Whistle Training: Dog Basics & The Right Whistle
When you have reached a point in your training where the dog understands and consistently responds to vocal commands it is a good time to introduce the whistle. If you are having trouble with the verbal commands there is really no reason to throw a whistle into the mix and confuse the dog. They absolutely have to know the basics verbally to continue training with a whistle. It is a crawl, walk, run type of situation as any other training and only by overlaying the whistle with commands that are already understood will it be effective.
Introducing the whistle is a simple process when done correctly and it is also a quick process if you are consistent with your dog. Have the dog on a leash or check cord so that you still have control over the situation if you need to make corrections. There are a few basic whistle commands that are universal and that is: one blast = sit, three or four repeated blasts = here/come, and one long trill noise = change direction. I do not train with any more than these three commands because you want to keep it simple just as many other trainers will tell you.
When you have your dog walking at "heel" and you give the "sit" command follow it immediately with one blast of the whistle. You can start with each time you give the sit command blow the whistle, then every other time give the verbal command, and eventually the dog will understand that the verbal and the whistle command mean the same thing. Consistently do this in sessions until you have slowly dropped the verbal command all together. For the "here/come" command it will work the same way. When the dog is retrieving introduce the 3-4 blasts as they make their way back to you while still giving the verbal command. Just as with the "sit" sessions slowly drop the verbal command until it is no longer needed. The same consistency is needed to make your "turn/change direction" command into the long trill sound of the whistle so you can give them your hand signals and show them where they need to go. This training could take anywhere from 5-6 days or up to 2-3 weeks depending how fast your dog responds and especially on how consistent you are with the training.
Now, before any of this training you must be able to choose the right whistle. There are many different ones available and everyone has their favorites. I work with the FOX 40 Classic Whistle and the FOX 40 Mini. They are both a pealess design whistle which makes them perfect for many of the hunting situations we are in. On days where the wind is blowing a million miles an hour and it is freezing rain these little whistles will truly hold up. They are loud enough to be heard over the wind, rustling corn stalks, and water interferences. The pealess design means there is no cork ball inside the whistle to make its sound and this is why it has no chance of freezing up from saliva blown into the whistle.
We use the Roy Gonia Whistle for short distance training, starting young pups, and out in the field when there isn't to much interference noise. These whistles are not quite as loud and work perfectly for those situations. The other whistle I would recommend is the Roy Gonia MEGA Whistle which is much louder for noisy situations and it directs the sound out to the dog. It does not allow the sound to go back or to the sides and protects the handlers ears.
The Acme line of whistles is the oldest in the world and they have pioneered many of the whistles used today. I do recommend looking into other whistles such as these: Acme T2000 Pealess Tornado (one of the worlds most powerful whistles for extreme conditions/high interference), Acme Silent Dog Whistles (used by many people who cannot handle the sound of training with whistles: very LOUD to dogs very QUIET to people), and the Dual Tone Whistles (able to make the trill and sharp blasts all in one whistle). I believe the Acme, FOX 40, and Roy Gonia whistles are the top three brands to choose from and are the most highly recommended by all trainers. It will come down to personal preference and what whistle is going to fit your hunting/training situation.
Just as a quick note to let you know how effective this training can be: the photo that is part of this article shows our AKC/UKC Registered Chocolate Labrador Retriever Stud Dog "Brawnson." When he was one year old we had him following all verbal commands perfectly so we decided to introduce the whistle. It took him 5 days at 2 sessions/day for 15-20 minutes each to use whistle commands and completely drop all vocal commands. Although it may take some dogs longer to understand hopefully this will give you some encouragement to be consistent!
Kelly Olson- Professional Gundog Breeder & Trainer