Incorporating and perfecting the whoa command with your bird dog during everyday life.
If I were to ask you to honestly explain to me your expectations of whoa, what would your answer look like? Would you be okay with the three or four step California roll type whoa, utilizing more than a few commands while throwing in a few choice expletives? You know, the kind of whoa where you turn red while the dog sighs and rolls its eyes at you in that teenage “Are you done?” manner. I find that without guidance, this is the typical whoa we see with new clients.
In this article I’d like to shed some light on why a solid whoa command is imperative to your training (even your dogs safety) and provide some simple non-traditional drills that you can add to your everyday routine.
The whoa is the cornerstone of our training program throughout the dog’s development. We use the whoa to freeze action, to redirect, and to develop understanding. A solid whoa in the field provides us with one of the most influential steadiness tools. Most importantly, it keeps our dogs safe.
Let’s face it, we put our dogs in harm’s way every time we take them out hunting and training. Our dogs have an uncanny way of finding trouble out there, be it getting lost chasing game species or the occasional run-in with snakes, skunks and porcupines. It is our responsibility to have the tools to steer them from harm as much as possible. For those of you that hunt on paper company roads, you know all too well that those logging trucks own the road. Trust me when I say, there’s no sinking feeling worse than seeing a loaded truck on a collision course with your dog. It’s in that moment we find clarity in the absolute necessity of having a bomb-proof whoa command.
For those of you currently stuck at home pacing around and climbing the walls, you may have noticed that your dog doesn’t like to let you out of its sight. This provides ample opportunities to sneak in a whoa here or there.
How about those times your dog reassigns itself as the alpha bully? Through their persistence, you likely learned to accept many of these behaviors. For example, does your dog dive into its dog bowl while you fill it? Does your dog push its way out the door? Does it invite itself in and out of the vehicle? Does it pull and carry on while you put on its training collar? Does it invite itself into your lap when you’re eating or watching television? Does it tear around the house acting like a yahoo? Does it jump up on your guests?
These are all trainable moments. If you plan for them, your day is full of learning opportunities. Too often we schedule our training blocks and forgo all those little trainable moments throughout the day. Moments that can be far more beneficial to your dog.
Here are few everyday whoa training opportunities for you to try at home. Remember to train towards success. Utilizing a lead will insure that you maintain control and will help promote learning as your dog develops.
- Food Bowl Whoa: Place an empty dog bowl on the ground. Heel your dog towards the bowl and whoa them. Have your housemate sprinkle some food in the bowl and if the dog lunges for the bowl give a quick tug on the lead and say whoa. When they settle, leave them there, go to the bowl, pick up some kibble and return to your dog back at the heel position. Praise and treat your dog while pulling them away from the bowl and repeat.
- Vehicle Whoa: Dogs that jump from vehicles are at risk of getting hit by a car. Teach your dog to wait patiently while you prepare for training. I lift my dog in and out of the truck to prevent injuries and to keep them safe. As they age, many dogs hurt their backs jumping in and develop joint injuries from the impact of jumping out. While you load your truck keep them on a sit-stay to teach remain in place, a skill you’ll need in the hunt. When ready, invite them into your arms to be lifted in. After some time, crack the door of the kennel. If they whine, bark or try to bully their way out, correct them and put them back. Teaching them to control their emotions is an important skill for a hunting dog. Making them be patient in the kennel is a great way to train this. Ideally, I want to be able leave the kennel open and finish preparing for training while my dog patiently waits. Only then will I invite them to come sit on the tailgate. I will repeat a couple times to proof it and then allow them to the ground. If the dog loses its mind at that point, back in it goes. It doesn’t make sense for us to train a dog that is out of balance.
- Whoa While Entering and Exiting Doors: Similar to the vehicle whoa, ask your dog to whoa as you enter and exit through doors. You pick and choose if and when they come through. Again, bullying is met with a firm correction and returning the dog to the whoa position. Be sure to reward good behavior as marking the good behaviors is as important as marking mistakes.
- Collar Whoas: Trying to collar a dog can be frustrating. They know which collars you put on to train and tend to bob and weave in excitement, making it difficult to get on. Wait this behavior out and when the dog settles, whoa them and try again. Once the collar is on whoa the dog and walk away. Go back to your dog. If they remain calm, off you go. If not, try again.
- Porch Whoas: For the dogs that like to run out in front of vehicles pulling into the driveway, teach porch whoas. As the car approaches, whoa your dog on the porch and head out to meet your guest. If they break, correct and return the dog. When they are patiently waiting on whoa you can invite them off the porch. If they jump on your guest or carry on, correct and return to the porch. Repeat until they behave.
- Couch Whoas: If your dog invites itself on furniture with you, whoa them just before they jump. If they jump, correct and tell them to go lay down at a designated bed. If they are allowed on furniture and they whoa properly, invite them up.
- Retrieving Whoa: For those of you that made it through the entirety of this article, I’ll reward you with the cure to chomping birds. The magic of having a solid whoa pays for itself here. Often our dogs find ways to have what I call “me time” with birds – parading, plucking, dropping and chomping the bird. I don’t normally like to whoa my dog on its recall as I want them driving back to me. I will however make an exception in this case. If you whoa a misbehaving retriever followed by a stern come, it will temporarily reset the brain from focusing on the bird to focusing on you.
- Excited Whoa – Dogs get very excited about odd things at times. A vacuum, the broom, the mailman or the four wheeler all can send your dog into a frenzy of excitement. Instead of allowing them to amp up, replace the behavior with some whoa training. Start your whoa training away from the stimulant and work your way closer.
I hope this helps to not only put in perspective the importance of having a solid whoa but provides you additional opportunities to practice and proof your work. These extra bird dog training exercises provide your dog practice in both drive and distraction without leaving your home. They will create a good citizen in the home and teach the dog that all field rules apply to your home, making them far more pleasurable to be around.
Good luck and happy training!
Jason Carter is a NAVHDA judge, NADKC member, director of youth development, secretary of NAVHDA’s youth committee, clinic leader and trainer at Merrymeeting Kennels. He has been around versatile hunting dogs his entire life, literally! Born into the Carter family and Merrymeeting Kennels, he attended his first NAVHDA test in Bowdoinham, Maine, when he was just a year of age. Jason successfully trains, tests and breeds Deutsch Kurzhaars in both the NAVHDA and NADKC testing systems. Through his work at the kennel, Jason has had the opportunity to develop pointers, flushers and retrievers over the years. When October arrives he can be found with family and friends hunting throughout New England.