How To: Properly Train With a Dog Whistle

Understanding blind retrieves and hand signals are the cornerstones of a good bird dog, and they all start with proper whistle training.

All waterfowlers should have a dog whistle. Actually, scratch that. All waterfowlers should have at least two dog whistles, the reasons for which I'll get into later. Blind retrieves and hand signals are entirely dependent on whistle training and use, and both are essential tools in the duck dog's arsenal.

Before beginning dog whistle training, you need to decide which type of whistle you want to use. The choices are seemingly endless, but I recommend plastic over metal. If you're hunting the last days of the season in the north country and put a metal whistle to your mouth you may end up losing some skin off your lips. Selecting a high- or low-pitched whistle will depend on your specific hunting situations.

Higher pitched whistles tend to carry over longer distances, so keep that in mind. And keep this in mind, too: probably 99 percent of the folks I know who train dogs use high-pitched whistles, so maybe there really isn't much of a decision.


And don't rely on a whistle with a pea in it. Those can freeze up in truly cold temperatures after your spit turns to ice. This doesn't mean you shouldn't choose this type of whistle, but always have a backup.


Start your whistle drills on dry land and keep the dog on a leash in case a correction is needed.


In fact, no matter which type of whistle you opt for, always have a second  while hunting. Just know, it doesn't really matter whether you've got one whistle or 100 if your dog isn't ready for training.

We start our pups early — in the seven- to 12-week range — yet only break out the whistle once the pup knows his verbal commands. At this time, we are using treats and praise to encourage verbal and whistle commands at the same time, so that the pup understands what the whistle means to them.

When you start training your puppy with a dog whistle train yourself to use them correctly as well. The best way to use a whistle is with it clenched between your teeth.


This allows you the chance to whistle and give verbal commands at the same time. Think about your high school football coach blowing on his whistle in between directive shouts. He understood the correct way to use a whistle, and so should you.

One Blast

Provided your dog has his verbal commands nailed down, you can start with a one-blast whistle command. This is a command that tells him to sit down on land and await another command, or if he is in the water, to stop and look to you for direction.


To teach this, start in your yard with the dog on a leash. Give the verbal sit command, and if necessary tug up on the leash, and then immediately blow the whistle once.

Your dog will soon understand that the verbal command for sit and the whistle blast signal he needs to plant his butt on the ground. The next step is to use a longer check cord so your dog has some room to roam away from your side. Give him the verbal sit command but do not let the dog run toward you.

If he does, run toward the dog and make him sit. Eventually he'll learn that he is to sit down immediately wherever he is and look to you for the next command.

It's important that when you're conducting this drill you don't immediately release the dog from his sit. Always wait at least a few seconds before giving a release command. This is the first step to handling long-range hand signals and blind retrieves.

Multiple Blasts 

Once your dog understands, both on land and in water, what one single, short blast on the whistle means, it's time to move on. The next step is the repeated blast call, which should bring the dog to you.

This can be taught on a lead as well, and should be fairly easy for your dog to learn. Once you blow the dog whistle in quick succession, he should turn and come toward you whether he is on land or in the water.

To teach this, use the come command on your leashed dog and immediately follow it up with multiple whistle blasts until the dog is at your side. If necessary, offer him a treat at the initial stages.

Eventually, you'll be able to employ the longer check cord for this drill as well.

It's important to note that while teaching both commands, we start out with a verbal command and then follow up with the whistle command.

And we always have the dog on some kind of lead in case we need to correct his behavior, which is very likely.

As your dog starts to understand both whistle commands, it's time to reverse the sequence.

Instead of starting with the verbal command, start off with either whistle command and then use whatever verbal order follows. This enforces the dog's understanding that a single whistle blast really is the sit command, and that multiple blasts really are the come command.

Remember to be patient when teaching with whistles, because your dog will not get everything down in the first lesson. Slow and steady is the only way to win the dog-training race.

Controlling the Dog

Single and multiple whistle blasts should be a staple for all waterfowl hunters.

Both whistle commands are crucial for a few reasons. The first is that they truly are the cornerstones for hand signals and blind retrieves. Think about it this way: If you can't get your dog to pay attention to you, how will you ever get him to notice your hand signals?

And if he doesn't notice your hand signals, how is he ever going to find the ducks you saw fall but he didn't?

The second reason for employing a whistle is the most important — safety. You have to be able to stop your dog, and to call your dog back to you no matter how distracted or determined he is.

There are some situations, like hunting near a roadway or running into a porcupine or raccoon that require instant control of your dog before it becomes dangerous.

There's also the reality your dog might swim into choppy water after a diver and get so far away the wind could swallow your voice but not the shriek of a shrill, high-pitched whistle.

It's never a good idea to let your dog get in a position where you can't control him, and it goes far beyond recovering more wounded ducks and geese.

It also goes toward bringing your four-legged hunting partner home safely with you after every hunt, and for the price of a couple of whistles and a lanyard, I'll take that every time over the alternative.

Recommended for You

Here's how to cash in on the spreading numbers of white-fronts. Hunting Tactics

Take Advantage of the Specklebelly Surge

John Gordon

Here's how to cash in on the spreading numbers of white-fronts.

Ready to grill up some delicious, juicy waterfowl burgers? This Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe is made with ground duck breast fillets and a kick of horseradish. Recipes

Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe

Scott Leysath

Ready to grill up some delicious, juicy waterfowl burgers? This Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe...

The sweet, tangy flavor of orange juice combined with spicy jalapeños in this duck recipe will have your taste buds screaming for more. Recipes

Sweet Jalapeño Grilled Duck Recipe

Scott Leysath, "The Sporting Chef"

The sweet, tangy flavor of orange juice combined with spicy jalapeños in this duck recipe will...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Wentz Bros Outdoors - Throwback Waterfowl

Wentz Bros Outdoors - Throwback Waterfowl

This video is a classic! Take a front row seat with Carson as he hunted back in college. The clips are all either filmed with a GoPro or cell phone!

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads Ammo

11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show! Shotguns

Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways! Clothing & Waders

New SITKA Women's Waterfowl Lineup for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full...

See More Stories

More Hunting Tactics

Follow these tips for hunting snow geese on your own! Hunting Tactics

Hunting Snow Geese Solo

Joe Weimer

Follow these tips for hunting snow geese on your own!



Whether on large inland lakes and reservoirs or coastal bays and flats, hunting ducks on big Hunting Tactics

6 Big Water Duck Hunting Tips

Ken Bailey - January 12, 2016

Whether on large inland lakes and reservoirs or coastal bays and flats, hunting ducks on big

When cold strikes waterfowl flood into Nebraska, the Midwest is as good as it gets. North America

Is Nebraska Better Than Canada for Waterfowl Hunting?

Skip Knowles

When cold strikes waterfowl flood into Nebraska, the Midwest is as good as it gets.

See More Hunting Tactics

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.