“I have urgency to my whistles, you have annoyance.” Derek John Fisher

Yesterday I went to the cold windy desert with Derek to work dogs.  This is a standard thing for us lately. We call it Taco Tuesday because usually the day ends thusly.  I’m really a fan of a well-made taco.  Like my whistling, this last bit of information has no real point.

My whistles have long been a snag in my training and trialing experience.  I’ve gone from sucking like a shop vac to blowing like a 10 dollar whore. (Neither, by the way, are considered an asset in sheepdog work).
Especially when I’m stressed, the sounds that come out of my efforts are …like trying to decipher outer space radio static into a ‘Hello, Earthlings! We’re looking forward to Intergalactic Friendship…and maybe some of those Jimmy Dean Pork Pancakes on a Stick…’

A few years ago Lavon suggested that I whistle in the car on my commute to and from work; really refine the noise that I was making into something that a dog could understand.  I worked at it and I got somewhat better in articulating different tones.  I communicated with the eloquence of a bear asking for donuts.

Unlike with bears, It’s not just about a basic demand – whistling is layered, nuanced – communicating several things at one time with tone, volume and tempo. The tones are just one part of a sophisticated (hopefully) whole; the way you express those tones can be crude or eloquent.  Of course this is obvious as information, but in practice. HOLY SHIT.

I do like donuts.

My whistles tend to be as effective as a tourette’s rant,


I knew this years ago, even after the rudimentary improvement, and I know this now, but it just feels too basic to be The Big Problem. I want to work on ADVANCED PROBLEMS….(says my ego, eating a donut).

“THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM! If I ask you to do something, and you are doing it not quite right – which would you respond to better – me clarifying my instructions or me yelling at you in a voice full of derision or disappointment?”

“Uh…”  I was trying to decide under which category waving a taco and nodding might fall.

“No one likes to be yelled at.  You don’t encourage good work by being a dick, especially with the dogs that we are breeding these days….”

He suggested that I try encouraging Jai when she’s right and really trying to stay away from correction,

“Lay her down if you have to, but keep things moving if you can, and keep things calm.”

At one point my whistle and I were clogged,  floundering on the floor of the desert.  Jai was hundreds of yards away and Derek started whistling her around.  She took every whistle smoothly and precisely.  She went from zig zagging and hesitantly trying a flank, to decisively moving and even moderating her speed.  It was night and day from moments before- his clarity – his instruction delivered clearly and in enough detail helped her to relax and do her job.  Her confidence was instantly drastically improved.

He also suggested that I concentrate on whistling from my diaphragm instead of my stomach, which initially confused and embarrassed me.

“You know, when I first started out, I took voice lessons,” Derek told me. “I knew it was that important to have range and depth.”

He was wearing a plaid wool jumpsuit, so I was not surprised.  I was relieved.