The Whoa Command
Most pointing dog training requires the dog to be standing still. To ensure that happens, we use a command to make the dog stop. That command is most often “whoa”.
Many professional trainers feel the “whoa” command is the most important command for the pointing dog. Your author puts the “whoa” command at the same level of importance as the recall command (come or here). If your dog knows and obeys these two commands, your dogs will be under your control in the field and hunting days will be much more enjoyable. For this article, we’ll address just the “whoa’ command.
Whoa means just that. When hearing the “whoa” command, the dog should stop immediately and stand still until released. No additional steps and no creeping; just stop. Once your pointing dog is fully obedient to the “whoa” command, you’ll see how much easier it is to teach the dog to be steady. Breaking a dog from chasing is not easy since chasing prey is a natural instinct.
There are many methods used to teach “whoa”. The “whoa” post is an old time method. This consists of a post driven solidly into the ground. With a 20’ or 30’ long-line, let the dog advance on one side of the post and the handler walks forward on the opposite side. When the dog reaches the end of the line, the handler says “whoa” and also raises his hand and gives the stop signal. Because there is no more line to feed out, the dog must stop. We then associate the stop with “whoa”. This is a fairly simply method but has stood the test of time for many years. The command “whoa” should be given in a soft tone and almost two syllables. This separates the sound of the command from a sharp “no”.
Another technique for teaching “whoa” is the use of a barrel. A barrel is set into a stand to make it secure. A piece of indoor/outdoor carpeting is secured to the top. The carpet prevents the dog’s pads from slipping. The dog seldom moves when on the top of the barrel. An assistant lifts and places the dog on the barrel. As soon as the dog’s feet make contact with the barrel, the trainer, standing and facing the dog, raises his hand in the stop position and commands “whoa”. The dog will not move.
And, here is my favorite technique for teaching whoa…the training table. It should be at least 12’ long (16’ is better), 2’ wide and elevated about 2 ½ feet. Put a ramp on each end of the table. The purpose of using a table is to save your back and make it easier to control your dog. Using a standard 6’ lead, guide your dog up the ramp on one end and then the entire length of the table and down the end ramp. Circle around and do it three or four more times. Around the fourth or fifth time, about half way on the table, stick your arm out and in front of the dog and give the “whoa” command. Make the dog stop. With the dog stopped, it may help to pick the dog up and place it down with another “whoa” command as soon as the dogs feet hit the table. During these early exercises, be happy if the dog stays still for just three or four seconds. And, reward those three or four seconds with congratulatory excitement and a small food reward.
After five or six successful sessions on the training table, it’s time to transfer the command to the field. When your dog has a good visual sight line to you, give it the “whoa” command and raise your hand. If your dog had successful training on the table, then the dog should stop on a dime. If he doesn’t, go to him, pick him up and put him back to where he would have been when the command was given. Then, in a low voice, say “whoa” once or twice. This is all it takes for most dogs to learn “whoa”. Like all training, however, the work is never completely finished. Practice the command frequently with your dog.
A few additional comments. If you’re thinking about using an e-collar to help the process, be sure the dog has been conditioned to the e-collar. Before using e-collar stimulation, try the tone or buzz feature…it’s frequently all you need. The “whoa” command can be introduced to a puppy at ten weeks of age. However, in my opinion, it should always be taught at six months or younger. Also, once your dog begins to show progress, slowly stop the treat and hand signal.
Your hunting days will be much more enjoyable if your dog knows and respects the “whoa” command.
Paul Fuller is host of Bird Dogs Afield TV, which may be seen in the Greater Boston area on WBIN (Comcast Ch. 18) Fox 21 in Duluth, MN and Fox 23 in Portland beginning in November and running through December. Previous TV broadcast episodes, and dozens of training and hunting videos and Paul’s previous Sporting Journal columns may be seen or read on Paul’s website which is www.birddogsafield.com. Paul may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.