kids stop a dog from running into the street.
Dog Training

The Dog Command that Can Save a Dog’s Life

This hunting inspired dog command could save a dog’s life when properly trained.

The dog ran down the driveway at lighting speed, excitement and adrenaline surging as the gray squirrel fled in panic. To the owner’s horror, the squirrel made a break to cross the road to escape the hungry jaws of the dog. Meanwhile, the dog’s excitement was creating tunnel vision. Nothing else mattered in the world, and all other sensory inputs were shut down. We can all think of the horrors and fears that could follow next. Our worst nightmare unfolding before our eyes. But this story isn’t far-fetched. These things happen every day. It’s almost insane to think we could ever prevent that dog’s reaction to a situation like the one described above. Most people would never dream of letting a dog outside without a leash for precisely that reason. So how do you plan for it? What is the plan? Is there some way to train a dog that can keep them safe from this human environment? 

If one had to choose the command most important to a dog’s life, what would it be? Would it be a recall command like here or come? Would it be to stay or heel? Maybe that isn’t something we think of often enough as pet owners. It begs the question of what that command should be and why?

As the Dakota brand is built on the idea of “Unparalleled Pet Protection,” Safety is our default answer to the “why.” While building the top kennel is a priority of our company there are many more aspects of a dog outside a crate. But what command stands as one above the rest for a dog? After all, a well-trained dog is a safe dog. But we are asking if you could only choose one, what would it be? 

The command that we’d like to recommend is a command that has roots in pointing dog culture. Before it was applied to dogs, it was used for horse training (for similar reasons). The whoa command is the command to stop and freeze where you are. And it is ultimately the command that could save a dog’s life. 

A command like stay falls short as it’s often a close command that cannot be used at a distance. The whoa command, in contrast, is taught to dogs in high excitement situations, when prey drive is not only overwhelming in the moment but also a sought-after attribute in the breeding and selection process in the first place! 

In pointing dog culture, the command prevents a dog from moving during a point. A simple whoa as a dog’s nose fills with the scent of a bird is trained to prevent the dog from taking even a single step. The command is not so much about the “pointing” of a bird but rather the development of a steady dog. A steady dog is a safe dog because a steady dog does not move as hunters shoot at flushing game birds. It keeps the dog far away from the muzzles of guns and in a controlled location, producing greater safety. 

In the squirrel and dog scenario above, there are many of the same chemical triggers for a dog, whether or not it is a hunting breed. There is an innate prey drive in every dog. They are predators, after all. There is also the adrenaline of chase – the moment where dogs do not always follow commands unless they were thoroughly trained to do so. 

For those that master this single command, the shout of whoa! will freeze that dog in its tracks, well before the end of the driveway and well before any danger. 

This command is versatile in the home as well. People often whoa their dogs through doorways to allow the handler or other people to go first while reinforcing the pack behavior. Some drill with the command daily while feeding, whoa-ing their dog until the magic word releases them. It’s like a game of red light green light with a dog. 

The command to release a dog should also be something that is not common in everyday vocabulary. A big mistake people make is using the word okay as a release command. The problem, of course, being the frequency that it is used in normal speech. The word release is a pretty straightforward alternative as it is not a common word to use. But it could be something as obscure as a foreign language or something as crazy as “blueberries.” 

The whoa command can be taught in daily life. It is a command that a professional dog trainer can help work on with you. It is a command that you should practice within SAFE moments of excitement. Repetition and practice will give you a reliable command when it is needed most. So when you think of the next trick or drill to run through while training and enjoying time with your dog, we urge dog owners to add this powerful and safe command to the inventory of pet safety in your life. While we can think keep working on the details of dog crate safety like anti-microbial additives in kennels, it is up to you and your best friend to build a solid foundation of training and trust.

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