Sit Whistle Stops Skunking

Cruising through my Facebook account (if you add me, please put a note in saying you're an OL.com user), I came across a post from my friend Bob St. Pierre, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, that caught my eye.

It was a link to Michael Pearce's Kansas Outdoors blog, the online companion to his column in the Wichita Eagle newspaper. The topic was about how a skunk encounter was avoided with a whistle sit. Pearce gives several examples of how having a whistle-trained dog has been a benefit for him. I, too, have made use of the sit whistle for more than field work. One time it even saved Kona's life.

I was making a cross-country trek from New York to Montana and stopped to visit OL.com user, professional dog trainer and friend, Sharon Potter at her home and training grounds at Redbranch Kennels.

Shortly after arriving, we took a walk so that Sharon could show me the grounds and so that Kona and Hoss could free run after spending hours upon hours in the car for several days in a row.

You have to understand that Sharon lives in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. At the interstate turnoff there's only a motel and an adult bookstore. The motel was out of business. (Note to self: dirty bookstores can survive horrible economies, look into investment opportunities...)

From the interstate you take a main road miles and miles to a gravel road that dead-ends five miles back. At about the three-mile mark, you can find Redbranch Kennels. Only a handful of cars, or more likely four-wheel-drive pickups, pass by daily.

As we neared the property edge running parallel to the road less traveled, Kona was bounding ahead inspecting the terrain, hunting for any available birds, marking territory and just enjoying the freedom afforded him.

"There's a car coming," Sharon said.

I looked up and Kona was bounding happily along without a care in the world. But he was also nearing the shoulder of the road and continuing a path toward certain doom.

Fumbling with my whistle, I got it in my mouth and gave one loud sit whistle. Kona spun around, his butt hit the ground and he watched me for the next command. The big blue Ford pickup zipped past throwing a cloud of dust and gravel in its wake.

"We get maybe three cars a day that come down this road," said Sharon.

I shuddered to think of the scene, regardless of the odds, of what might have been if Kona hadn't been whistle trained.

As Pearce discusses in his blog, dogs react much better to whistles than to voice commands. For all intents and purposes, a whistle is the same regardless of what's going through your mind. You might blow it louder or with more emphasis, but it remains more or less the same. It is precise, consistent and emotionless; something the human voice is not. Whistles also carry further than your voice and can be deciphered by the dog much easier than the catalog of words that come from your mouth every day.

Having a whistle-trained dog, whether they're retrievers, pointers, versatile breeds or hounds, can be of benefit in the field and out.