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I remember it being so challenging learning to whistle as a kid.  My dad can make a very distinct sharp whistle sound of the side of his mouth.  I’m not that talented.  But once I did learn to whistle, I’m functional at it.  Certainly not incredibly musically talented with it like Roger Whittaker:

But I can reliably recreate certain pitches in a set series.  Hence my whistle recall.

I love training a whistle recall because for me it is the hardest one to dilute and therefore risk lessening criteria on.  In order for me to whistle, it takes more cognitive thought than for me to just call out “come” or “here” or “Zora.”  So once I’ve made the decision to whistle, it’s easier for me to follow up on reinforcing the dogs appropriately, and the whistle over time gains a really high importance for the dogs, good things always happen when they find me after hearing the whistle sound.

Video Description: Zora out of sight and sound in the woods down a trail. I whistle. You hear her bell start to sound as she runs to me, then into the picture, coming to tap my hand with her nose.

I introduce the whistle recall early into my relationship with any of the dogs in my life, especially those who will potentially gain off leash privileges at some stage.  I pair the whistle to mean “good things (most often food, but depends on the dog) will occur at Katrin when you hear this sound, so get to her as fast as you can.”  Starting with no distractions, then as the strength of the conditioning builds, in increasing distraction environments, until I feel confident if I whistle the dog will stop what they are doing immediately and seek me out.

I will admit occasionally (most often when the dogs are at an age of thinking they don’t need no stinkin humans), if I whistle and get no response, I leave and let the dog get “lost.”  (me leaving often means I hide behind a tree).  When they finally “find” me we have the biggest party ever.  This only happens after I’m sure the dog has had a previous ton of conditioning on whistle = run to me as fast as they can for an awesome time.  As otherwise I wouldn’t have taken them off leash.  And then they earn a long line (and a lot more training reps) for a while longer until once again I feel confident they will come when they hear me whistle.

The whistle recall is valuable for me because a. I have to think a lot more to do it, b. it’s a distinct sound, and c. the sound itself seems to travel farther than just me calling out.

What’s your favorite trained recall cue?

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