Put simply, it is a message we give our dog to tell them that the action that they have completed is the action which we were asking of them, and in completing this action successfully, they have won a reward.
This kind of tallies up to the equivelant of you being given money for completing a job. The money itself has no value - you can't eat it, but when you get it, you know that:
1. You have done a good job, your customer is pleased with you.
2. The job is done, you have completed the task required.
3. You are able to trade this money in for something you want.
We can't send our dogs off to the shops to go choose what they want from their "money", so we make the assumption for them that they would, if they could, most likely spend it on food, play items, fun and grooming / tickles. We should also to grade our rewards for the jobs we ask of them, being aware that even just sitting ight take a lot of effort for a young, excitable dog but should not be too much trouble for an older dog to manage, depending on how well he has been trained and proofed in the past, so when grading, it helps to try and put a price on it - how good was that act in terms of speed, effort and accuracy. Not every job is worth £100, but some jobs well done are worth a bonus!
Having taught Escher his basic hand cue for "sit", it was time to move it on to the whistle.
Its a pretty simple transfer process in the early stages. First of all we teach our dogs to sit using a lure under their noses, raising the lure slowly so that the bottom goes down and the pup finds itself in sitting position, we mark the desired behaviour (the sit), using either the word 'yes' or with the clicker before giving the dog the treat.
Your pup will quickly recognise this movement so long as you are very clear with your reward marker, and so the food is no longer needed as a lure, but produced from "elsewhere" after the act has been marked - ie the treat might be in your pocket, in a hand behind your back or if your really organised, in a pot on a shelf. Practice to the point whereby you only need to slightly raise your hand for your puppy to realise that this gesture means he is to sit but be sure to raise your hand and hold it up high to finish - in the future, he will need to be able to see this gesture from some distance . Now we can start shifting our cues.
I like the 211.5, Its not so as shrill as the 210.5 and I've always used it. Some say its important, I can't say for sure, I've never had an issue with my dogs not recognising the different pitch and personally believe that the dog is more likely listening to the whistle pattern than the pitch, but its as easy to keep them all the same.
One big consideration is that they aren't very big and easily lost, so get lots!
You can now get them in a variety of bright colours and bright colours tend to be a lot easier to find if dropped into the bottom of a bag, dumped on an overcrowded shelf or otherwise misplaced.
Transferring the cue
Most commonly, we teach the dog the cue word 'sit' to mean sit. You could just as easily use the word 'banana', its really not important - what is important is that you are consistant so that the dog is not in any doubt as to what you mean. Start in a low distraction environment, offer your new cue word 'sit' (that it to say, *say* the word sit) and immediately offer the cue you have previously taught your dog and you have practiced to the point whereby your dog is consitantly sitting on this cue, ie the hand signal of a raised hand.
Please make sure your dog recognises this as a fun thing to so. I really hate to hear owners giving their dogs really angry sounding commands. Happy voices make for more willing co-workers. Who on earth would want to work along side Mr Grouchypants? Would you?
So on to the whistle...
One big advantage a whistle has over a vocal, word cue is that it doesn't have a "Grouchypants voice", it's a simple, clinical, clear cut noise, however, latest research is showing how amazingly good our dogs are at reading our emotions from simply recognising our facial expressions, so its worth trying your best to pip with a smile! One downside is that the blast from a whistle can be quite a resounding noise, its not really a training exercise that can be practiced indoors!
Away from your dog, you can have a little fun annoying people. Practice that whistle pip. You are aiming for one good strong blast that lasts no less than a second, but for the sake of all ears, no more. Once you are comfortable with this away from your dog, outside, blow your whistle cue, and immediately offer your hand signal, wait it our until your dog sits, and then be sure to use your reward maker and then providse your dog with his justly won reward. Practice no more than 5 times in a row, then be sure to take this game out and about with you. Sunday morning around the housing estates make for fun ;) Joking aside, you really want to be practicing this at least 3 times a day, everywhere you physically can, but take care not to expect too much too soon. Don't be tempted to add distance until you have added duration.
Remember, our 'reward marker' is also a 'release', so in order to add duration, we mucst make it very clear to our dogs that he should not get up, or move until released, as in released - you can get up and go now, or given a follow on cue such as come to heel.
It really helps your dog if you can maintain such a work flow in that your movements are wholly restricted to those that are of direct relevence to him. We do not need to point fingers, add other words such as stay or wait or do anything to give him mixed messages, we want to set him up for success by making our language as clear as possible for him.
Here, a little pre planning can help, ensure you have access to your reward supply from behind you and keep your hands out of the way, behind your back, so he is relying soley on your face for his communication, keep a bit of a smile up to give him confidence, latest scintific research using mri scans show how important our facial expressions are to our dogs. Calmly bring your food hand forward and put the the tiniest peice in his mouth, coming up slightly from under his chin rather than reaching down from above to reduce temptation for him to reach up and for it which might cause him to break his sit, and be ready with your other hand to refuel and follow through with a second reward, and then a third, and then a fourth, then with both hands behind your back, use your reward marker "yes", count 1, 2 and throw either a ball or food or other favoured toy so that he ha to fget up for it, have a little party, whoop whoop, and a round of applause. He should be feeling very, very pleased with himself.