How to Use a Whistle for Dog Training

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of using a whistle to control your dog more effectively in the field. (Photo: Jordan Horak)

My obsession with upland hunting goes back several decades, before the internet was a thing and information was readily available. As a result, there was a lot of trial and error with my methods. While there were plenty of mistakes that made success even more difficult, these experiences also set the stage for what not to do (and occasionally, what to do). My first dog was a hard-charging yellow lab from the American test lines. He liked to go out in the field a lot, and in retrospect, maybe a little too much of a dog for an 11-year-old boy who learned mostly by trial and error.

One of those “mistakes” involved my original dog “Cato” doing a significant amount of yelling while trying to hunt with me. I remember a scenario that happened many times: I was trying to hide some sly roosters on a quiet morning that required a lot of stealth, given the daily dance I played with these birds. I would enter the field with quiet words to Cato, reminding him that I needed his full cooperation, but as I progressed through the field, those words would quickly be forgotten and full-blown shouting would ensue. This, of course, would have little effect on Cato, but significantly more on the birds, as I would watch them glide over the far side of the field.

At the time, I remember being very frustrated and unable to find a solution. Little did I know that there was an inexpensive, readily available tool that would greatly aid my circus activities in this area. Insert the whistle.


It’s been over a decade since I finally learned the value of using whistles with hunting dogs, and now it’s an invaluable tool that I always have with me whether I’m training or hunting. Why? Because my advantages are so important compared to my voice that I could never go back to whistling. Some of these benefits are more obvious than others, but these are the main ones I’ve experienced.

Distance: This may be the most obvious. A whistle can be heard over a longer distance than our own voice. Hopefully we won’t have to use this feature too often, but it’s nice. Sometimes our dogs need to be quite a distance from us (like a long search) and other times it just happens by accident, (yes, I’ve had my dogs walk farther than they should and rarely turn around our dogs. arch forests). In such cases, having a whistle around my neck can be a lifesaver!

dog trainer with whistle
Keep a whistle around your neck and you’ll always be able to communicate with your dog, even at great distances or in thick cover. (Photo: Jordan Horak)

Less disturbing to birds: When we use our voice to communicate with our dog, the birds hear it and they automatically know that a human is invading their space. Stressed birds will automatically be put into a state of high alert, but unstressed birds will be disturbed by such noise. Wild game birds do not seem to be completely unaware of the whistle, but in my experience they are not nearly as affected by the whistles. This is a huge advantage for us because it allows us to communicate with our dogs while still maintaining a certain level of privacy.

The Pied Piper Effect: I don’t really know why (I’m sure there’s a scientific reason), but dogs respond better to our voice, especially the whistle when they’re outside. My theory is that the whistle is loud enough to make it easier for the dog to hear, but whatever the reason, using a whistle usually responds better than our dogs do. Obviously, this does not eliminate the need for training, but if there is a simple tool that automatically improves our dog’s response to commands, it is in our best interest to try it.

Easier: Frankly, I think it’s tiring to talk to my dog ​​(sometimes very loudly) while walking through the field in the afternoon. Although it didn’t bother the birds, it would strain my patience. A whistle takes very little effort to make noise even at high decibels. It may take some practice and time to get to the point where you can hold the whistle in your mouth without even thinking about it, but once you get to that point, using the whistle won’t be nearly as easy.


How we use the whistle is important. If it’s just a random noisemaker, it won’t be nearly as effective as it could be. I like to think of the whistle as an extension of my voice, so if I have a voice command for a behavior, chances are I also have a whistle command for the behavior. The whistles I use mainly are what I call the “sit”, “come”, “turn” and “draw” whistles.

“sit down” and “come” pretty self explanatory. You can use any sequence of whistles you like, but I use one sharp tooth on the whistle for “sit” and three short teeth in a row for “come”. If your dog doesn’t respond to the sit whistle the first time, it’s important to make sure your tracking teeth are spaced wide enough to avoid being confused with the come whistle. It is important to keep the three teeth distinct and in rapid succession for the incoming whistle. Rather than using my lungs to control the teeth, I use my tongue to open and close the whistle as I blow. This keeps the teeth sharp and distinct. It takes some practice to reduce this, so don’t be afraid to practice away from your dog (and probably away from people for that matter!)

“Turn” it’s a little more complicated. In fact, it is a command to help my dog ​​in front of me. If he’s pulled to one side and I want him to be on the other side, the two teeth on the whistle tell him I want him to quarter in front of me (and the whistle is often accompanied by a gesture or hand signal that specifically tells him which way I want him to go ).

my “draw” the whistle is something I come up with to let my dog ​​know he’s too far away from me and I’d like him to work closer to me. I distinguish this from the “come” whistle because I like my commands to be specific. When I ask my dog ​​to return to a section of the road, I will give a soft, long whistle on the whistle. This starts the dog moving back towards me, and when they get within range of me, I can shoot the dog at a 90 degree angle using a hand signal.

dog trainer with whistle and cocker spaniel
With a little practice, your dog will easily learn to accept whistle commands, sometimes more effectively than your voice. (Photo: Jordan Horak)


Training your dog to respond to a whistle is not difficult, but there are a few principles to keep in mind. Please don’t just buy a whistle and mindlessly start blowing it – it won’t help your dog and may actually backfire as it may confuse you.

There is a process: I like to start by teaching the behavior first, then giving it a voice command (ie “sit”), then masking the whistle with a voice command, and finally using the whistle on its own. What I don’t want to do is start whistling to demand a behavior that my dog ​​doesn’t already know, because now he’s trying to learn two things (the behavior and the whistle) at the same time, usually to the point of confusion.

Be persistent: This cannot be overstated. Be consistent with how you use the whistle! If one toot means “sit”, it always means sit. If three tots means “come,” it should always mean “come.” We should think of the whistle as a simple but precise language. If we whistle hoping for a specific response, we will be disappointed and our dog will only be confused.

Don’t overdo it: Listening to someone yell at their dog over and over while walking through a field is high on the list of the most annoying things ever (like nails on wood), but whistling like you’re in a symphony orchestra isn’t much better. So don’t be that person! Typically less is more – the whistle will be more valuable to your dog if we only use it when we really need it, so keep that in mind.


There are many fit options on the market and I think they all have their pros and cons. As I primarily hunt and train spaniels, I like to use a relatively quiet whistle. The Acme 210.5 whistle fits the bill perfectly for me. If I wanted a little more distance, I could step up to the Acme 211.5 fit. These whistles are pealess whistles that rarely freeze in cold weather and are very soft blowing. At the other end of the spectrum are pea whistles, some with amplifiers that are capable of producing very loud sounds but are poor at silent communication.

training place with dog trainer cocker spaniel
A whistle can easily become an integral part of your dog training kit. (Photo: Jordan Horak)

When choosing your whistle, you should consider how you will use it. Quieter whistles are perfect for me as I rarely handle dogs over 100 yards. If you need more distance, you’ll probably want to look for something with peas in it, which can give you more bulk. In any case, I would recommend that you stick with a whistle so as not to confuse your dog.

In a world full of sophisticated tools and objects, a whistle may not seem like much, but I would argue that it is as indispensable as the boots on your feet and the gun in your hand. Give some thought to the best whistle for your hunting style, start incorporating it into your training, and you’ll likely see a marked improvement in your pup’s cooperation and enjoyment level while hunting.


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