You just completed the first series of the amateur with an impressive set of marks. The judges now present a challenging land blind, guiding you through a narrow gap between two clusters of trees. You get a great initial line and just as you enter the keyhole between the trees you blow your first whistle. You know your dog turns to the left. However, due to a slow and loopy sit, your dog stops behind the left cluster of trees, hidden from your view. Attempting a right hand cast and nothing happens, so you say “Over”. Your dog appears on the left side of the trees going in the wrong direction and you’re forced to pick him up. It is incredibly frustrating! When a blind falls apart, the first thing that usually fails are stopping mechanics.
Why do I call it “The Chill of the Whistle”? A firm blast from the whistle is the equivalent of a harsh “NO”, demanding the dog to stop its current behavior. The subsequent cast provides the dog the necessary information to comply. It’s almost that simple, but not quite. There are different types of whistles. A soft whistle may be used to relax a dog that may be worried about getting on a point for example. For this discussion, I am referring to the whistle that is intended to reign in a dog that is on the verge of going rogue. A fellow professional once said, “I don’t want them to just sit; I want them to salute”. This leads me to our topic for this month.
The scenario described above is just one example of problems with stopping mechanics. Loopy sits and failure to stop are the two highly problematic behaviors that can be deal-breakers. When allowed to go on for a long period of time, they can be very difficult to rectify. An e-collar correction often it is not enough to alter the behavior. In some instances, it can exacerbate the problem. When dogs are not conditioned properly, they may actually create a larger loop in order to avoid the spot of an anticipated correction. Another challenge is the communication to the dog the reason for the e-collar correction. We use a whistle accompanied by a nick for a failure to take a cast. We refer to this as indirect pressure. In this instance we aren’t addressing a failure to sit, we are indirectly addressing a refusal to take a cast. This procedure is a common occurrence in everyday training. So when we decide to address the poor stopping mechanics, it can easily be misunderstood. It’s time to go back to Basics.
I start out by walking the dog at heel and blowing a whistle with a sharp jerk on a pinch collar to initiate an instant and urgent response to the sit command. Because I have the dog on a lead, I can create the desired response while discouraging any attempt to jump away from the spot of the correction. The desired result is to achieve a clear understanding of the desired behavior. An immediate response to sit is what we are after. The next step requires a second person and a second lead. I will use a 25-foot lead on both ends. I sit the dog down facing me and walk away. I call the dog towards me and then blow a sit whistle while the dog is in route. The only job for my assistant is to stop the dog at the very instant the sit whistle occurs. Once again, I am re-identifying the immediate response to the sit whistle. I will then use the e-collar to reinforce the desired response. By using two cords I can clearly demonstrate the appropriate response to the sit whistle. Don’t shortcut this procedure. Clearly identifying the task is always the first step and should never be overlooked. Establishing an instant and stable response to an e-collar correction for a whistle stop is paramount.
My next step is to add a retrieve to the process. This is done in the form of pile work. I continue to use a check cord during this step. On the first few stops, I use the check cord to create a sharp response to the whistle. Use caution in this step! Don’t let your dog get very far out when stopping him a lead. You can get hurt if you let your dog develop a lot of momentum prior to stopping them with the cord. You are only trying to initiate the same instant response to the sit whistle that you created in the previous lessons. The only difference is the addition of the retrieve. I continue to have them drag the check cord during the few days that I am working on a short distance pile. I then extend the pile to a longer distance. Let’s say 100 yards or so. Then I extend to pattern blind length of around 250 yards. In the event of a setback, shorten the length and review the previous lessons. Many times, I have resorted to the “Here-Sit” procedure using the e-collar to reinforce the newly established sharp sit. This is how you teach dog to not only sit, but to salute. Now you have their full attention. I will then move onto a regiment of Bird Boy Blinds as a transition step back to normal field training. It is a good idea to incorporate a triple land blind 3 days a week to really drive home the newly established behavior. In the event the sit starts to erode, I will review some of the previous steps including pile work. This method is a clear and fair approach to modifying a poor whistle stop that has turned into a bad habit. Do not assume your dog understands why they are being corrected for a slow or loopy sit. That is why I strongly recommend this procedure for reprogramming an older dog.
This blog primarily focuses on repairing a poor whistle stop. However, the best scenario is to develop a tack sharp stop during Basics. Establishing a strong whistle stop from the start is more effective than correcting poor habits later. High standards play a crucial role in this process. In my Bombproof Basics Course, I outline steps for achieving an instant stop in the early stages of training. Additionally, incorporating a sit command to the whistle is just the initial step in introducing rules to the retrieval process. The course delves into the detailed approach I use to transform raw canine talent into a young dog prepared for advanced training, essential for performing at the highest level. Thank you again for your time and good luck.
P.S. I'll be opening enrollment for the Bombproof Basics course in a few weeks. Join the waitlist to get the update details.