People seem amazed when they see a running dog instantly stop at the sound of a whistle. The funny thing is, there’s really nothing amazing about it if the dog has been trained properly. While stopping on the whistle isn’t necessarily difficult to teach, it does require repetition and persistence on your part.
The situations where this is a helpful command are many. Obviously, if you want your retriever to take a hand signal toward a fallen duck from 100 yards or more away, you have to stop him first so you can direct him. And wouldn’t be nice if when your dog is chasing a running rooster pheasant you could stop him while you catch up, then release him again?
Before asking your dog to whistle-stop in the field for the first time, you should start with some obedience-training routines. For example, walk your dog at heel, and then occasionally stop and toot on the whistle once. If you’ve already trained your dog to stop and sit when you stop walking, this will be easy. If you haven’t, you will have to show the dog what you want it to do by following the whistle with the “Sit” command when you stop.
Repeat these drills until he is sitting as soon as he hears the whistle. Don’t move to the next exercise until he is performing the command precisely and happily.
If you’ve already been training your retriever using the “baseball field” method, you will be way ahead in teaching the whistle-stop. Go the casting-pattern field, where your dog is already conditioned to taking casts from the pitcher’s mound. Now, standing at home plate with your dog sitting at your side, toss a bumper to second base and send the dog to retrieve it. After a couple of retrieves, toss the bumper to second base again, but this time give a whistle blast as the dog reaches the pitcher’s mound. I’ll bet he stops and turns around to face you. Now cast him to pick up a bumper from the pile at first or third base and praise him heavily when he returns with it.
That’s what happens in the best circumstances. Some dogs will try to walk back to you, others will ignore the whistle and still others will stop for a moment and then continue on. None of these are acceptable and must be corrected instantly. If your dog has been introduced to the electronic collar and you are positive he knows what your whistle command means, you can easily correct him.
The correction scenario looks like this: You send the dog and he ignores your whistle. You blow the whistle again, deliver a momentary (nick) correction with the e-collar, and blow the whistle again. It happens faster than it takes to explain it. The sequence is: tweet-nick-tweet. Once your dog responds properly, you’ve reached the first goal. Now you need to repeat, repeat, repeat this drill in different places and circumstances until you know he’s 100-percent reliable.
It is very important that your dog accepts the e-collar correction without voicing out or jumping around. That’s why I favor a collar with ultra-low correction levels and small increments between those levels such as a sportDOG® brand Model 1200 or 2400. The 1200 has eight levels and the 2400 has 30 levels. For more information, visit our products section. Like I said, your dog must be conditioned to the collar correction and understand what the whistle-stop command means before you start this exercise.
Here are a couple more things to remember. First, be careful about how many times you stop your dog with the whistle while he’s on the way to a retrieve, and never stop him twice in a row. This can lead to “popping,” which is when the dog stops himself even though you didn’t tell him to. If you send him all the way to second base every other time without stopping him, it will prevent a popping habit from starting.
Second, if your dog doesn’t stop the first time you blow the whistle, don’t keep blowing it over and over in hopes he’ll stop eventually. The whole point of the command is that your dog will hunt in your control and stop exactly where you want him to.
If you need to back up and learn more about basic obedience training and the proper way to use an e-collar before starting this exercise, I suggest you review the other articles by Rhett Kermicle and me here in the “Training Information” section of this site. We will continue to update and add training information for retrievers, pointing dogs and other sporting breeds to help you have a successful fall hunting season.
Always check your local and state regulations related to dog training and the use of game birds on private and public property.