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Hand and whistle commands

I have a eleven week old Vizsla male. He is progressing excellently and I am contemplating introducing hand signals, and or a whistle (at twelve weeks). I have not heard the pros and cons on the whistle and hand signals. Are there any? One friend said that he maybe wouldn't use a whistle because it would be annoying in the field. Is there much merit to his statement? Is it possible (or even practical) to train him on voice, hand, and whistle commands? If I did decide to use the whistle, how would I go about giving commands with it? What (if there is one) is the standard practice with the whistle and hand signals? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and consideration.

My philosophical approach to dog training might be summed up in the idiom,"If it aint broke, don't fix it". Having said this, we do find ourselves worrying about things from time to time which may or may not be "broke" either in our dogs and/or our training style. I catch myself in this trap every so often and have to reason my way back out of it using simple, basic logic. Let's apply this reasoning to your question. There seem to be a number of parts to your question. Let's trying breaking it down piece by piece. 1) costs and benefits of hand signals 2) costs and benefits of whistle 3) "Standard" approach to training whistle and hand signals.

  1. costs and benefits of hand signals - Hand signals are nice when you want to maneuver your dog silently without a word. Dogs naturally read body language, so hand signals are just an extension from this, combined with a command. Hand signals are also nice as an added reinforcement for a verbal or whistle command. This way your dog isn't like,"what was that?" If your dog missed the verbal command, he/she has a visual and vice versa. On the other hand, once you train for hand signals, you have to realize your dog speaks and understands that language whether you mean it or not. I'm sure many of us have seen the unfortunate field trial/hunting trip/or hunt test where the handler accidently verbally released a dog on point by saying "Alright" to a judge/scout/gunner. The same thing can happen with hand signals, so be prepared to be on your toes as a handler. In the end the choice is yours. You are the best expert on your needs and wants, don't let people talk you into their needs or wants. It will confuse you and your dog.

  2. costs and benefits of whistle - An annoying person with a whistle is probably an annoying person without one. You know who I am talking about....those constant "hackers" who yell or whistle at their dog so much that the dog eventually does what it either instinctively and/or through training would have done anyway. A whistle in the hands of such a person is truly annoying, although on the bright side, they might lose the whistle just like the yeller might lose his/her voice. Seriously though, it's really only necessary if the benefits for YOU AND YOUR DOG outweigh the costs. Do you need your dog to hear a command at long distance? Would you rather not speak the command? Can you keep track of the dog, whistle, and your whistle commands? These are all questions you should consider. I find that I am better off training the dog what I want, and letting him/her do it. With a whistle I am tempted to hack when my dog is much farther away. As the dog is farther away, I have less and less opportunity to see what he/she is encountering and the possibility for error on my part (and therefore confusion on the part of the dog) increases exponentially. The one exception to this is an absolute whistle command for "come all the way in to me NOW!" this could prove most useful to almost any dog owner and is impressive when excecuted. This might be useful to round your dog up when the competition is over or in the event of an emergency. On the other hand you might lose your whistle just when you need it most, it could break, oryour dog might hear someone's whistle giving a different command which sounds just like yours. You are the best expert on your needs and wants, don't let people talk you into their needs or wants. It will confuse you and your dog.

  3. "Standard" approach to training whistle and hand signals - One thing that I have found is that there is no "standard" way to train dogs. My best advice would be to decide what you want, then pick the brains of professional dog trainers, enthusiasts, etc. as to possible progressions towards those ends. Be forwarned however, dog people are nothing if not opinionated. You'll find yourself thinking of all kinds of things which you "should do" before you're done. So write down what YOU want and need, seek information, and don't get sidetracked, unless you decide your needs have changed. Good luck, and good training!!

Grover Swick
Grove's/Von Swick's GSP's

For more information on whistles, try:
Two-tone whistles - Steve Harmeyer

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