Dog whistles work safely if:
- If they aren’t blown for long periods
- Are not blown close to the dog’s ear
- Used during proper training
- The owner understands how they work and how to responsibly use them
They’re safe for humans as they work on a higher frequency that humans cannot hear
No doubt you’re familiar with dog whistles. It looks odd to see someone blow into one… only for no noise to be heard.
Not by you, anyway. And if you do hear anything, it’s likely to be minimal.
Yet the dog the person is with responds to that whistle. If you watch, you’ll see the whistle doesn’t hurt the dog at all. Instead, it is used as a tool. You’ll discover how and why this happens later in my article.
First, though, you’ll learn how the whistle works and why you can’t hear it. If you’re concerned your dog might be harmed if you use a dog whistle, don’t worry. I’ve thoroughly researched this topic to bring you all the facts you need to know.
Dog Whistles Aren’t Harmful if Used Correctly
According to the website Psychology Today, the dog whistle was borne out of some research into hearing in humans by a man called Sir Francis Galton.
Funny how that research led to the silent dog whistle being created, isn’t it?
He was exploring how certain sound frequencies could be heard by children and not by adults.
Dogs can hear sounds that are pitched higher than all humans can hear, too, regardless of age.
This means no whistle is silent – it just maybe that it’s pitched too high for you to hear.
Your dog might still hear it though. And there is no danger to them if it is at a higher pitch. As always, the volume is what matters more – not the pitch.
You (hopefully) wouldn’t blow a normal whistle loudly right next to a person’s ear. So, you shouldn’t do the same to your dog either.
Using a dog whistle correctly means:
- Not blowing it too hard
- Making sure you don’t blow it for too long
- Standing at a reasonable distance from your dog when you use it
If you stick to these rules, your dog will experience no ill effects from a dog whistle.
If using a whistle for the first time, blow gently and only blow a little harder if required. Since you won’t be able to hear it, you need to rely on your dog to see if they react.
Build up to the right level rather than blasting away and then reducing it.
If You Are Outdoors, Your Dog May Not Hear It Even at the Correct Pitch
The sound of a dog whistle can carry quite a distance. However, if the wind is working against you, you may find that the sound carries in the wrong direction instead of reaching your dog.
This is uncommon, but you should be aware of it if you’re thinking of using a whistle on a windy day.
The Whistle Can Be Made of Various Materials
You will see different types of whistles on the market. They are typically made from:
They can be:
- Worn on a lanyard around the neck
- Tucked into a pocket
- Downloaded via an app onto your smartphone (yes, really)
A quality dog whistle should work across a range of pitches. This adjustable nature means you can try different frequencies, so you are assured that your dog can hear it. Usually, you find you need to twist it to adjust the frequency.
Just remember to use it properly and responsibly, as we discovered earlier.
The Whistle Gets Your Dog’s Attention but Does Not Train It
If you blow this type of whistle and your dog’s ears perk up, you know it has heard the noise. The whistle is a way of attracting your dog’s attention, but it won’t achieve anything beyond that.
During my research for this article, I’ve read stories of people who said that dog whistles don’t work. Some had bought them to blow whenever their neighbor’s dog went out in the back yard and barked.
Reading about these whistles brought up lots of similar stories where people obviously thought all they needed to do was to blow, and the magic would happen. You do read plenty about whistles being used as a training tool, so it makes sense.
In some cases, the people got lucky, and the dogs paid attention, hearing the whistle… but since they hadn’t been trained on what to do next, it made no difference to the barking.
Think of the whistle as step one. If you don’t follow that up with the next step, you’re not going to get the results you are looking for.
Therefore, if you are interested in getting a whistle to see how it might help you train your dog, remember you must train them properly and use the whistle as an aid. It’s not a miracle worker in itself (unfortunately).
Not All Dogs Respond to Dog Whistles
There doesn’t seem to be any reason why some dogs pay attention to them, and others don’t. However, as you now know, some owners blow the whistles and expect results, and that won’t happen.
If you try all kinds of frequencies at a reasonable distance from your dog and nothing is working, it could be that your pooch just isn’t keen on learning that way.
My Experience Using a Dog Whistle with Our Bichon Frise
Freya is a delight. She responds well to training. Bichons are eager to learn and impress (mostly). I use clicker training and treats to reward her. She also responds beautifully to voice commands using the right tone to get a result.
However, when it comes to whistles, she doesn’t want to know. She looks at me as if to say, ‘You expect me to be impressed with that? Where’s my treat?’
By comparison, if I stand in front of her and raise my chin slightly, raising my eyebrows too, she’ll sit. That’s it. I don’t even need to say anything.
I gave the whistle a good shot. I tried different pitches, but nothing seemed to work. She just wasn’t bothered about the whistle. But as soon as I got a few training treats out and used hand commands and voice commands, she was there, ready and willing to learn.
She never runs off and disappears when we let her off the leash either, though. A whistle would be a better tool to have to recall a dog if you have that issue.
So, if your dog doesn’t seem bothered about the whistle, don’t worry. Some respond far more positively to some methods than others.
The most important thing is to use the method they are happiest with, and that gets you the best response from your dog.
Dog Whistles Should Be Used for Positive Reinforcement Training
Positive reinforcement means your dog is rewarded for doing something right rather than being scolded for getting something wrong. Dogs respond to praise and shy away from being told off, and who can blame them?
So, teach your pooch to connect the sound of the whistle with something good happening. One quick toot from the whistle… ooh, your dog thinks, they’ve got a treat for me if I go back and see them now.
Use Different Tones and Whistles to Train Your Dog
Once you have determined that your pooch can hear the whistle, you can begin training.
Think of a whistle as giving you a language you and your dog can both understand. It’s up to you how to teach them. Here are some ideas:
- To recall your dog, give two short toots on the whistle
- To get them to stop where they are, one longer toot on the whistle
- To get them to walk alongside you, one toot that goes up at the end
You get the idea. I’ve read lots of experiences and stories online from other dog owners, and the successful ones always have something in common.
It’s a good idea to have a pocketful of treats ready and the whistle hanging around your neck on a lanyard when you’re training with this method. If the dog starts to associate the sound of the whistle with a treat, they’ll return time and again.
Treat-based training coupled with a dog whistle, is a great way to achieve results. Freya may not have liked it, and it doesn’t work with all dogs, but if you’re looking for a way to train your dog safely, a dog whistle could be ideal.
Deaf Dogs Can Still Sometimes Hear and Respond to a Dog Whistle
Deafness occurs when the dog can no longer hear certain sounds, or at least not well enough to be aware of them and what they mean. However, you might be able to pitch a dog whistle at just the right point for your dog to hear it.
It’s not guaranteed, but it is a possibility if you have an older dog or one with hearing loss.
Bottom Line: Dog Whistles are Safe When Used Responsibly
A dog whistle shouldn’t be used all day every day. Responsible use combined with proper training can make a dog whistle a great tool, though.
If your dog does get along with whistle training, don’t ever leave home without one. It could help you recall them when they are off the leash, freeing you from needing to shout yourself hoarse trying to get their attention.
Now, wouldn’t that be a relief?