On the Whistle

By Mike Stewart, Wildrose International

mike stop to whistleWhistle signals are the primary control communicator for directing any sporting dog afield, whether for hunting or adventure excursions.  Simply, whistle tones can be projected further with more clarity than voice commands so the whistle signal becomes a core skill for development in training.

First, the stop whistle. The single peep of the whistle directs a prompt stop from the dog followed by gaining their full attention. As with all early behavioral development, everything begins at heel (Wildrose Law #7, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, The Wildrose Way: 58). Later, skills are extended further into the field or water.  Initially, keep in mind that there are three forms of K-9/ handler communication:

  1. Body Language – the most influential
  2. Verbal – the least effective as dogs don’t talk
  3. Audible Tones – very meaningful in the canine world

Our training objective is to implement the whistle as a meaningful, audible tone, making it the most important of all three communicators.  Our Wildrose Way whistle assessments are designed to evaluate the understanding and importance of the whistle signal to each dog.  Consider which of the communicators is most influential from your dog’s perspective.

Take the assessments to determine if your dog is truly on the stop whistle:

Assessment I

With your dog off lead at heel, walk along at a normal pace without any change in body language, verbal command, vocal tone, a change of pace (pause) or eye contact.  Peep the whistle for stop, but you keep walking without a glance or change of gait.  Will your dog stop promptly?

If no:  Your body language is more important than the whistle. Additional training required.

If yes:  Great!  The whistle matters more than your body language.  Proceed to the next assessment.

Assessment II

Same set-up but this test uses reverse heel and recall.  Again, as above, walk with the dog at heel then begin to back away at the same pace recalling the dog as you continue to back away while facing the dog.  As you continue reverse heel, peep the stop whistle without any body language, hand signal, pause in your pace or vocal cue. Just the single peep of the whistle as you back away. Did the dog ignore your movement and stop?  Success, move to III.

Assessment III

Here we add a distraction. As in Assessment II, reverse heel, we will back away without stopping, toss a bumper to the side while peeping the whistle stop.  Even with the distraction and your movement away, the dog should obey the whistle promptly. This is the first step in teaching the upland gundog, “steady to the flush.”

These three assessments are also perfect warm up training exercises for the discipline element of the Wildrose Cyclical Training Model, (Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, The Wildrose Way: 87).

With all three assessments complete, the dog understands the importance of the stop whistle.  Time for extensions.


Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, The Wildrose Way. Universe Publishing: New York, 2012.

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