Do Dog Whistles Really Work?

April 29, 2015

dog whistle andreaBy Langley Cornwell

Have you ever seen those whistles that people blow and no sound comes out? I’ve always been intrigued by the thought that our canine friends can hear something that makes no perceptible sound to the human ear. When I think of a dog whistle, that’s what I think of, those whistles that make no sound. But we were at a pet expo recently, and there was a demonstration that involved police service dogs performing a variety of exercises. Throughout the program, the dog handlers used whistles we could hear. What’s more, the whistles were different for different dogs. In other words, each dog had a whistle that was specific to him.

When I was young, my dad taught me to curl my tongue, shove two fingers in my mouth and blow. I can make a whistling sound that you can hear in the next time zone. I don’t overuse this super skill, but sometimes when the dogs are hiking with us off-leash and they get out of our range of sight, I let the whistle rip. When they hear it, they come back immediately. Could my fingers be considered a dog whistle? What is a real dog whistle?

The Background

A curious genius and relative of Charles Darwin developed the first dog whistle, kind of by accident. Sir Francis Galton was interested in human hearing and how it all worked. In 1876, he developed a small brass whistle with a slide so he could alter the whistle’s frequency, thereby testing the range and limitations of man’s hearing. Thus the Galton whistle was born.

Experimentation demonstrated a human’s capacity to process sound, but Galton’s curiosity wasn’t slaked. He went on to repeat these same sonic sound experiments on a variety of animals, including canines. With dogs, he found that the most common sound got the attention of the little dogs but not the bigger breeds. Because the Galton whistle, also known as the dog whistle, had a slide and was able to produce a range of pitches, he concluded there was no single “perfect” sound frequency. There was no single pitch that garnered the same response in every canine test subject. Because of tests that were conducted between 1876 and 1883, most commercial dog whistles available today are adjustable.

A dog’s size is not the only qualifying factor when it comes to the sounds available to him across a spectrum of frequencies. The most important factor is not the frequency or the pitch the whistle makes, but how the dog is acclimated to that specific sound.

Types of Dog Whistles

Because there is no “one size fits all” sound, if you’re interested in incorporating a dog whistle into your training arsenal you’ll have to experiment. A dog’s hearing can vary dog whistle stevenbased on size (as mentioned), age, breed and a variety of other factors.

Some people prefer to use those ultrasonic whistles for practical reasons. The sound carries far, so silent whistles can be useful for recalling dogs over long distances. Also, because a hunting dog’s hearing is more sensitive than the animals that are being hunted, a silent whistle is the best way to signal the dog without alerting the prey.

Otherwise, you’ll just have to try different whistles until you find one that works best for you and your dog. It’s not so much the whistle but the way you use it. For a dog whistle to be effective, consistency is the most important factor.

Uses for Dog Whistles

It all comes down to basic training. Dog whistles can be used just like clickers, voice commands or even treat-based reward training using something delicious like CANIDAE Grain Free PURE Chewy Treats. Dogs are trained to respond in a particular way to a particular sound or stimuli. There is nothing magical about a dog whistle; like other modes of training, it will only work as a result of repetition and familiarity. Like all good dog training techniques, your dog’s reaction to a whistle depends on your consistent training and reinforcement.

Have you ever used a dog whistle to train your dog? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Top photo by Andrea Arden/Flickr
Bottom photo by Steven-L-Johnson/Flickr

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. David says:

    I use dogs whistles on a neighbour’s dog(five doors away) I have 2 whistles, they are both supposed to be silent but sometimes everybody can hear them. However, the once noisy creature is now mostly silent. It was a battle to begin with, but you must take the stand that one bark cannot be tolerated. I don,t know why morons keep dogs in the back yard…or even in the house,if they are noisy.

  2. Christopher Cobb says:

    Do dog whistles really work?

  3. Selissa says:

    Interesting. Whenever I think of dog whistle I think of Mr. Peabody.

    1. Christopher Cobb says:

      That’s very sweet

  4. DMatsuura says:

    The whistles that sheepdog herders use with their dogs work. It’s amazing what they can do with a whistle. Diane @ CANIDAE