Expanding the recall with whistle training

18 Jan

As we’ve become more and more interested in doing field work with Ilsa and Gumbo, we’ve realized the importance of skills like a basic recall. However, in the field, their distance away from us can increase greatly. Plus, they are intensely focused while pursuing birds. Trying to enforce the recall with just a “here” command can be futile. Either they can’t hear me (I’m not very loud to begin with) or “here” is not powerful enough to pull them away from the job at hand.


This brings us to the whistle. This small but powerful tool allows for clear and direct communication from a distance. We are just getting started with whistle training, so I wanted to share our experience so far. Surprisingly, whistle training methods for pointing dogs have been difficult to find (or I’m just not looking in the right places). So we have pieced together some information from the few sources we have found along with some tips from our friends. There are four basic commands we want to connect to the whistle:

1) Here
2) Change direction
3) Go hunt
4) Whoa

I think “here” is pretty self explanatory and is the only command we have worked on so far. Change direction is to make the dog look up at us and we give a hand signal as to which direction to work. Go hunt is a command to send the dogs out. And whoa is to make the dogs stop and stand dead in their tracks and not move a muscle. The first decision we had to make is what our whistle commands would be. We decided to use four sharp peeps as the here command. Those four peeps have a small pause after the first two peeps. We decided to do it this way to use the first two peeps get the dog’s attention, and the second two peeps are to make it clear that the command is “here”. The change direction command is just two sharp peeps. We are trying to make it as easy as possible on our Vs, so two peeps should make them look up but instead of instructing them to return to us, we will give them a hand signal to tell them which direction to go. Go hunt will be a single VERY brief peep, and whoa will be a long loud blast.

To start teaching the “here” command with the whistle, we verbally give the “here” command followed by the four whistles. So far, we have primarily worked with Gumbo. He caught on quickly. After three or four tries, we decided to give it a shot without saying “here”. We had planned on doing this with Gumbo on a check cord, but he seemed to be understanding and sure enough, he came straight to me after four whistles. Yay Gumbo!

Our plan is to keep working on this routinely to make it just as ingrained as the “here” command. Our next decision to make is whether we should use the same commands for Ilsa that we use for Gumbo. We have effectively been able to use “here” with both of them and direct it to either dog specifically by using their name. We know some people use “here” with one dog and “come” with another, but we are planning to try using the same whistle commands with each dog but changing to a higher pitch for Ilsa. It has been my experience that if a mistake is made it’s usually by the handler, not the dog, so we’re trying to make it easier on ourselves by limiting the number of whistle commands we need to know ;-).

Finally, I just wanted to share one great resource I found while looking for a whistle. Gun Dog Supply has lots of great information about choosing a whistle. We ended up going with the Acme Thunderer for now. We’re looking forward to working with these commands more in the weeks to come! If you have any tips on whistle training, please share! We’d love to hear any suggestions.

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One Response to “Expanding the recall with whistle training”

  1. 2browndawgs January 18, 2012 at 12:56 PM #

    Good luck with it. It sounds like you are on your way.

    Pointer whistle training sounds very different than retriever whistle training. We use the same whistle commands for both of our dogs and the same whistle tone. But then we only teach a sit whistle and recall whistle and all the rest (casting) is done with voice command and/or hand signals (for advanced dogs). But it is a different type of hunting and hunt testing. With upland they learn a recall whistle.

    And we love Gun Dog Supply. We order from that site frequently. 🙂

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