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It can be difficult to get some breeds of dogs to come to you when you want them to. Whether it’s because of another dog, a prey animal nearby, or if he’s just plain ignoring you, your dog’s unreliable recall can be both frustrating and dangerous in the wrong situation. For breeds such as the Spaniel group, it can be even more difficult with a high prey drive, as they are bred as gun-dogs, ready to help on the hunt. On the off chance that your dog bolts out of the house and into the street after a squirrel, being able to call him to you can be life-saving! So what do you do when he refuses to listen?
Instead of using a verbal command, some Spaniel owners decide to go with a whistle instead. Training whistle recall can be incredibly handy in some situations. It can help stand out when surrounded by other people who may also be calling their dogs, and it can help keep your Spaniel from ignoring you when you sound angry or upset. Whether you find a regular whistle or a whistle specifically meant for dogs is up to you!
Training your Spaniel to respond to a whistle is not that much different from training him to respond to a verbal command. The stimuli is the only thing that differs. Both methods still require you to be decisive when choosing when and where to use the recall, how well you reward your dog for obeying, and how consistent you are. No matter which option you choose, poor training will net poor results.
You’ll want to start recall training as soon as possible. Even puppies can learn recall training once they are old enough to come home with you, and teaching any dog to respond well to a whistle should only take around two to four weeks before you begin to see some good results. Remember that Spaniels rely on association to learn things. When a behavior is rewarded well, he’ll be that much more consistent.
First, you’ll want to have both an indoor and outdoor space to practice your recall. Both spaces should be quiet and free from distractions to begin with, but later on, you can introduce your dog to other areas that can be a little noisier or busy. You’ll also want to get a good, long leash to practice with first that can allow your dog to wander but ultimately keep you in control. Some treats as rewards will come in handy as well. Once you have these things, you can move on to deciding what sort of whistle you’ll need.
The Foundation Method
Find the right whistle
There are pros and cons to every kind of whistle. Coach whistles can definitely get your dog’s attention, but they might be loud and scary. A dog whistle is less scary, but may be too quiet for some Spaniels. Determine which kind of whistle best fits your needs.
Make the sound
Use the whistle to get your dog’s attention. Stay close by at first.
Reward for recall
As soon as your dog turns to look at you, offer him a reward. Do this every single time you blow the whistle.
Avoid negative recall
Never call your Spaniel over in order to take him somewhere unpleasant, like for a nail trim or a bath if he doesn’t like them. He’ll begin to ignore you if he knows something bad is waiting for him.
Always reward your dog for coming to you when you blow the whistle.
The Distraction Method
Start off indoors
Find your indoors area when it’s quiet and calm and practice your recall there.
Ramp up the distractions
Over time, introduce other noises like the television, a family member, or nearby food. Practice using recall even around these things.
Keep rewards valuable
Make sure your reward is more interesting than whatever the distractions are. Be prepared with plenty of tasty treats as your distractions get more and more obvious.
Once your Spaniel has made good progress keeping focused indoors, move your training outdoors and repeat the process of gradually adding distractions.
Keep the leash handy
Keep your pup on a long leash during this part of the training, as you’ll want to be able to maintain control just in case he is not ready to be without it.
The Off-Leash Method
Master with the leash
Your dog should have near perfect recall on leash before considering trying to train without it. Don’t rush to train without the leash before he is ready, or he may run off.
Stay somewhere safe
Practice first in a fenced in area, in case your dog’s recall still needs work.
Put it into practice
Start practicing recall without the leash. Make sure your rewards are great at first in order to be more interesting than whatever may be in the outdoor area, especially if there are squirrels or birds nearby.
Wean off the rewards
Start rewarding with verbal praise instead of treats every other time your Spaniel returns, then randomly, then not at all. This should be a very gradual transition. Eventually he will know that the verbal praise is still a reward. If you still need to use treats, that’s okay too. Just have them handy.
Have a backup plan
In case your pup is not perfect with his recall, be sure to carry your leash with you just in case. Never go out without the leash in case of emergencies. You’ll want to have it with you at all times.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 04/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021