Words and Images from Ed Felker

Training, Trust and the ‘Whoa’ Command


On a walk through some thick woods this evening, one of my dogs got in a bit of a bind. Nothing serious, but the way it played out was, I believe, important.

Finn, shown here earlier on the walk very curious about the critters inhabiting this hollow tree, was bounding ahead of me down a steep grade of thick brush. I was weaving my way through a thicket of thorns and vines when I heard him cry out ahead of me, maybe fifty feet. I know Finn, and I know he cries out for two reasons: pain, or fear. This was fear. I made my way clear enough to see his predicament — he had jumped down a steep embankment through a loop of vine about the diameter of a nickel and plenty strong. His back legs didn’t make it through and caught him at the hips, suspending his back legs off the ground. He tried to get away using his front feet, but this just twisted him around. He was powerless to get free and even more powerless to understand the nature of the pickle he had gotten himself into.

I called out to him, “Whoa…whoa…” Not yelling, but loud enough for him to hear over the racket he was making. He stopped struggling and watched me. I gently repeated the command over and over as I freed myself from my own nest of vines, reached him and lifted his rear legs through the vine loop. He was very happy to have all fours on the ground again, but I think I was even happier that in a situation where panic was beginning to set in, he trusted me to get him out of the jam, and obeyed the command I gave him from a distance.

“Whoa” is, I think, primarily a bird dog thing, but my dogs don’t even hunt and I find all sorts of useful applications for this command. Bath time, posing for photos, waiting at the door before walking through it or greeting guests, etc. But those are all conveniences for me. It was special to be able to use something he had learned like this to calm him and buy me some time to reach him, and I feel like this little episode put us at a new level of trust.

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5 responses

  1. Such a good boy. It’s wonderful that he trusts you so.

    October 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

  2. Rick Hiorn

    I use the whoa command all the time. It just ramps down the excitment level so that they are listening to you.

    October 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    • It does, Rick, and it’s particularly useful with Finn, who is much more excitable than the other half of Team Orange. I think it’s also helpful to realize that, even when I’m not doing much “training,” we’re always, always training. Just be *using* these commands, they are becoming more and more ingrained.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  3. Awesome story, Ed. Pats to Finn. I’ve been using “Wait” with Loki to mean stop and just wait for me to show/tell what to do next. I don’t “work” on it, I just use it in the appropriate situations. I am finally noticing that he’s getting it on walks and in the house. It’s going to be really important when I do stuff he doesn’t care for, like nail trimming (which I’ve avoided since I’ve been working on his trust issues). Once you understand that every interaction with your dogs is a training opportunity, suddenly, it is amazing how many chances per day you get to reinforce something or give them a chance to offer a behavior just in the course of normal routines!

    October 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm

  4. It occurs to me that I say “whoa” outloud all the time! I think I’m talking to myself! 🙂 I’m so glad you were in a position to help and that Finn is safe. I hope this nasty experience doesn’t temper his natural curiosity! Such a beautiful dog. Debra

    October 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm

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