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Whistles - not just for gun dogs!

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

One thing we hear a lot from people is that they think that using a whistle won't work for them as they don't have a gun-dog breed. This is a really common misconception, any breed or cross breed can learn to respond to whistle commands.

Hopefully by reading this blog you will see the benefits of using a whistle while training your dog whether you have a spaniel, a dachshund or even a cross breed, and begin to incorporate it into your training routine.

Whistle vs. verbal commands

So you might be wondering, what is the point in using a whistle when you can just give verbal commands?

One of the main benefits of a whistle is consistency. Unlike your voice, a whistle will sound at the same pitch each time it is blown, whether you are feeling frustrated, panicked or even excited. Even subtle changes in the tone of your voice can cause your dog to react differently, and using a whistle avoids this issue.

Not only that, but the sound of a whistle is fairly piercing even when blown softly, and is unlikely to blend in with other environmental sounds going on, it really stands out enabling to grab your dogs attention.

Verbal cues do not have the same power and are often lost on your dog, for example if you are walking with someone else and chatting, your dog may zone out, so if you give a verbal command it blends in to your chatter, meaning you don't get a quick response to your command.

Finally, whistles are great for distance commands. The further the way you are from your dog, the louder you need to be. Sometimes you may find it difficult to project your voice to your dog if they are far away, or if you are competing with the wind etc. Again your whistle gives you the edge here, as the the high pitch of a whistle carries over much further distances than your voice is able to.

Which whistle is right for me?

This is one of those questions to which their isn't really a 'correct' answer! Each dog is different and so will have an individual response to a whistle regardless of breed, age etc.

At Cunningshot we mainly use ACME whistles as they are a reliable and easily accessible brand. They advise that typically Labradors are trained using a 211.5, Spaniels with a 210.5 and HPRs with 212. This is advice based on the distance these breeds work away from the handler, with a Spaniel working the closest, Labradors somewhere in between and HPR breeds generally working much further away.

Using this basis, you can decide if your dog tends to stay close to you on walks or when working, or if they tend to explore further away and use that to make your choice regardless of breed. However, this isn't a hard and fast rule and essentially as long as you choose one pitch and stick to it, it doesn't make too much difference.

What about silent/multi-pitch whistles, or lip whistles?

We wouldn't recommend a multi-pitch whistle as because they are easily adjustable, you may find yourself training your dog to one pitch and then accidentally changing this by dropping or fiddling with it and this then affecting how your dog responds to the whistle because it no longer sounds the same.

Lip whistles as seen used by sheepdog handlers mainly offer a greater control and variety of whistle sounds but it can be hard to master the use of this type of whistle.

What commands can you teach to a whistle?

The list is almost endless, if you get creative enough you can teach almost any command or trick that you have a verbal cue for and move it onto a whistle. However some of the more common ones are;

> Recall - calling your dog back to you > Stop - stop your dog in a sit/stand/down at a distance > Turn - teach your dog to turn at a distance > Hunt - indicate to your dog that they are searching in the right place for an item

What do whistle commands sound like?

When explaining whistle commands we refer to the noises it makes as a "pip" or a "pew". "Pip" is the sound of one single short blow, "pew" is the sound of one single elongated blow.

Although commands vary slightly from person to person the typical whistle commands are:

Hopefully after reading this you will feel more confident about how and why to use a whistle within your dog training, whether you own a gun dog breed or not! Stay tuned for more blogs and if you have any suggestions for topics you would like us to cover next, let us know in the comments below!

Cunningshot Dog Training

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Andy Cartwright
Andy Cartwright
Feb 28, 2021

So while out walking the girls this morning it dawned on me how long I have had my Acme whistle!! I would say it is quite some years, to many really to remember. Does a whistle change its pitch and therefore should it be changed for a new one every few years??


Jayne Was Smith
Jayne Was Smith
Feb 03, 2021

Very well done 👍

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