For best results, watch the “Sheepdog Whistle” tutorial videos
All farm dog handlers want to blow a sheepdog whistle like a shepherd. Using a whistle means you give your dog clear sounds, even at long distances or in noisy places.
There are some common misconceptions about whistles and sheepdogs though. The first, and very common, is that you must have a shepherd’s whistle to train and work a sheepdog. You don’t. If you keep a few sheep, and work them in fairly small fields, a whistle isn’t really necessary.
A dogs’ hearing is far better than our own. Your dog might appear not to hear you on occasions (mentioning no names – Kay). But unless the dog is working over 100 metres away. Or you’re shouting into a strong wind, or in a noisy environment, the chances are that your dog’s perfectly aware of your commands.
Dogs need feedback…
An important part of basic training is to use a soft voice to tell the dog you’re pleased when it’s working well, and a sharper voice to let the dog know you’re not pleased when it’s working badly.
It’s extremely difficult to express how you feel, by blowing a whistle! We thoroughly recommend the use of a whistle for working sheep and cattle dogs. What we don’t advise is rushing into it. By all means get a sheepdog whistle and learn to blow it. But make sure you can do it properly before trying it out on your dog!
Secondly, less common but still surprisingly frequent, is the belief that, in some spooky way, a collie is “wired” to understand and obey a whistle without any training. I can only imagine that this was born out of watching “One Man and His Dog” on TV. Of course the huge majority of sheepdog triallers, even at Nursery trial level, use a whistle, but the whistle commands have to be taught just as do any other commands in any other discipline.
Thirdly, that it’s a challenge to blow a sheepdog whistle, but it’s not challenging, exactly, any more than playing the trumpet is challenging. Blowing a sheepdog whistle simply involves learning a technique and then practising – far away from your dogs and your loved ones.
The final, fourth, misconception is that teaching whistle commands to your dog is difficult, but there’s no reason why teaching whistle commands should be any more difficult than teaching voice commands.
What sort of sheepdog whistle should I get?
There are many sheepdog whistles on the market. Our first recommendation is to get one which enables you to vary the pitch and tone of the sound. It’s very difficult to work a sheep dog with a whistle which only makes one sound.
Choice of material is another consideration. Your whistle needs to be small, light and washable, but most metal, or plastic whistles fit this description. Plastic ones are very cheap, but we find metal ones seem easier to get a wider variety of sounds from. We prefer the ones with smaller holes, too. The ones with holes in the region of 3mm (1/8″) take an awful lot of puff!
As for the type of whistle, we firmly prefer the flat type you will see in the pictures on this page. They are available from various sources, including the International Sheep Dog Society.
How do you blow a sheepdog whistle?
- The sheepdog whistles we use have a concave edge (see photo above) which should be placed gently against your tongue. You can place the tip of your tongue against the concave edge, or you might prefer to move the whistle back slightly, but do not cover the holes in the top and bottom of the whistle.
- Close your lips firmly but gently onto the whistle to prevent any air escaping around the edges.
- Now you need to blow through the whistle and at the same time, vary the pressure and angle of your tongue and / or cheeks until you manage to get a sound (usually just a “peep”). Once you have achieved this, keep practicing until you can produce the sounds you want.
- Some people find it harder than others to achieve, but rest assured, if you can make even a peeping sound, you only need to keep trying, and you’ll soon be blowing your sheepdog whistle like a true shepherd.
Now you can whistle, do your dog a favour!
Once you can blow the whistle PLEASE don’t try to work your dog on whistle commands until you can replicate the various sounds you want, ACCURATELY. Working a dog on unclear whistle sounds is as confusing for the dog as muddling-up your voice commands. Watch the “Learn Your Commands” video.
Whistle commands may come as a surprise to your dog!
For anyone who’s contemplating using a sheepdog whistle, and doesn’t know where to start, or who’s hoping to train whistle commands to their dog, we have two tutorials in the Online Training Tutorials library that will be a huge help. In “The Sheepdog Whistle” Andy demonstrates a tried and tested technique to get to blow a sheepdog whistle like a shepherd, in minutes.
Once you can make a sound, any sound, you’ll find you quickly improve and can begin to invent your own whistle commands (or copy someone else’s, of course). This tutorial’s had lots of positive feedback from people who’ve finally discovered the key to their whistle – sometimes after years of trying and failing.
“Teach Your Dog Whistle Commands” shows you that it’ll be harder to learn to blow your whistle than to teach the commands to your dog. Andy explains two methods of teaching the commands so you can pick whichever seems more natural to you. “Teach Your Dog Whistle Commands” has been greatly revised since it first appeared in the online tutorials library. It now includes a training session where Andy teaches Bronwen to work on whistle commands.