simply gives your dog three ways to communicate with you regardless of the physical environment obstacles such as sightline or external noises.
If you are having issues with getting your puppy or older dog to properly respond to voice, whistle, or hand signal commands, check in with a professional dog trainer. Trainers are the best way to troubleshoot training issues.
Kimberlee Leonard is a certified pet first aid and CPR instructor. Her company, Safer Family Pets helps families prepared for worst-case scenarios including evacuations during natural disasters. She enjoys time with her beagle mix, Arky who enjoys “sit-walks” where he sits more than walks, enjoying the fresh mountain air.