Q) I have a young springer spaniel that I am training. I would like to know how to use the stop whistle, but anything I’ve read usually says The dog must be steady to the stop whistle. How do you achieve this?
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A) First, the whistle is not a magic, infallible device to stop bad behaviour and, second, experienced trainers have no magic formula or secrets when teaching a dog to respond to it, or to any other commands. The dog is taught to respond to the whistle using positive reinforcement during training to condition the required response. Therefore, to the puppy, a single pip on the whistle means a reward, if it immediately stops what it is doing and sits down. Once basic obedience has been taught, the puppy will have been conditioned through repetition and reward for every correct response to sit (stop) on various commands by my side, including a voice command “sit”, a raised open hand, a clap of the hands and a single pip on the whistle. However, simply because a puppy reacts instantly to a command at my side, does not mean it will automatically do so at a distance. But, as I have established my seniority and authority through the early training, the puppy is looking to me for guidance and, of course, reward. So, if I am sensible about the timing, it is very likely to respond as the distance is gradually increased. Success is the key and until I trust my pupil completely I only give the command when I am certain it will be obeyed and I can confi rm the response with a reward in the form of praise or a retrieve. I always put myself in a winning position so that I can quickly enforce compliance without repeating the command during these early lessons. If you use common sense and are patient over a period of several weeks, a puppy will become conditioned to respond obediently to any command. It is no use rushing through training then expecting to find a cure after the dog has developed complex bad habits in the shooting field.