Whistle training for the recall

Whistle training for the recall may stop your dog ignoring you

One of the key techniques in my training bag is whistle training for the recall. This simple piece of equipment can be a game changer when used to communicate with your dog without using our language.

Perhaps the one word a dog quickly understands is their name. As a dog trainer working in Dorset I meet dogs every day. Most have the usual names we would associate with our pets, others have more unusual names, some I struggle to say. 

We use our pet’s name for many reasons and thankfully most are related to positive outcomes. We use the dog’s name to call them when we want them to return.

It is important to acknowledge that dogs do not understand our language.  What they hear are tones and sounds which they learn to link with an action which will deliver a reward. A classic example is the word ‘sit’  They have no understanding what the word means or how that word links into the world around them.  

What they learn is the sound we make when we say ‘sit’ means they can get a reward if they perform a body change where the bottom is on the floor. If we link this action with a body movement such such as raising our hand at the time we say sit we can get the dog to perform the desired action of sitting.  In return we then give the dog a treat.  Given the dog likes repeating behaviours which are rewarding we can quickly train a dog to sit.

Dogs don’t need us talking to them

A gun dog trainer once told me the best piece of training equipment I could have in my bag is duck tape.  When I asked why he said it was to put over the owners mouth.  Dog’s don’t want or need us to be talking to them!!  I was once training a lady who never stopped talking to her dog.  She talked about the weather, shopping etc. She complained the dog ignored her when she gave it a command.  I wonder why??

So given this article is about whistle training for the recall why talk about the human voice?

What is the impact of the human voice on the recall?

Many dog owners use their voice to call their dog’s name in the hope the dog hears the familiar sound and returns.  Most of the time this actually works and the dog will return back to the owner. Being sceptical, I usually think the dog only returned because there was nothing better to do, however I do know of a chap who has a solid recall with his voice alone.  

Perhaps this is because he understands the impact of his voice can have on the success of the recall.  He has also spent a long time proofing the recall in a lot of environments and provides excellent leadership to his dogs.  He is very proactive to whats happening around him so rarely needs to test the recall. Like myself he does practice recall nearly everyday. 

What happens when the dog does not come back ,when you recall them, if you are using their name?  My years of experience has given me an insight to human behaviour when events don’t happen how we are expecting.  We get frustrated, stressed and maybe angry.  We project these traits by our body language and of course with our voice. 

Imagine the scenario where the dog has failed to come back to the owner when they called the dog. If the dog normally does this then the owner will quickly change their response and start to get stressed, maybe angry and starts shouting the dogs name. We have all seen the owner who is shouting across the park to a dog who is totally ignoring them. 

Shouting at your dog will make things worse

Why would a dog come back to someone who sounds stressed or angry?  Many owners actually punish their dogs for coming back to them without realising it.  Given we only have 1-2 seconds to reward or correct a behaviour then it is easy to see that as the dog gets back to you and you start shouting at the dog, you have actually just punished the fact it came back to you.  No wonder then the dog ignores you and the more you shout, curse and continue this even if the dog does come back the worse this will get. 

We also have the issue that the dog may have various people who take it for a walk.  Most likely they will have different ways of calling the dog back using different words and tones. In the end this all becomes very confusing for the dog and frustrating for us. 

In all my training be that  puppy, dog or gun dog training one of the first tools I get the client to start using is a whistle.

Whistle training for the recall

The whistle is the tool of choice for the working dog for very good reasons. 

  1. Once trained it opens up a very simple, but effective communication channel between owner and dog.
  2. Easy to train with the right technique
  3. The sound can travel over great distance. 
  4. It becomes a distinct tool which tells the dog these instructions are for you.
  5. The whistle removes any emotion or stress from the command
  6. Standardises the recall command amongst different owners of the dog. 

Training the whistle is a simple task of linking the sound with a very high value treat.  The treat chosen must be the highest value of all the treats you use and it is only ever used to reward a return to a whistle command. 

As the owner you must first condition the whistle.  I use 3 quick succession whistles for a recall as that was what I was taught.  I have seen some use 5.  The number is not that important, but the technique is. 

Have your high quality treats and blow 3 whistles and give your dog a treat.  They don’t have to be sitting or anything. Repeat this action 4-5 times and do this several times a day in the house and in the garden or on a walk.  What we are trying to do in basic terms is to get your dog to understands that whenever he hears 3 whistle sounds it means he will get a very high quality treat he never normally gets. 

After about 3 days you can start to blow the whistle when they are in another room and what your expecting is them to run to you in anticipation of the wonderful treat.  Do the same when the dog is in the garden.  Practice and practice this in very low distraction environments. You are proofing the technique.

Don’t rush using the whistle in a distraction environment

What you cannot do is take this method and suddenly go out on your normal high distraction walks and expect it too work…..it won’t and you will have taught your dog it is rewarding to ignore the whistle.  Part of my recall training programme is to take you to the next level once we have conditioned the whistle so that we proof the technique in a variety of environments and situations. Remember training is about setting up situations so you can get a win win not testing the dog so it fails. 

Which whistle should I use?

There is only one whistle I can recommend and that is the Acme whistle  because it does what it says on the tin.  For dog training you needs the 210.5 or the 211.5.  I use the 210.5 as that is what my trainer was using.  

The number just refers to the frequency of the whistle. You should buy several of them and put them in places where you will have access to when you have the dog with you. I do sell the 210.5 at cost (£6) because so many owners don’t have a whistle.

PLEASE do not use the silent whistle.  They have their place, but not in recall training.  The reason why is you cannot hear it so how do you know your dog has heard it or is it just ignoring you?

Whistle training for the recall

How often should you practice getting your dog to return when you blow the whistle?

There is a simple answer to this one…..EVERYDAY!!

Yes you should practice whistle training for recall everyday. By setup I mean you are trying to setup a win win scenario. Don’t do it if there are distractions and don’t do it if your dog cannot directly see you. These win win situation reinforce this behaviour to the dog that when it hears the 3 whistles it returns to you. 

If there is doubt about your dog’d recall they should not be off lead, but on a long training line. If your dog is a little slow or does ignore you go straight into your recall failure training and practice that. 

The time to practice is not when you need a live solid recall!!  Make sure when you are practising you are learning and evaluating.  Don’t just go through the motions or you will not improve.  Get someone to video you so you can see your technique.  With your permission video feedback will be part of the training. 

Muttley Solutions can help you have a solid whistle recall

There is nothing more satisfying as an owner, to be in a park, and your dog is off lead and doing their thing.  You blow 3 whistles and other people look round to see your dog returning to you and you haven’t said a word. Your dog is back on the lead safely, you are stress free and you know some of those people will look at their own dog and wish!!

If that sounds like a place you would like to be and you are prepared to put the work in then contact me.