The next level
I have had a number of people who are looking to maximise the potential of their pup ask my advice on whistle and directional work, so in this issue and coming issues we will focus on these training routines. These training techniques work on retrievers,
The whistle is an important part of my hunting kit, it is much less disruptive than a voice bellowing across the swamp. It doesn’t matter which type of whistle you choose — my first whistle was a footy whistle with the pea removed — dedicated dog whistles with or without the pee are available at most good gun shops these days and they all work fine. Wild Outdoors in Geelong have a good range.
Sit to the whistle starts early. I like to introduce my pups to the whistle at around eight weeks of age and it starts at feed time. It is amazing how quickly young dogs respond to prompts when there is food involved. Food is a powerful tool when training dogs and is often underutilised by many trainers who prefer force-based methods, but I prefer more positive-based training methods and minimum pressure to produce well-adjusted gundogs capable of carrying out the most difficult of tasks, whether trialling or hunting.
It is, I believe, the most satisfying way to train dogs.
Many people teach their dog to sit before receiving their dinner and this is how I go about it. Your pup is going to be very excited at the sight of his dinner bowl and more than likely jumping about, keen to tuck in. Put his bowl down and gently push his bottom down into the sit position, at the same time give one blow of the whistle, but not too loud, you reserve the volume for the distance work that will come later, hold him very briefly before releasing him, with an “OK”.
He will quickly learn that responding to the whistle and sitting will result in the reward he is seeking. You will also be able to vary the time he remains seated — if he moves, place him back at sit and blow the whistle again.
At this stage, I’m also teaching him to heel on lead. When we stop, I blow the sit whistle and again encourage him to sit. When he complies, he receives a treat; you will discover that in no time he will quickly sit, eager for his reward.
It is important to also introduce a verbal reward at this stage: “good dog” will
replace the treat reward going forward, and when we start distance work you can instantly reward him with “good dog”, which is impossible with a treat.
When he is reliably sitting on the whistle at heel on lead, then it is time to remove the lead and check your progress. If he responds like he is still on the lead, then well done. If not, then you haven’t done enough work on lead.
You must remember that pups, like children, are sponges for information and learning; your pup may respond to training quickly, it does not mean he has fully learnt the lesson.
The next step is to introduce the allimportant distractions into his whistle sits. Whilst heeling at a brisk pace I blow the whistle but continue forward. The dog’s reaction will be confused at first and you may need to slow down to get the correct response, but you want him to sit even with the distraction of you continuing without him.
I keep this training going until he will sit smartly even with me running flat out, his reward is the positive tone in my voice when hears “GOOD DOG”.
This may take a number of weeks to perfect, but he will have learnt to respond to the whistle even with the massive distraction of you running off. This will help him cope with the distractions to come, i.e. birds not to be retrieved and flushing game.
My working dogs live in yards that measure 4 x 4m; I utilise these yards to introduce them to their first remote sit. Walking the pup at heel with food bowl in hand I cast him forward to his yard. He quickly learns this routine and races forward into the yard, and having already learnt he needs to be seated before dinner, sits very smartly indeed. As he does, I blow the sit whistle and reward him with a “good dog”.
He is learning to sit to the whistle at distance without even realising at this stage.
I gradually extend the distance I send him from until we reach the maximum in the yard, which is about 40 m. If you don’t have a dog pen then simply feed him in the same place every night at the furthermost point in your yard.
Now he has learnt to sit to the whistle away from you at feed time and also on the move, we extend this training to a new area, either in another place on your property or a spot with not too many distractions — save the off-lead dog park until he is fully trained.
Allow him to explore this new area and toilet. Our dogs learn that there will be no training until they have been to the toilet, this may take one minute or 10.
However, be aware, there is a vast difference between a dog toileting and a dog marking territory, if your dog is peeing on every tree and bush on the property then this is marking territory and should be discouraged. This is dominant behaviour and must be controlled.
OK, your dog is ready to start training. Start with the running sit exercise. When you are satisfied he has mastered that in this new area, bring him to heel and then cast him off again. When he is no more than three metres away hit the stop whistle, if you have been thorough with his previous training, he will sit.
Immediately reward him with a “good dog”. I like to walk up to my dogs in these early lessons and reward the response with a treat, but only initially as I will soon be replacing the treat with yet another type of reward.
Do not overdo this training at this stage. This is only a preliminary exercise to set the dog up for the next stage of training.
And you can read about that in the next issue, when we start directional work.