There are 3 universal whistle commands most commonly used for retrievers and flushing dogs (spaniels)
for upland training. Many owners inquire about using whistles in the field to communicate with their
dogs. There are great benefits to using whistles however there can also be downsides.
Whistles can provide an advantage while working dogs due the clarity of the noise. Whistles emit a
sharp sound that can penetrate the air enabling a dog to hear better while panting hard, running
through cover or shallow water. Whistles can also be effective for handlers to save their voice rather
than yelling commands.
What are the downsides? Well, it takes practice, timing, and coordination to effectively blow a whistle.
Proper use of this instrument involves good air capacity which comes from your gut in bursts as well as
the synchronization of your tongue over the end of the mouthpiece. The goal is to produce a crisp,
distinctive, authoritative TOOT sound. A whistle should command a dog’s attention. The amount of air
that you use or the intensity of the blow should be related to the distance from your dog. Whistle
inflection should be light while your dog is (close) within 10 to 20 yards and increase in intensity as the
distance increases (farther away). A poorly timed whistle, weakly blown whistle, or a cadence lacking
rhythm all can cause a dog to simply ignore your efforts. This is especially common with dog handlers
new to using a whistle. It is important to practice blowing a whistle if you plan to use this valuable
training tool. The goal is to achieve good timing, cadence and crispness with the sound.
What are the Whistle Commands? Think about the syllables in the actual command.
SIT = 1 syllable = 1 whistle blast or TOOT
HIGH ON or COME ROUND or HEY UP = 2 syllables = 2 blasts TOOT TOOT
COME HERE COME HERE COME HERE = multiple syllables or 3 to 5+ blasts TOOT TOOT TOOT TOOT TOOT
Let’s further explain these commands:
1 whistle = SIT and remain still until commanded otherwise
2 whistles = release from the SIT. HIGH ON, OK (release cue)
3 to 5 whistles = come towards me. Depending on the distance this could also mean come partially
towards me, then 2 whistles to HIGH ON (hunt em up) and go back to quartering. To completely recall
keep up the sequence to command to come all of the way in.
2 whistle blasts while the dog is moving (not at a SIT command) means change direction, for example
quarter from left to right. HEY UP or COME ROUND!
What are other whistle upsides? Simply put they can be slightly more pleasant to hear than a handler
hacking and yelling verbal commands. Whistles can be quick, subtle yet commanding.
But can whistles scare birds? For most game preserves or state lands with pen raised/released birds
most likely not. However, those hard-to-find King Of Game Bird grouse will flush when they hear you
coming through the woods. The prairie pheasants run and flush when they hear a truck door slam. So,
for wild bird hunting I am a believer that birds get spooked, and I choose to hunt silently!
Stay tuned to the next Gun Dog Blog to learn about whistles, bells, and dog gear afield.