Jenny, my little English setter pup, turned a year last month. This past season I took her along on bird-hunting trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota. It was great fun for Jenny and me, and good experience for a pup, but now the real work begins. So this past week Jenny got introduced to the whoa post.
The “whoa” command, most pro trainers will tell you, is the most important command in the pointing dog’s repertoire, and the foundation for everything that comes after. It’s perhaps a flawed analogy, but you could call it the pointing dog equivalent of force-fetch in retriever training.
Simply put, “whoa” means stop. As in right now. There are any number of ways to teach whoa, as there are any number of theories as to when to teach it. I chose to wait and let my dog run wild and have fun for her puppy season before starting the real training and use the whoa post when I did start. Some may start earlier and teach whoa with a barrel, a table or a simple check cord. Whatever works for you.
I use the whoa post simply because I grew up reading the Bill Tarrant/Delmar Smith book “Best Way to Train Your Gun Dog.” But one thing I am doing new this time around is using the flank hitch technique rather than the original pinch collar technique in Tarrant’s book.
If you want a very good lengthy and detailed explanation of the whoa post, here’s a great article on the Rick Smith website (one of two pro trainer sons of Delmar Smith. Ronnie Smith http://www.ronniesmithkennels.com/ is the other). It’s worth a read, but here’s a very truncated explanation.
You’ll need two 20 or 25-foot checkcords and a post to snap one checkcord into. That’s it, really. The whoa post can be made out of anything; a t-post, a tie-out stake, fence post, flagpole, whatever.
I start by snapping one end of one of the checkcords into the post and laying it out straight. I then snap the dog into the other checkcord. I take the end of the checkcord that’s snapped into the post, run it between the dog’s back legs, up and over her back, then back under the flank so it forms a loose half-hitch. I then run the end of the checkcord between the dog’s front legs and snap it into the collar.
The dog now has two points of contact and control: one on the flank and one on the neck. I walk away from the dog toward the end of the checkcord that’s not snapped into the post while keeping slight tension on it. When I reach the end of the checkcord, I apply tension. The dog simply can’t go anywhere because she’s immobilized at the terminus of both checkcords.
It sounds confusing, I know, but if you’ve ever watched a rodeo, try to imagine what the steer looks like at the end of the team roping event. It’s sort of the same thing: The post is the header and you’re the heeler. I then release the tension and give her an opportunity to break. Every time she does I reapply the tension. At this point I’m not even saying whoa, I’m just letting her figure out on her own what to do. I keep the whoa post sessions brief and positive and give her some positive attention afterwards. After a few more sessions I’ll start introducing the command.
After some initial resistance Jenny quickly picked up what it was she’s supposed to be doing, and hopefully when I introduce the command she’ll put everything together. Anyone else currently teaching whoa to a young dog? How are you doing it? Post? Barrel? Just a check cord?