Whistle Training for Dogs: Good Tool or Overblown Idea?

For over 200 years dog owners, hunters, and professional dog trainers have used whistles for training dogs, especially for hunting and retrieving. If you’re new to whistle training, we’ve got the 4-1-1 on how dog trainers and owners use whistles, rewards (treats), consistency and patience to train canines.

How Do Dog Whistles Work?

When you hear the words “dog whistle” the first thing that probably comes to mind is the silent type. Truth is, dog whistles run from inaudible to the human ear to the typical loud tweet you might hear on an athletic field. They come in a wide range of prices and are made from various materials including plastic, metal, and even digital. Yes, there are even apps that serve as dog whistles!

Unlike traditional whistles that make an audible sound, silent dog whistles emit a high-frequency sound that varies between 23 and 54 kilohertz (kHz) which is above that of human hearing of 20 kHz. While that’s too high for us to catch, it’s in the range for dogs that can hear sounds as high as 65 kHz. The sound is similar to what we use in our ultrasonic dog training device, The BarxBuddy.

In practice, dog training with a whistle is similar to other training methods like clicker training in that you offer a reward when your pet displays the desired behavior. This form of positive reinforcement dog training helps ensure your dog’s behaviors are actions that you want her to repeat.

Before You Begin Dog Whistle Training

Dog whistles are a great way to encourage good behaviors in dogs. For most dogs, treats are everything! When your dog learns he gets a reward after performing a behavior, the more he is going to want to recreate that behavior.

Keep these tips in mind, before you begin whistle training your dog:

  • Be patient and consistent with your training. Always remain calm during the process and reward your dog every time she displays the wanted behavior.
  • Every dog is different. What might work for one dog, doesn’t mean it’ll work for all dogs.
  • Since silent dog whistles are designed to be heard by dogs at great distances, whistle training is best performed outdoors.
  • Never blow a whistle near or directly into your dog’s ear. While the sound emitted by a dog whistle is safe to use with dogs, it is not intended to be blown at a close distance.
  • Have plenty of treats at hand. Ensure they are a favorite to help your dog stay interested.

Similar to clicker training, whistle training can be effective because the sound gets a dog’s attention, so you can then issue verbal commands. Be mindful that when you speak to your pet, you tend to use varying tones and volumes, depending on your mood and message. These differences in your voice can confuse or frustrate your dog, whereas a dog whistle makes the same distinct sound every time.

what a dog whistle looks like

Step-by-Step Dog Whistle Training

  1. Determine your whistle cues. You need to blow the whistle in unique ways to signal to your pet what you want her to do. For example, a single short blast might indicate “sit,” while three short blasts might signal “come.” You can combine any number of short or long blasts; however, you must continue to use the same sequence for whatever action you initially associate to avoid confusing your pet. Consistency in any type of dog training is important.
  2. Replace your vocal commands with the whistle. If your dog already responds to basic commands like “sit,” follow your whistle signal with your verbal cue “sit.”
  3. Reward positive behaviors with treats. The minute she sits, give her a treat and praise. No matter the action you’re training, as your dog learns to associate the whistle followed by the command with the reward, leave longer gaps between the whistle and your vocal command so that eventually you’ll stop using your voice.
  4. Troubleshoot difficult dogs. If you’re training a dog that struggles to follow commands, you’ll want to “lure” your dog into a behavior such as sitting. Hold a treat in front of your dog and raise the treat above her head until she looks up at the treat and sits. As soon as her rear hits the ground, give the whistle signal, and offer a reward. Repeat until she begins responding to the whistle and sits without the lure.
  5. Elevate your training to “recall” commands. For recall, start with your dog on a leash. After a bit of play call your pet. The second she places her first paw in your direction, give your whistle signal and offer a reward. With continued practice, before you know it she will come to you at the sound of the whistle.

Are Dog Whistles Good for Stopping Bad Behaviors?

Yep! In addition to using whistles to train your dog to fetch, come, sit and other desired behaviors, you can use them to stop unwanted behaviors. Remember, ultrasonic training devices are much like dog whistles — they’re intended to get your dog’s attention, so you can follow up with a command.

Whistle training can prove effective at deterring incessant barking, for example (although we find The BarxBuddy to be the most effective tool). Here’s how:

  1. Get your whistle and treats ready.
  2. Blow the whistle the moment your dog starts to bark.
  3. Give a verbal command like “no bark” or “quiet” as soon as you get her attention.
  4. Immediately follow your verbal cue with a treat and praise.

Continue this practice whenever you know your dog will face triggers or is in a situation in which she typically barks.

Whistles versus Ultrasonic Trainers — Which is Better?

Remember without consistency, training your dog is pointless, no matter the training techniques and tools.

Traditional whistles that make an audible sound may not be an appropriate training tool if you live in an area with neighbors close by. On the other hand, both a silent dog whistle and ultrasonic trainer emit a noise undetectable by the human ear, so your neighbors can’t get riled when you blow the whistle or push a button on your ultrasonic training tool.

Both serve the same purpose and play an important part in positive reinforcement training (you reward your dog when she displays the desired behavior).

One major advantage an ultrasonic trainer has over whistle training is you wouldn’t need to use several different whistle commands. Simply press the button on an ultrasonic training tool and the device emits the same sound every time. No need to remember a short burst for sit, or multiple bursts to come. Ask yourself, would you rather blow into a whistle or quickly press a button?

For More Advice on Dog Training

Learn more about the BarxBuddy ultrasonic training tool, which is designed to help you stop unwanted behaviors from your dog using a humane, safe and effective training device.

Explore our dog blog and learn more about training, grooming and other pet-related topics, and browse our shop, which contains innovative pet products hand-selected by our team.