How to Use a Silent Dog Whistle
A silent dog whistle is a training device used by dog owners, hunters, and professional dog trainers to give commands over longer distances where verbal commands may not work. While the human ear may hear a faint, high-frequency sound from the whistle, a dog’s hearing is able to hear the whistle loud and clear.
Properly using a silent dog whistle means more than randomly giving it a quick blow. While that will get your dog’s attention, it won’t direct him to do anything specific. Learn how a silent dog whistle works and the best way to implement it into your daily dog training exercises for the best results.
What a Silent Dog Whistle Is
A silent dog whistle, also known as the Galton’s whistle named after its inventor Francis Galton, is a training device that uses ultrasonic sounds. These sounds are barely audible by humans but extremely audible by dogs and other animals including cats. In fact, cats have an even higher pitch range than dogs so don’t be surprised if your cat gets a bit worked up when you use a silent dog whistle.
Dog whistles are most popular with dog handlers who need to control their dogs from extended distances. Hunting, search and rescue, and performance dogs often work out of the sight of their handlers. The silent dog whistle is an effective way to send commands that don’t get diluted by distance or external noises such as weather or machinery.
Dog owners at home can also greatly benefit from learning to consistently use a silent dog whistle to work with basic commands and deal with behavioral issues such as incessant barking.
A Dog’s Hearing vs. Human Hearing
Like most other senses such as sight and taste, a dog’s hearing is much more astute than his best friend’s. Dogs are born both blind and deaf, with hearing developed by day 21. By this age, a dog’s ability to hear and discern sounds at a distance is four times better than the human ear.
While dogs with pointed ears, such as Akitas generally have better hearing than dogs with floppy ears such as Beagles, most dogs are able to discern many higher-pitched sounds that humans aren’t physically capable of hearing. A dog’s frequency range sits higher than humans at around 67 kilohertz. The human ear is more adept at lower range frequencies with the average range maxing out at 24 kilohertz (for those with good hearing).
As humans age, it is more common to have issues hearing the high-pitch frequencies. This is why some people will hear a barely audible sound from a dog whistle while others won’t hear it at all. Animals such as dogs have an added advantage with 18 muscles to help them position the ear to best capture sounds from different directions.
Why Use a Silent Dog Whistle
Dog owners love to give their pets freedom to run in parks, on hiking trails, and along shorelines. Remember that controlling your dog in open areas is imperative for his safety and the safety of others. Not being able to recall a dog who is running out into a street or about to interact with an aggressive animal leads to more heartache than necessary.
You also want to make sure your dog doesn’t cause any problems for others just trying to enjoy open space as well. If you don’t want to always have your dog on a short leash, silent dog whistle training is a great way to extend your control range even with the most stubborn dog.
Types of Dog Training Whistles
Most dog whistles are a thin cylinder a few inches long that emits a high-pitched sound when air flows through it but not all dog whistles are designed the same. The most dog whistle types hit the kilohertz frequency between 23 to 54 kilohertz. This means it is well above what most humans hear from even close distances but well within the range for dogs, even those with hearing difficulties.
The common types of dog training whistles found on the market include:
- Ultrasonic Dog Whistle: A diverse whistle used by professional trainers, patrol dog handlers, and pet owners to aid in correction, obedience, and behavioral deterrent training. This is an adjustable dog whistle that allows humans to make out some audible sounds.
- Silent Dog Whistle: Designed to make noises above the range of human hearing but with an adjustable frequency that customizes it to a dog’s ability to hear certain sounds up to three to four hundred yards.
- Emergency Survival Whistle: Audible to humans but designed to get the attention of a dog in order to assist a distressed dog owner using the whistle to generate 150-decibel call which is louder than a jet engine.
- Gun Dog Whistle: Technically not a silent whistle sitting around 5.5 kilohertz and is primarily used with gun dogs such as Spaniels that often have issues with hearing.
- Anti-barking Whistle: Works with dogs of various breeds by fine-tuning high pitch levels to capture attention when a dog barks depending on unique hearing needs and conditions.
Silent Dog Whistle vs Clicker Training
Professional dog trainers use and teach dog owners various methods to communicate with pets. Methods include verbal commands, hand signals, dog whistles and clickers. When it comes to choosing between a whistle or a dog clicker, pet owners need to understand the purpose behind each. Whistles tend to be command instigators while clickers mark an event and are therefore reactive.
Whistles use high-frequency sounds to communicate a command or cue to a dog. Dog whistles help dog owners make commands uniform, meaning the sound from the whistle doesn’t change. Verbal commands are subject to volume, tone, and emotion. Even being sick can change the consistency given with verbal commands. A whistle equals the playing field to give commands. They are also heard at much farther distances, making them much more effective for field training.
Are Dog Whistles Better Than Human Verbal Commands
Most dog owners are taught to use verbal commands for most basic obedience training needs. After all, you can’t misplace your voice except when you’ve been yelling at your dog to get him to stop barking at the Amazon delivery man. Voice commands are a great system to give your dog simple commands when he is close by and you already have his attention.
This is why professional dog trainers work with dog owners to use consistent and simple commands. The more complex a command is, the more difficult it is to remain consistent. This is why every dog trainer will chuckle just a little bit when someone says their dog just won’t follow the commands. It’s usually not the dog; it’s us humans that confuse them.
Dog whistles work because the command is less likely to get confused or muffled by other noises. Once the frequency level is set, dogs will hear the same thing every single time. Your pooch won’t confuse you yelling at the kids to, “Sit down at the dinner table,” in frustration with your command to have him sit before you feed him. A dog whistle can be used at longer distances as well, making it ideal for training working dogs that aren’t always right next to their handler.
Positive Reinforcement Training
Using a silent dog whistle should be done in conjunction with a positive reinforcement training program. You can’t just use the whistle and expect your dog to discern what the correct behavior was without giving him a treat, praise, or some other reward. Dogs want to be part of your family and are eager to please. This is why rewards work for training.
Positive reinforcement training, with verbal or whistle commands, is a simple way to develop a communication system between you and your dog. If you want to teach your dog to sit on command, you best accomplish this by making sure you have his attention with his eyes focused on you, give him a simple command, “Sit.” When he does actually sit, praising him or giving him a treat immediately lets him know that he got it right. Repetition helps him reinforce the learned behavior.
Once he understands the basics of verbal commands, introducing whistle commands becomes easier. He’ll already be able to correlate the whistle command with what he knows is a correct verbal command.
Common Whistle Commands
While silent whistles help maintain consistency with commands, you can’t just blow the whistle randomly. Just like sit or come are common commands, you will have common whistle commands so anyone who is whistle trained can effectively handle your dog if needed.
Two of the common whistle commands for dogs are:
- One Blast: One breath blown into the whistle to last two seconds to get his attention and have him sit and look for you. This is the sit command.
- Multiple Blasts: Several quick blows into the whistle in short succession that tells your dog to immediately return to you. This is the come command.
As your dog masters basic commands, extend his training by using specific sequences of short and long blasts. Dogs trained for agility or performance often have many commands worked out with their handlers that include moving left or right, jumping, begging, dancing, or rolling over.
Start with the voice to whistle sequence with new commands. Once your dog understands the language connection of the whistle, then reverse the sequence so your dog gets the whistle to verbal command correlation as well.
Dealing with Incessant Barking
Many professional dog trainers are teaching dog owners how to use a silent dog whistle to help deal with incessant barking. This is a training method that gives the dog a command but doesn’t create any additional noise with shouting commands over a barking dog. It also curbs the barking problem without further aggravating neighbors.
Training with an ultrasonic whistle is easier than you think. With a little bit of consistency and a bag of treats, you can reduce dog barking within a few short training sessions.
To use the dog whistle to teach your dog not to bark:
- Be prepared with the whistle when your dog normally gets triggers or starts to bark.
- Blow the whistle to redirect his attention to the high-pitched noise only he hears.
- State, “no bark” in a calm fashion while you have his attention.
- Give him a treat and praise him for doing the desired behavior.
The use of the whistle removes the impulse to yell at or punish your dog to get his attention. Punishing your dog in training can actually lead to other issues such as dog anxiety and submissive urination issues. Finding a less harsh method such as the silent dog whistle is a humane and extremely effective method of training animals.
Training Hunting Dogs
Hunting dogs have to be able to respond to hand signals or silent whistle commands for two reasons. The first reason is that they can often be out of voice range. The second reason is they are often integral in flushing out fowl and added distractions of hunters screaming commands would ruin the element of surprise.
While whistle training is very effective to get working and hunting dogs to obey commands from longer distances up to several hundred yards, it takes time to build distance obedience. Many duck dog owners and dog trainers actually recommend starting whistle training with your dog on a leash in a closed yard so you can correct any wrong behavior quickly. They also highly recommend training your puppy to understand basic voice commands first.
Your dog’s first whistle command should be a “one blast” whistle that teaches him to sit and wait. Essentially the first blast is your way to gather his attention before you direct him to do something else. As dogs progress to water work, the one blast becomes his signal to look for your next signal.
Start with a short leash and expand to longer training leads, and always be cognizant of not releasing him from his sit too quickly. Wait until your dog has mastered the “one blast” to sit before going to “multiple blasts.”
Special Note for Whistles and Cold Weather Work
Some whistles are made of metal or have a pea in the as part of the sound mechanism. If you are working with dogs in winter conditions, both of these whistle types can be problematic. The metal whistle could leave you, the dog handler, with a bit more than chapped lips if temperatures drop enough. Whistles with a pea inside do tend to freeze and may not emit the right sound, if a sound at all when frozen.
Plastic whistles are a good alternative to the metal in these conditions. It is also wise to have a second whistle you keep as a backup if one does fail. Remember, particularly in outdoor hunting conditions that you need to have control over your dog to prevent him from continuing into a situation where he may get hurt.
When Silent Dog Whistle Training Doesn’t Work
As with all dog training, there are many factors that must happen for your dog to learn what you are teaching. The first thing always starts with dog owner training and learning how to consistently give commands to prevent confusion from your dog. Beyond trainer errors, there are instances where silent dog whistles won’t work. These instances are primarily the result of deafness in dogs.
Just like their human counterparts, a deaf or hard-of-hearing dog will have trouble responding to whistle training. There are actually 30 breeds of dogs (often white coat dogs) that are prone to deafness including the Australian Shepherd, Jack Russel Terrier, and Maltese. Some dogs are born with hearing issues while others develop them over time such as gun dogs constantly exposed to gunshots.
Symptoms of a dog with hearing issues include:
- Unreactive to everyday sounds such as an automobile horn
- Doesn’t respond to his name
- Has no reaction to squeaky toys
- Sleeps through sudden loud noises like thunder
If you are concerned about your dog having hearing issues, consult your veterinarian. He will help you determine any course of action that may be causing hearing issues such as an illness or infection. If the deafness is permanent, training your dog with the help of a professional dog trainer will transform sound-based commands to hand signals to help train your puppy or retrain an aging dog.
How to Safely Train Using Silent Dog Whistles
Just because you don’t hear the whistle doesn’t mean it is innocuous to your dog when not used properly. As such, always keep an eye on children playing with the whistle near your dog. Proper use of a dog whistle won’t hurt your dog or damage his hearing. Just like human ears, if a whistle is blasted right next to your dog’s ear, it will hurt and lead to potential damage.
When in doubt, consult with the pros. Professional dog trainers can help you learn the safest methods of silent dog whistle training. They will assess how to incorporate existing commands with new whistle commands and help everyone in the family properly use the dog whistle. When trained properly, everyone in the family especially your dog will have a more active and safe life.
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.