Teaching WHOA! - September, 2015

Teaching WHOA!

Taken from Dave Jones’s Web Site

This is the often-asked question regarding the training of young gun dogs. There are many different ways to teach whoa and I will say up front, there are more ways to skin the proverbial cat than one can count. My way is certainly not the only way.  Different ways fit different dogs.  My way seems to fit Brittanys well.

Whoa is taught to help teach pup to hold his/her point after pup has already established point on his own. We never “whoa” a dog into a point. We teach the dog to naturally go on point by using strong flying quail/pigeons that pup can’t catch (see ‘heel’). After setting the dog up in a few training situations that teach pup that he can’t catch the birds, the well bred pup will naturally start pointing on his own. This is when we kill a bird for pup to help develop desire (don’t do this unless you have already performed sound conditioning). Later, after some considerable training, we will use the calmly stated reminder “whoa” so he can be steadied to wing.

We believe that the first commands to teach pup is coming to his name and teaching pup to cease inappropriate activities when told “NO” or “aaaaaa” (as in tack).  You might want to consider another command other than “NO” because it can confuse pup when you later teach the “WHOA” command. We do not believe that the command “sit” is appropriate at the beginning phases of training since it often times confuses pup when teaching whoa (pup will try to sit when commanded whoa – See “Sit? Not Yet!” On this web page).

Let’s make it clear how important whoa is: Whoa can save a pups life! Pup must learn this command and learn it well. Whoa can keep pup from bolting in front of a car or any other terrible situation you can think of, not to mention that it a fundamental yard working command that lays the foundation for the pup when it’s time for field work.  A dog taught whoa properly will not creep/bust/chase.

We teach whoa at about the same time that pup has learned “heel”. We teach heel first because it is an easy command to teach and it is a very good controlling command that doesn’t harm hunting spirit. Heel is the ‘jumping off point’ for all other yard and fieldwork commands that follows (please read the ‘heel’ section). It ties together the command to whoa as well as keeping the dog’s head up. For a dog to point with style, they need to understand that they should carry themselves in the field with their head up to efficiently find game and to stay steady at whoa when they find game. They also come to understand that when they are released from heel with the double whistle/tap, they are to start running, hunting, and having fun. The heel command does not affect them mentally in the field unless improperly applied.

BEFORE I start with how to teach whoa, keep this in mind:  Your dog is never allowed to be released from whoa unless you: A. heel him away, or B. touch him on the head to release him, or C. shoot a gun.  This teaches him later to never move once he is either commanded or self-initiates a whoa.  Steadiness is important!  I will remind you later!

Once the pup has learned “heel” we add “whoa”. When you stop walking and the pup is properly heeled at your side, command in an easy tone “whoa”.   You may stroke him up and talk sweet talk but don’t let him move.  Do this every time you stop while he is at the heel position. In pups’ mind, he will associate stopping with the word “whoa”.   The reason we use an easy tone when commanding “whoa” is that when you really need it, like pup bolting across a busy road, you can say it loudly and firmly, which will certainly get pups attention! Also, teaching whoa in a nice way up front teaches him that pleasure is associated with the word, not harshness. If the pup doesn’t stop when you stop, then you will need to lightly check him with the lead, set him back to the position of heel and command whoa – style him up while he is standing there and give him some sweet talk while repeating ‘whoa’. He will associate good things with standing and hearing the ‘whoa’ word so will be more apt to stop and stand the next time you are heeling him and command whoa. We want our dog to abruptly stop when commanded to whoa.  This carries over to the field later as your dog will associate whoa with pointing and be more apt to ‘slam’ on point rather than slow down and finally stop to point.  We want our dogs to slam on point.

We like to add the “Barrel technique” at the same time that we’re adding whoa to the heel command, since it really teaches pup to stand firmly and intensely. The Barrel technique is found in my tips index.

Please read our section on ‘heel’ as it explains how to introduce the pup to birds using heel and how to cultivate the dog’s nose properly.

When pup is conditioned enough to heel without you holding onto the lead and pup is whoaing at your side, it’s time to start the “walk out front” routine. This is the next step in teaching whoa in your yard work. This is done easily by stopping after heeling, commanding whoa (ensure that he is at whoa), then walking out in front of pup while raising your arm out from your body with your hand in the “stop” position (like a traffic cop signals stop) towards pup. Pup may be confused and try to walk with you. If he does, say nothing, pick him up, put him back where you originally whoaed him, then repeat firmly, “whoa” and speak some the same sweet talk you used in his earlier training when teaching him to whoa at your side. Now ‘walk out front™’ again. Soon pup will associate the non-verbal “stop-sign” with the command whoa and knows to stay put.  You may also hold the lead in your hand when you walk out front so that if he creeps, you can ‘check’ him (see checking in my yard working plan) to reinforce the whoa command.

Why is the ‘walk out front™’ routine important?  It is the fundamental building block for a dog that will be steadied to wing or wing and shot.  How?  When the dog goes on point, you want him to stand at whoa while you walk out front to flush the bird right?  If pup won’t let you walk out front with him on whoa in the yard, why would you expect him to do it in the field???? 

Once the pup is basically standing at whoa and letting you walk out front, he may challenge you by taking a step or two towards you or away from where he originally was whoaed. To stop this, gently check him with the lead that you are holding in your hand while standing out front of him and repeat sharply “Whoa!” then put him back where he was standing. Soon your dog will let you walk out front and he will stand there without moving. Add a degree of difficulty to the command once he is doing this by walking a large circle around him.  He may just follow you

with his head or he may turn around. If he moves his feet, put him back and repeat as above. Whoa means no foot movement! Later we will refine this by not allowing him to move his head or tail.

Let me make one point here: You don’t have to use the non-verbal hand signal command but it is a godsend when in a tense hunting situation. It really works well in Hunt Tests when you are not suppose to do anything other than quietly and gently remind your dog to stay at honor. Often the judges won’t even see your subtle reminder and will be amazed at your dogs’ great intensity at whoa when honoring.

Keep this in mind:  Your dog is never allowed to be released from whoa unless you: A. heel him away, or B. touch him on the head to release him, or C. shoot a gun.  This teaches him later to never move once he is either commanded or self-initiates a whoa.  Steadiness is important!

Now it’s time to teach the ‘walking whoa™’.  This time we don’t stop and say “whoa”.  While walking with our dog at heel we command “whoa” calmly while continuing to walk (without stopping). The dog will be confused and probably only hesitate instead of whoaing because you usually stop before commanding whoa and he is probably associating whoa more with you stopping than the actual word itself.

Think like a dog here, each situation is unique to him and pup is easily confused. Simply stop, say nothing, pick him up, and return him to the approximate spot where you commanded whoa while walking, put him down and say “whoa” firmly. BINGO, he makes a connection! He learned earlier that when you put him back and firmly said “whoa”, which he had messed up by not staying at whoa. Now we’re making progress. Repeat this exercise several times until he does it perfectly. Perfect means stopping immediately when calmly told whoa and staying there. Don’t make this too difficult yet. Only walk out front 5 to 6 feet with lead in hand, turn and face him with the stop sign. NEVER SAY WHOA AGAIN when walking out front; in other words, saying it once means stay put! Don’t forget to style him up with sweet talk and such.  If your dog is particularly stubborn, you can check him when you command whoa instead of putting him back….so it goes like this on the walking whoa:  walk with dog at heel, command ‘whoa’ but while you still walk.  If he doesn’t immediately stop on the command ‘whoa’, immediately check him and repeat the command.

Now we start adding greater degrees of difficulty. Try trotting with your dog at heel and commanding whoa. Again, this is different to pup and he will be confused. Put him back as above. Soon pup will SLAM on brakes when commanded whoa (calmly) while running.

Note:  If your dog is not slamming to a stop when commanded to whoa, you are not doing the job properly.  Go BACK to whoaing at heel and check the dog if it does not stop immediately when commanded to whoa.  Immediately means no further movement!

Next step is to go back to ordinary yard work except this time; pup is working at leads length IN FRONT of you (a 6 feet long lead is what we use for all yard work when not using the check cord). He is no longer heeling; he’s working out front so guess what? He will be confused when you command whoa. Put him back as above. Soon pup will understand to stop immediately at whoa when commanded at leads’ length. This is also the time when we start teaching “hup” or “round” or whatever word you want to change the quartering dog’s direction in the field. That will be a separate lesson that we will post later.

When pup is whoaing immediately at leads’ length, we move to the check cord (holding it in our hand). You guessed it, just like above. When pup is doing this well, in an enclosed yard, we let pup drag the check cord and start work on whoa from there. Now we do it in the enclosed yard without a check cord. When pup has that down, we move to the bird field (no birds yet) and start from heel, then lead, then check cord, then dragging check cord, then no check cord. Always back up a step if he refuses. Remember that pup will be a little stubborn in the bird field because you have already killed a bird over him with one of his puppy points earlier in his developmental stages. This is good, it’s desire!

NEVER WHOA A DOG ON POINT!  Your dog must learn to establish his own point (through some help by you).  Once he establishes his own point, then – and only then, do you command whoa to your young green trained pup.  If you have taught whoa properly, he will stand there without moving and let you flush and shoot the bird in a safe manner.

Keep this in mind:  Your dog is never allowed to be released from whoa unless you: A. heel him away, or B. touch him on the head to release him, or C. shoot a gun.  This teaches him later to never move once he is either commanded or self-initiates a whoa.  Steadiness is important!

Final words: If you have taken your time, kept lessons to less than 15 minutes (10 minutes preferable), ended each lesson positive, had separate play time each day, and been patient and kept your cool, then pup will whoa on a dime at any distance that pup can hear you. Any refusal where pup does not whoa on the dime, you MUST back up one step, sometimes several steps. Don’t rush and remember to love your dog even on bad days. If you’re having a “bad hair day” DON’T TRAIN THAT DAY. This is a 10 to 15 year bond on average, so have fun together!