Training the "Whoa!" command

The "whoa" command is the most important command for a bird dog to learn. This month we will go over when to begin this training with your pup, what equipment you will need and how to go about getting started. Next month we will show you how to carry this command over into the field on birds.

Whoa simply means "stop, don't move your feet until you are told". It is an obedience command every bit as much as come or heel. It has many uses, from it's obvious use on birds in the field to extend the natural point, to just being able to put the dog somewhere and have it stay put while we take care of something else for a moment,to possibly saving the dog's life in traffic or other hazardous situation.

Why would you have to train this? You may ask, after all, everyone "whoa"'s their dog on point...right? Isn't this what it means?

Good, question. However the question makes my point for me. Anyone who has been around bird doggers much, has seen more than one situation, either in competition or actual hunting in which the handler repeated this "command"; to a dog on point so often and so loudly with such nebulous results that one might conclude that :

#1) The dog's name was in fact, "Whoa, ".


#2) "whoa" is a command we tell the dog to mean "ok, dog, you and I will now wrestle over this bird"

The way it is supposed to work is; dog points, dog holds, handler comes up, gives command ONE TIME in a low voice and proceeds to flush the bird while the dog remains like a statue where she fist pointed until the bird is shot or the dog is relocated.

Too many times we see dogs assisting in the flush or worse, busting a ticklish bird, often before the handler is anywhere near. The object here is to to teach the dog that his job is to find and point the birds and then stand pat until we flush and shoot the bird for him. He must learn that if he assists in the flush or busts the bird, it will not be shot and he will not get to retrieve the bird in question. This is easy to teach, although sometimes some of the old timers would like you to believe that all of those rock solid dogs we all see and envy are the result of some sort of voodoo or alien abduction that mere mortals cannot duplicate.

I think one should begin serious training on this command at about 6 month's of age, after you have come and heel well started. I like to wait on this command until the dog is hunting hard and flash pointing birds. Beginning this command is the start of taking the dog's training to the next level of making him a useful hunting partner. I like to take the bird completely off birds for the time it takes to get the dog reasonably reliable on this command.
Bird Dogs, Pheasant Hunting, Quail Hunting, Dog Training, Field Trials, Pointers, German Shorthairs
Stephanie demonstrates how to run the long lead under the dog's collar to begin assembling the dog into "the sling"
The method we will explore for teaching the whoa command is freely adapted from the method that Harold Adams demonstrates in the video, "The Complete Pointing Dog". I believe this method is much easier on the dog and is easier to transfer to the field and birds than "whoa post and pinch collar" methods, which I believe are suitable only for inferior breeds, such as Animal Rights Activists. You will need a 30' lead with a good snap one the end and also a large heavy steel screw turned into a tree limb or other sturdy support about 8 ft overhead in an area clear of ground obstructions.

Begin by running the snap of the lead UNDER the dog's collar from front to back (head to tail), then over the hook and the back down under the dog's tummy, just ahead of the hips. (I prefer a 1" wide, flat nylon lead for this so it will not pinch and bind as much) Finally, bring the snap up over the dog's back and clip the lead to itself so that the dog is inside a loose loop of lead just ahead of his hips.

Stephanie has "Boss" (Freck's pup) in the sling ready for her first "whoa" lesson at eight months of age. Note how the lead is run under the collar, over the hook and then clipped around the dog's waist to form the "sling". The flat nylon lead prevents binding and pain to the dog.
The dog may be a bit apprehensive about this whole deal so it might be a good idea to just hook the dog up in this "sling" a few times over the course of a few days to ease it's mind about this. Give lot's of praise and make sure pup is comfortable with this before you start.

Ok, now we can start; for this training method you do not have to take your bird dog out to a field to train at first. To begin with you can start outside of your apartments or houses. Hook pup up in the sling and take the free end (ahead of the collar) in your hand and step back about 6 feet or so with pup facing you. Put tension on the lead so pup cannot move and command "whoa!!". Pup is now anchored, fore and aft. Hold a hand, palm up, "policeman style" at arms length in front of you as you verbally give the command. . Gradually release the tension on the lead. The dog will likely try to come to you at this point. As soon as the dog as much as lifts a foot or otherwise tries to move off, haul back on that lead without saying anything, lofting pup up in the air a foot or two and hold him there a moment. Pup will freak, as dogs hate having all four feet up off the ground. Drop him back down, and pull him back into the whoa position (high on both ends!!) with the lead and command "whoa!!" again.

Here Stephanie demonstrates how to correct a young dog for moving in the beginning stages of "whoa" training.She hauls the pup up off the ground momentarily and then...
Hold him there a few moments and release the tension on the lead again. He may try to come to you again. Just haul him up again and repeat. Set her back down, pull her gently into position while you reinforce the command with the hand signal and voice. About 15 minutes of this, twice a day, is a good way to start. Be sure to go to the dog and release her with "okay" and give lot's of praise for proper performance. Once the dog will stand in position when given the command while hooked up in the sling, begin to move around the dog as you reinforce the command. Stay at that 6 foot distance and try to go the full 360 degrees around the dog.The dog will likely try to turn and follow you. As soon as he even lifts a foot, you must haul him up and reposition the dog and reinforce the command. The beauty of the sling is that you can instantly enforce the command no matter which way the dog turns or moves. After a week of two-a-days on this, the dog should be completely obedient on this command while in the sling.

...sits her right back down where she should have stayed and immediately reinforces the "whoa" command with a hand signal and then the voice command.
Begin to increase the distance from the dog you are working until the dog is completely reliable with you clear at the end of the 30" lead going completely around the dog. Haul the dog up, reinforce and reposition as needed. The trick is to only give the command once. ONE TIME, no more. The dog will learn to stay put until released with "okay". Wait until you release to praise for awhile as the dog will likely try to come to you if you praise alot while he is standing, forcing you then to immediately correct him; a confusing situation. Once the dog is reliably standing still in the sling as we move around him on the ground for a few days we need to get him away from the tree or swingset or whatever you are hanging the lead over and progress toward implenting this as a yard command and then a field command on birds.

Here we go...You will now need two leads, the 30 footer you were using to hoist the dog with and a regular length lead. This part may seem a bit complicated at first, so read it over several times and have a look at the pictures that accompany this article. It is also necessary that the dog be reliable on "heel" and "come" before you progress to this point.

Start by clipping the long lead to the dog's collar and then throwing a half-hitch in the lead around the dog's waist. Then clip the short lead to the dog's collar as well. I will give the directions for a right-handed handler, if you are lucky enough to be a lefty like me, just reverse the instructions. Take the short lead in your right hand and put the dog at heel. Start by just heeling the dog on this short lead and trailing the remainder of the long lead out behind you as you go. Now we add the "whoa" part. Take the short lead in your right hand as before and the long lead in your LEFT hand, it helps to be part ballerina at this point, but you will get more comfortable at this as you go. Heel the dog off, remembering to give him the two little "pops" with the short lead as per the instructions for training the "heel" command. After a a dozen steps or so give the command "whoa" and reinforce with the LEFT hand taking up the half-hitch at the dogs waist. If you have done the work in the sling properly the dog will freeze at the command with just a bit of pressure on that lead around his waist where the sling used to hoist him skyward. Reinforce with the hand "stop sign" signal as well. Give lots of praise for complaince. Talk very gently, we don't want this to be a battle, remember, you are just giving good advice here.

At first you will need to stop walking with the dog on command, this helps him to take the cue. Of course, then we need to keep him on "whoa" while we move about the the dog on the ground, like we will be doing when we are flushing birds. The first time you go to step out in front of him, I guarantee the dog will step off with you. All you to do is just haul the dog slightly into the air with both hands (one lead in each) and set him back in position. Soon he will stand pat and allow you to move all about him. Kick the grass as you would as if trying to flush, he may have no idea what you are doing at this point, but it helps to condition him for the bird work which comes later. Work your way further and further away until you are able to have him stay in position. A good trick at this point is to keep ahold of that long lead and just give it a litle flick with your wrist every now and again to reinforce the command, the dog will feel that little pulse in the half-hitch about his waist and he will remember, "hey, stay put!!". Walk back to the dog frequently once he is standing well so he will associate praise and pleasing you with staying where he is told. I don't like to call the dog to me for praise at this point. Be sure to give him the palms up "stop-sign" as you go along to help reinforce this as a verbal and visual command. If the dog does move I snatch him up in the air with my hands on both leads and turn my body in a complete circle, swinging the dog around and plunking him right back where he was told to stay. This makes a bigger impression on the dog than just moving him back to position. Remember to always give lots of praise and strokes for proper response before releasing the dog, even if you have to correct him to get it.

What I like to do next is to test the dog a bit and reinforce at this point. The dog should be standing on command for longer periods of time by now. I do it like this. Put the pup on "whoa" as before and move out in front of her about 20 feet.Turn your body and stand so that she is on your left. Now, command and give the visual reinforcement with your hand and with your right hand, toss a dummy out about 20 feet to your RIGHT. If the dog breaks, say NOTHING. You are between her and the dummy and are in control here. Let her go until she gets just to you, the grab the leads, haul her up, command "whoa" in a slightly growly voice and take her back to where she was supposed to stand. Remember, praise her once she is obeying.

Freck assumes the position in the sling as a pup herself. Be sure to reinforce the verbal command with the visual command of holding your palm up while extending your arm in "traffic cop" style.

Give praise for being in the right place, growl and shake her up when she is in the wrong place. Do not say anything the dog as she is breaking until you have her in the air, off her feet. Learn to anticipate the dog's breaking, the first thing you will see as she breaks and runs is that her shoulders will drop toward the ground. Keep your eyes on her shoulders, when they dip, she is about to break, so get ready. If you can time it, that is a good time to flick that lead so she feels it about her waist. DO NOT yell "whoa" at the dog once she is in the process of breaking. Let her pay the price or decide on her own to stay put once the command is given. The command is given once and the dog must choose to obey or go for a ride in the sling, again WE are just giving good advice.

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The "Come!" command
The "Heel!" command
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