Q: My springer was great at recalls during the summer using a black plastic high-pitched whistle with a pea in it, but since the season started he has been going beating two or three times a week and now he does not seem to hear it any more. A friend suggested a silent dog whistle. Would that work better?
A: It is more likely that working on live game has aroused his nose to such an extent that his ears are switching off when he is distracted by hot scent. A different whistle is not the answer but some urgent remedial training is essential to recapture full control. A dog does not respond to a whistle because of some in-built natural instinct — it must be taught to respond to it through training. A command, from any type of whistle, should be taught so that every time the dog hears a pip, it is a cue for getting something pleasant as a reward. At present, he is getting far more pleasure through his nose and finding game. Go back to basics in the training environment for a while and make sure he is perfect on the whistle, using positive reinforcement for all correct behaviour. Even a pip on the whistle should gain a quick response from him in ideal conditions. If constantly rewarded with high-value treats, and repeated often enough, this pip will become associated by the dog with paying attention to you.
Once this has been achieved, the next progression should be easy. Pip the whistle to gain attention and then recall to give him the reward. This will mean a break from the shooting field until you have got him focused and responding to the whistle once again, but it will be worth it in the end.
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