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.
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.
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 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.
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