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Dog Blog about Whistling

When I was a small child, I remember my father's singing. He had a wonderful voice and was always warbling away. But, although he could carry a tune, he never seemed to know all the words to any song and would make up the bar with any that would fit and or rhyme. Some of these fill-ins remain with me to this day. When I hear an old standard on the radio, I can't help singing his version over the top. The other thing my dad could do was whistle.

Any child can join in with singing – whistling takes a spot of dedication. My efforts, when heard by my mother, were met with scorn. She was ever in a bad mood and was superstitious to boot. If she heard me blowing away, she would recite these words. 'A whistling woman and a crowing hen is neither good for beast nor men!' Needles to say, I had no idea what it meant. But my mother, with an angry glint in her eye, made it clear that whistling was not a good idea. Nevertheless, whenever I was out of earshot, I persevered with the whistling and no doubt my father gave me some advice because it wasn't long before I made some noise. From that first tentative note, I soon learned to whistle tunes in the manner of my father. Despite chastisement from mother and older folk that whistling women were 'bad luck,' I carried on. There is something nice about whistling that is cheering and the best thing is that you always have this free instrument with you. Throughout my youth, I whistled away happily whenever I got the chance.

The years went by and no doubt sensible jobs and serious relationships soon found my whistling greatly diminished and then non-existent. Years went by without my ever tooting a tune just for pleasure. So when, in middle age, I acquired a much longed for dog, things on the whistling front changed dramatically. Dog ownership is not something to take on lightly and before my whippet puppy was due for collection, I read seven books about dogs.

Now a whippet is a fast creature and without some proper training, things can go awry. The most important thing is to teach a good recall response from the get-go. I decided whistling would be the answer. Not a dog whistle – just me whistling - as you can't forget your own lips!

But the odd thing was that – through lack of use – my once quite proficient ability had almost gone. Like an unrehearsed musician, I could hardly make a sound. My whistling had become pathetic. I needed practice. So, when the house was empty, I sat on the stairs like my childhood self and practiced my whistling. Only now it was not the tunes my father favoured but more the loud, joyfully insistent notes he trilled from the back step, which brought our family dogs cavorting in from the back garden.

So as puppy Evie gambled around our lawn in the last days of summer, I whistled my 'come here' every time she happened to run toward me. Soon things changed up and I could hide somewhere in the house or garden – whistle – and she would come galloping - all gangly puppy delight – so far, so good.

When she was old enough to come for walks, I could let her off the lead and she came back for my whistle and all was well. A whippet needs to run and we are lucky enough to live near a good stretch of beach where it is safe to let her off.

Practice makes perfect - as it has often been said - and by the time winter set in I was whistling quite loudly and well – or so I thought. But one day as the wind blew and my whippet ran and I whistled for her return, I realised that the poor dog probably couldn't hear me. I was literally whistling in the wind. Added to the fact that my face was freezing and the seagulls were making an awful din. I waved my arms about and Evie came streaking back in her winter coat. What a relief - but the whole thing gave me pause. If I was going to stick to this whistling thing, I would have to up my game. I needed to whistle louder.

Dad could do what my mother called a taxi whistle. He would put his finger and thumb into his mouth and make – well – a taxi stopping whistle. This wasn't the happy trill that called dogs. This was one loud, ear-splitting shriek. This 'man whistle' was not something he taught me. Possibly because of my mother's disdain or possibly not. He taught me to smoke and she certainly would not have approved of that. Looking back, I'm not sure I do either.

Anyway, back to the whistle dilemma. I definitely need a louder whistle for those tricky times when noise levels are high or my hound has run far. I don't know anyone who can do the 'taxi whistle' – not even my husband. But in this modern world, there is YouTube. Once again, I am amazed to find several helpful videos to help me learn something new - in this case - the loud whistle technique.

I watch a few and find one that seems do-able and begin practicing. Turns out this is harder than I thought it would be. And my dog – fascinated by my windy blowing sits with her head cocked on one side and thumps her skinny tail on the floor. In a day or two, I manage to make more whistling and fewer blowing sounds. The trouble is the new finger whistling is still not much louder than my regular toot. I think this is because I am trying to practise without bothering anyone – including the dog - who is sleeping. Whippets do like their sleep, bless.

Winter weather turned out to be my ally. As I tramped along the shore one drizzly day, I realised I was alone. Time to give it a good go with a nice big lungful of air. I took a deep breath, got finger and thumb in what felt like a good place and after a few hissy noises out came a half decent whistle. No taxi arrived – but the hound came bounding back. I reckon a bit more practice and I may even call a cab next time I'm in London. Who says you can't teach on old dog new tricks!


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