Dos and Don’ts of the Whoa Command
In past columns, I’ve written about the importance of the” whoa” command and how to teach it. Whoa and come (or here) are the two most important commands for our pointing dogs. If properly taught, a dog stops immediately when hearing “whoa” and doesn’t move until released. I won’t leave home with a dog that’s not obedient to “whoa”.
As important as this command is to the pointing dog handler, it’s often misused and sends confusing messages to our dog. Let’s look at a few improper uses of the “whoa” command and then examples of the proper use.
The first improper use of “whoa” that I would like to cover is when a young pup begins flash pointing a bird and then breaks and chases. That natural instinct of the puppy is to chase and that’s exactly what you want them to do. If “whoa” is used too early on a pup, the pup will think that this whole bird thing is wrong. You’ll develop a blinker. Puppies need to chase until the chase is out of them. After the chase is gone, the point will become much more elongated. You’re then on your way to a steady pointing dog.
Another improper use, which I’ve seen often, is immediately delivery “whoa” during a training session when your dog establishes a point. Never use whoa unless you are sure there is a bird present. If the bird has run and your dog is pointing stale scent, you’re going to create a dog that gives you many unproductive points. You’re teaching the dog to stay steady on stale scent. A hunting dog should learn to relocate on stale scent.
And, still on the subject of relocating, sometimes novice dog owners confuse creeping and relocating. A dog that is relocating, typically has softened and their tail is somewhat more relaxed. A dog that is creeping is typically fairly stiff…they know the bird is still there, however, they feel it would be fun to get closer. If you’re confident that the bird is still there, then one soft “whoa”, in my opinion, is fine. Don’t continually deliver “whoa” or your dog will feel being around bird scent is wrong.
For me, 90% of the time I use “whoa”, it’s in a soft and almost two syllable word. Like whoa-oh. This separates it from “no”. The other 10% is a little louder and more harsh. An example would be if I saw my dog approaching a porcupine. Or if my dog started chasing off-game such as deer. Or approaching a railroad track might warrant a “whoa” command.
Whoa also is handy when teaching to honor another dog’s point. This could be a little confusing to the pointing dog, however. To help avoid this confusion, I say my dog’s name first and then say “whoa”.
Teach your dog the “whoa” command, use it correctly, and you’ll have a well behaved hunting partner.
Tail Feathers: Depending upon the severity of the remaining winter, the spring woodcock migration may begin before my next column. For many of us, this precious little bird provides us with most of our upland hunting enjoyment in the fall. If training on woodcock in the spring, please don’t follow-up on a flush. These birds are tired and they’re on a mission to get to their breeding grounds. Also, enjoy a week or ten days of spring work and then get your dogs out-of-the-woods. A hen often will not return to a nest when flushed or harassed. Thank you.
Paul Fuller has been an outdoor communicator since 1971. In addition to writing this column, Paul is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV show. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org