Training a gun dog and handling a gun dog are two different processes involving two different sets of tools and skills. The one tool essential for both training and handling is the whistle. Almost any whistle will do, but some carry better over the clutter in the field, and some are better suited for different types of dogs - pointing, flushing or retrieving. When training and handling my personal pointing dogs, I actually use a hawk call, an old grouse hunter's trick I learned from my mentor forty years ago, and one I will expand upon later.
Incorrectly used, the whistle is no more effective than your voice, and can even be annoying. When correctly used, it can be flawless. What makes the whistle more effective than your voice? First, your dog will hear your voice all the time, especially if it is a house dog. Just like your kids it will learn to tune you out from time to time, in effect developing selective hearing. Correctly applied the whistle will only be used during strict training sessions, and will be enforced every time with a checkcord or remote collar. The dog will respond flawlessly because not to do so brings consequences that are swift and clearly understood. Second, the whistle carries so much farther over the clutter and distractions that will be present in the field. The dog hears it more clearly, and because of the way it was trained, understands it fully. Third, the whistle is far less disruptive to wild game birds than the human voice. I am always amazed how hunters disregard stealth when bird hunting, the same hunters that wouldn't think of making a squeak when deer or turkey hunting. Hunter noise of any type disrupts birds, and causes wild flushes out of gun range before hunter or dog have a chance to approach. The hawk call I mentioned earlier has two advantages. One, it is even less disruptive than a regular whistle, and two, it is unlikely your partner or another hunter will be duplicating your sound. The fourth reason for the whistle is that at some point in the youngster's training we will likely imprint the whistle to the remote collar, making it infallible. When I beep the whistle one time the dog comes immediately, and when I beep it twice it quarters immediately, because not to do so has consequences. Correctly imprinted the collar will eventually not be needed, and the whistle will be needed only sparingly.
At the beginning of this column, I mentioned that there is a difference between training and handling. The ultimate goal of all training is to train a dog that will handle easily. Shouting, screaming and repeatedly blowing the whistle while hunting are signs that the training was not correctly done, or that the handler, if he or she is different from the trainer, has no clue how to handle a gun dog. One of my most challenging tasks as a trainer for the public is to teach owners how to be effective handlers. Part of that challenge is to teach proper use of the whistle. Also mentioned earlier in the column was the fact that various types of whistles can be used. I like my hawk call, but it has limited use. Being a grouse hunter and having close to moderate ranging dogs, it suits me just fine. When training for the public I use a Fox 40 unless the owner has another preference. It is pea1ess, and has a tone that carries better than most without being obnoxious. For pointing dog handlers a pealess whistle is okay. When I train retrievers or flushers that need a multiple come whistle blast, a whistle model with a pea is needed. Pointing dogs only need one blast for come and two for quartering. Flushers and retrievers need a multiple blast for come, saving the single blast for sit or hup and two for direction change. When starting to train your dog be sure to consult a pro or experienced handler for advice on whistle choice. If you will be sending your pup to a pro for training, use what he or she will be using.
In closing, correctly applied whistle commands will allow you to train your dog more thoroughly, and to handle it in the field with less commotion and less disruption to game. However, it is not magic. Learn how to train and handle your dog correctly, including in those lessons the proper use of a whistle. Like any tool it is only as effective as the person using it.