Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
What Is Whistle Training for Dogs?
Whistle training for dogs may sound like a new modern trend, but in reality it has existed for centuries, way before actual whistles were crafted. Using their tongues, lips and strong sets of lungs, shepherds have whistle trained their dogs to effectively respond to different pips and blasts for many years so they could control livestock. Nowadays, the tradition still lives on, but you don't need to have a herd of sheep or be an avid hunter to benefit from whistle training your dog. You can still perpetuate this tradition but using your natural whistling techniques, or if you are like me—that is, a poor whistler—you can purchase a silent dog whistle and try it out with your dog.
What Is a Silent Whistle, and How Does It Work?
The silent whistle, also known as Galton's whistle, was first invented in 1876 by Sir Francis Galton. What makes it special? Its main characteristic is that it emits sound in the ultrasonic range which can be detected readily by animals but cannot be detected by humans. This whistle was invented when Galton started studying the hearing capabilities of animals. It was first mentioned in his book, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development.
Interestingly, dogs are capable of hearing in the ultrasonic range because of their past as hunters. Indeed, hearing in the ultrasonic range allowed dogs and cats to be effective hunters since small prey such as small rodents emit squeaks in that range. Expect a dog whistle to generally be within the range of 23,000 Hertz to 54,000 Hertz, which is above the hearing range of humans (who can detect sounds between 64 to 23,000 Hertz).
It can be readily detected by dogs, though, as their hearing range detects sounds between 67 and 45,000 Hertz, according to the Louisiana State University. Yet, the term "silent" whistle is bit of a misnomer since humans can for the most part hear a quiet hissing sound—which I like as I want to know how my whistle sounds when I am blowing it!
Pros and Cons of Dog Whistle Training
There are several advantages of dog whistle training. We will look at several that are advantageous to both you and your dog. Following are some pros and cons of whistle training for your dog.
Pros of Dog Whistle Training
- Ideal for training dogs at a distance.
- Works better in heavy cover, rain or high winds compared to voice.
- No need to scream at dog parks or other places where your voice may bother others.
- The tone is more consistent than voice.
- Can be used by rest of the family with lower risks for creating confusion in the dog.
- Dogs who have started to develop hearing problems may detect the whistle.
- A good alternate to those cases where owners have poisoned their recall cue.
Cons of Dog Whistle Training
- You will need to carry the whistle with you all the time.
- The whistle needs to become a conditioned reinforcer for it to become effective.
- Some models of whistles aren't as good as others.
Whistle Training Your Dog: How It Works
Don't just expect Rover to hear the whistle and promptly come flying to you! I had some people in the past write to me asking me why their dogs weren't responding to the whistle as they expected. I asked them what they expected, and they told me they expected their dogs to respond to it without ever doing anything! Well, at least that's how it goes for the most part. Oddly, the first time I blew my silent whistle, both my Rottweilers came rushing to me, perhaps because they were curious about the noise. But, yes, your dog will definitely need some training if you want to use whistles. Here are some tips for starters.
Getting Familiar With the Whistle
As the very first step, you need to take a good look at your silent whistle. What make and model is it? Does it have an instruction booklet. If so, don't just assume you don't need it. Read it—that's what it's there for! You may have a whistle that has a locking nut that can be loosened so you can adjust the pitch. In this case, try to adjust the pitch and watch your dog's reactions. Try to see if certain pitches are more effective in getting your dog's attention. Look for the more intense "orienting response." Once you're satisfied, lock the nut so to keep the screw in place.
Next, if you want to train different commands, you'll need to invest in different sounds so you have variety. Just as your verbal commands are different from one another, you want to use varied sounds so not to confuse your dog. Experiment. Attain long blasts and short pips and pay attention to the rising and falling sounds your whistle produces. Then, assign a sound to a specific command, or, if you wish, use the standard sounds used by the pros. Following are some examples coming from Kelly Olson, a breeder and trainer of gun dogs:
- Sit: one long blast
- Come: three to four repeated blasts
- Direction changes: one long thrill noise
Introducing the Whistle
If your dog is already well-trained and responds reliably to verbal commands or hand signals, adding the whistle to the mix is a piece of cake. Just let the new whistle sound precede the familiar command repeatedly, until your dog learns that the new sound is a cue that predicts the well-known command. Because dogs like to anticipate, at some point your dog will start responding to the whistle alone, and you can fade the verbal or hand signal altogether if you wish. Soon, Rover will be on his way to coming running to you at the blast of a whistle.
As mentioned, it's wrong to assume your dog will just start responding to the whistle without any previous training, just as when you are charging a clicker, you'll need to make the sound of the whistle a conditioned reinforcer. This is an important step you want to take if you are planning on training recalls. So you would blow the whistle, give a treat, blow the whistle, give a treat several times in a row, until your dog makes the association.
Putting the Whistle to Work
Once Rover responds reliably to your whistle, you can put it to good work. Use it to call your dog from a small distance when he's on a long line and reward him with several treats given in a row. Or use it it re-direct your dog when he is about to dig out all your rose bushes so he comes to you instead. Big, big rule: Always, always, always reward lavishly for responding to the whistle—and this often entails the highest rewarding treats on Rover's top ten hierarchy of best treats.
Advice on Choosing the Right Whistle
Acme and Remington are leaders in the dog whistle brand industry. For practical reasons, invest in whistles with a cord attached that you can wear them around your neck or hang them somewhere so you can easily find them.
Bottom line: Whistle training your dog is fun and can be effective if you do it correctly. Happy training!
My Whistle Training Work With a Hound Mix at Rover's Ranch Home
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Tina Quinn on July 09, 2020:
I use a whistle for recalls but would love to teach my dogs other commands using the whistle are there books on it.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 17, 2013:
Yes, and it's fun to use too epbooks! thanks for stopping by!
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on July 17, 2013:
Great advice. I've never tried this or the clicker. But I liked what you said no longer needing to scream their name at the park. I realize how annoying I must have sounded when my dogs were younger and I was yelling their name! The whistle seems like a great idea.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 16, 2013:
That's awesome Vista15! You have created a good conditioned reiforcer. I remember as a child I had these two cats that also used to come running at the sound of a whistle.
Tiana Dreymor from Columbus, OH on July 16, 2013:
I whistle for my cats. Not for specific training, but to let them know to come and eat. It works.