It was easy to see a disaster in the making- an alarmed skunk and a hard-charging dog on collision courses. Neither knew the other was there but both were going to be very aware of the other within a few seconds.
But Hank didn’t get a face-full of skunk spray and I didn’t have to spend the next several hours trying to remove one of nature’s most wretched odors from a family pet.
The probable problems were resolved as clean as a whistle – literally.
For the past 27 years I’ve been a huge proponent of whistle-trained dogs. The basics are simple.
One single, solid blast means sit immediately.
Several combined, very short tweets means to come immediately.
Working the whistle with verbal commands of “sit” and “come” can be taught to dogs at very early ages. The retrievers I’ve trained through the years have been working very well with whistles by the time they were four months old.
One of the primary uses has been directing the dogs to birds or dummies they didn’t see fall. I hit the whistle, they sit and I use hand signals to send them in specific directions.
But it’s also stopped them when heading towards a pond with very thin ice, chasing wounded birds across a road and called dogs from several blocks away when they’ve gotten from the yard in town.
The sound of a whistle registers immediately in their minds and can’t be confused with the hundreds of words we may speak on a hunting or training trip. No question they can hear and translate whistle commands far, far further than the human voice.
So Sunday afternoon Hank and I were scouting deer sign and just having fun in a friend’s thick pasture and around their nice lake in Harvey County. I was working Hank on some fun retrieves as we walked.
I’d tossed the dummy about 30 yards and had just released Hank from a sit to make the fetch when a black and white tail shot straight up a few yards from where the dummy had landed. Hank was about one-third of the way there when it happened.
The whistle was already in my teeth and one loud, long tweet stopped the dog like he’d hit a brick wall. He sat, turned and looked at me for instructions. I walked a bit closer and called him to me, again placing him on a sit.
We have no “stay” command, “sit” means sit until released.
After watching the skunk waddle Hank stayed on his sit while I walked over and picked up the dummy.
Needless to say, we turned and started looking for deer sign in another direction. Back home the only odor I had to deal with was the very bearable smell of a wet dog.