Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Whistle Blower

Mike came home from the feed store this afternoon with rolled barley for the sheep, and this for me:

If you've never seen one before, it's a shepherd's whistle. It's specifically for working sheepdogs at a distance.

I have gun dog whistles, and occasionally the spaniels even respond to them when they're not suffering from a bout of selective hearing (commonly known as 'spanielitis'). I also have a walking stick - an 'aide memoir' - for tapping spaniels' bottoms. (Not to hurt them of course, just a little poke to remind them to steady down before the spanielitis sets in). Both are straightforward to operate.

Not so the shepherd's whistle.

I've looked on the internets and found numerous step-by-step guides for operating a shepherd's whistle. But all are about as helpful as Michaelangelo's step-by-step guide for creating great sculpture: you know the "Carving is easy; you just go down to the skin and stop" quote? Mastery of some things require the development of technique based solely on the experience of doing.

Using the shepherd's whistle involves creating a stream of air which you manipulate through a hole in the centre of the whistle with your tongue, all the while clenching it in your teeth. The hole in the front of the whistle is for attaching it to a lanyard so you can a) hang is around your neck when not in use and b) use the string to extract it from the back of your throat when you accidentally suck instead of blow. I already have experience of doing b).

The deal that came with the gift is that as soon as I've mastered the whistle, I can look at getting my first sheepdog puppy.

So far I've managed to wrench a few tortured shrieks out of the whistle, which I am unable to reproduce again except by accident. The house dogs just look at me quizzically, so I guess I haven't hit the right notes yet. My first attempts have also made me light-headed from all the blowing.

I also noticed (once the blood came back into my brain) that it's made by the ACME company. I've seen enough Wile E. Coyote cartoons to know this is a bad omen.

This whistle has the potential to create a strong working relationship between two species. So far, in my hands, its greatest potential is as a choking hazard, but I'm hopeful and persistent (and I'll be putting a lanyard on it before I try again). Just don't expect to see sheepdog puppy pictures this side of Easter 2011.


Jenny Debeaux said...

I've had one of those pesky whistles and I didn't succeed at all, not even a tiny bit of noise, so good for you! All that happened was that I got very frustrated.......
Not that I have gundogs anymore - we have small hounds here now, who really don't do the full obedience thing. Ah, those were the days - I had Irish Water Spaniels all my married life and absolutely loved them.
Anyway, keep practising, I'm sure you'll be brilliant long before Easter 2011.

Terry Scoville said...

Great post Jen, I am still chuckling. If it's anything like an elk diaphram call I am quite challenged by such whistles. A choking hazard indeed. I wish you patience and am glad there's a string connected to it. I have a sneaky hunch you'll figure it out before to long.

Kevin F. said...

Very funny post!
Who knew you had Cracker Jacks in the UK as well as here.
I figure , that's where Mike got the whistle!
When I was a kid my mother used to put two fingers in her mouth and whistle to call me and my eight siblings in for dinner.
One day I decided to teach myself to whistle just like her, six mos. later I had the loudest whistle this side of Harlem.
Still do I suppose... Keep practicing, and keep that sense of humor!
Tell Mike , Next time just enjoy how well the Cracker Jacks go with the pint! He already has the prize at home.
Kevin F.

Poppy Cottage said...

You never know...... if you still followed a certain blog you would see how to do it properly don't you know. And look on the bright side, I am sure she will bring out a book on how to buy, train and work your sheep dog.

Ouch!!!! I have just stuck my claws into my hand!!!

Do Goldens make good sheep dogs?

Paula said...

So that great line from To Have and To Have Not doesn't work here, huh?

I would check with your insurance company to make sure Mike hasn't taken out a life insurance policy on you, just to be sure....

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

No fair, I was gonna say what Paula said

But here's the real point. Not one of those those crusty Scottish guys, the ones with the border collies who win all the trials, would be caught dead with a little plastic whistle, and they've made it known that whistles are for sissies. Now we know that it's just because they can't learn to use them.

They are SO busted.

Jennifer Montero said...

Jenny - It's heartening to hear that others before me have tried and failed. Very sensible switching to hounds, obedience is overrated.

Terry - Don't tell me there are even more frustrating whistle-y things out there to learn...

Kevin - If Mike's got cracker jacks, he'd better not be holding out on me! Maybe the finger whistling will be easier to learn, and I'd have to work pretty hard to choke on my own hand.

PC - Tell me how she gets on. I think goldies would make good companions for sheep.

Paula - You're too quick for me! I can always count on your comments for a good laugh and a smart reference.

Tamar - I wonder if there are crusty old Scottish guys' bodies dotted over the Highlands, dead from choking accidents. Maybe nature culled the ones that tried to use the whistle.

Plan B is to give up whistling and resort to shouting 'Oi' at my sheepdogs and point where they're supposed to go, same as the spaniels. We're nothing if not adaptable here.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

What a funny story! I know you'll get it eventually. I can't wait to see a little sheepdog puppy. Just be sure to hang on to that string!!

Anonymous said...

Funny as always! FWIW I life guarded in high school and the very best whistles were the ACME or Fox40. Although I can guess that ACME has 2 whistles listed in the catalog... "Order out of column #1 if you are purchasing for yourself, column #2 if it is for gag gift" And I bet the item # is the same....

On a Wing and a Whim said...

If it's any help, I found more conversational instructions here:

And a diagram with instructions here:

All the same, the only help I can really give is wishing you good luck!

Jennifer Montero said...

On a Wing..- All help gratefully rec'd. That link to the diagram is especially helpful. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. So far I've not shown any innate talent for the whistle but with training, who knows!