The Benefits of Whistle-Training Your Rabbit Dogs
One of the most basic commands every dog should know, regardless of job or purpose, is to return to his or her owner when called. While this is something we should practice and reinforce, sometimes a verbal command is not enough to get the job done. Whether it is due to high wind, heavy cover, distance, or being overcome by excitement, dogs don't always respond to the spoken, or shouted, command. This is not necessarily a behavioral problem; it could be that your voice carries away from your dogs and in order to get their attention you might need to step up your calling. One way to do this is by training your dog to respond to a whistle.
Photo: River Bottom Beagles
Training a dog to respond to a whistle does not have to be a complex or costly process. For starters, any working whistle is adequate to get the job done. Contrary to popular belief, a dog specific whistle is not required; purchasing a referee style whistle is fine. These can be bought inexpensively in most sporting goods stores.
Once you've selected a whistle you are comfortable using, it is time to introduce it to your rabbit dogs. Plan a specific type of whistle call, such as a couple of quick bursts, you intend to use and demonstrate it for your dogs. After you initiate your whistle command, follow up with the verbal command to come. After a bit of practice, you should be able to drop the verbal command in favor of the whistle alone. If you try this and find that your dog is struggling, or if you have a young pup that does not yet understand the command to come, try adding food to the equation. When you blow on the whistle and get your desired result, reinforce the positive behavior with a tasty reward and praise until the behavior becomes second nature and food is no longer necessary. Keep practicing but don't overdo it; it is enough to spend just a few minutes each day on training until you get your desired final result.
Now that you have your beagle trained to respond to a whistle call, it is important that you find a way to keep your whistle on you in the field. Since whistles are small and light, they are likely to go unnoticed if dropped or lost. Then, when you decide to call upon your whistle, you may be back to dogs that don't hear a verbal command for whatever reason. Because of this, a neck lanyard is useful. These can be made of leather or paracord, both of which are sturdy enough to hold up to the rigors of hunting while keeping your hands free to do other things.
Whistle-training rabbit dogs has many benefits. Instead of getting stuck out in the field longer than you wish to be as your verbal commands go unheard, a dog trained to the whistle is much more likely to hear and respond to your cue. You will no longer have to worry about darkness falling as you chase after dogs that have other things in mind than returning to your side. Also, if you wish for your dogs to move to another area, a whistle call will bring them back to you so you can refocus their efforts in the location of your choice.
Do you currently have whistle-trained rabbit dogs? Do you find the behavior useful or do you prefer another means of calling? Let us know in the comments.