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Our canine companions find body language much easier to process and understand than verbal communication. Incorporating hand signals into your dog’s training – and not just relying on voice commands – will therefore bring forth quicker and more effective results.
In this guide, we’ll cover all the benefits of using dog training hand signals, and more importantly, how to use them properly.
Why Should You Use Hand Signals in Training?
Using dog training hand signals has several advantages. Research has shown that dogs process body language quicker and more reliably than voice commands, making it an invaluable training technique.
Hand signals are also extremely useful in situations where your dog can’t hear you, like in a noisy park or crowded street. They even give you an advantage (and often are a requirement) in competitive obedience or dog sports.
Crucially, hand signals give deaf dogs the opportunity to communicate and train with their owner, just like every other pup. If your dog isn’t deaf, it’s still a good idea to train with hand signals – many dogs lose their hearing as they age.
Attracting Your Dog’s Attention
For hand signals to be effective, your dog needs to be looking at you. While for many dogs paying attention to their owner comes naturally, breeds with an independent streak may need some training to get them into this habit.
Here’s how to teach your companion to keep a close watch on you:
- Call your dog’s name. Once they turn and face you, say the command word “look,” then reward them with a high-value treat. You can also draw your dog’s attention by using a clicker or snapping your fingers.
- Repeat this process until your dog gets into the habit of looking at you.
- You’ll next want to proof this behavior by training them in a variety of environments and situations.
- Slowly increase the distance – your ultimate aim is for your dog to focus on you, no matter how far away they are.
- Incorporate distractions gradually.
- Fade out the lure (the use of treats).
- Over time, your dog will get into the habit of looking at you, even if you don’t use the command.
Standard Obedience Training Hand Signals
While you can create your own dog training hand signals, we suggest using the ones below – these obedience training hand signals have been made by canine experts who know exactly what’s easiest for dogs to see and process.
If you do decide to create your own dog training hand signals, just make sure they’re clear, distinct, and noticeable from afar.
Sit is the most important obedience command for dogs to master; it keeps them safe in busy areas and helps to curb unwanted behaviors, such as jumping up.
Hand signal: Hold your hand out, with your palm facing you. Then, slowly move your hand upward until you reach your shoulder.
Lie down can be used to help your dog settle when they’re being overly energetic. Similar to sit, it can also be used to tackle unwanted behaviors.
Hand signal: Hold out your hand, with your palm facing the ground. Move your hand downward until you reach your legs. You can also point your index finger at the floor.
Stay can be a life-saving command – it helps stop your dog from running off into harm’s way.
Hand signal: Place your hand palm-out just above your waist. Keep it in this position until you want your dog to be released from stay. Or, if you’ve taught them the “free” command, swap to the free hand signal (covered below) to release them.
Heel walking helps your dog develop good leash manners and self-control. It’s a great way to get your dog to keep their attention on you, and it ensures they stay safe when walking in high traffic areas.
Hand signal: Place your hand at your hip (the side your dog heels at) and make a circle motion. You can also tap your hip.
Come, also known as recall, is another essential command to teach your faithful companion. While saying your dog’s name normally draws their attention and makes them come to you, a clear “come” command ensures they perform this behavior reliably.
Hand signal: Since your dog is usually going to be at a distance when you use this command, the signal needs to be visible from far away. Stretch your arms out horizontally, then, slowly draw your hands in and place your palms on your chest.
Dogs are scavengers by nature. Even the most well-behaved dog will occasionally give in to temptation and chew on something not meant for furry paws, whether fallen scraps or your favorite pair of socks. Teaching your dog “leave it” helps to prevent them from eating things they shouldn’t be eating.
Hand signal: Form a fist with your hand in front of your dog’s face. Then, slowly open your hand. Keep your hand in this position until your dog loses interest in whatever item caught their eye (or drops the thing they’re chewing on!).
The “free” command essentially functions as a visible and clear release cue. It tells your dog that they can stop the behavior you’re currently telling them to do.
Hand signal: Raise both hands up to your shoulders and then hold your palms up – almost like you’re shrugging.
Dog Training Hand Signals for Tricks
Get your hands (and treats!) at the ready – we’ll now be diving into some dog training hand signal ideas for the most commonly taught tricks, including shake, roll over, and spin.
- Shake: Cup your hand in front of your dog’s chest. Your palm should be facing up.
- Roll over: Hold your hand out at your waist. Then, point your index finger downward and draw a circle in the air.
- Beg: Stretch out your hand (palm up) just above your dog’s nose.
- Spin: Point in a circular motion around your dog’s head.
- High five: Position your palm straight out in front of your dog’s head – it should essentially look like you’re about to high five them. Make sure your hand is raised higher than you would raise it for the paw command. These commands are somewhat similar, so the height difference can help prevent your dog from getting mixed up.
More Dog Training Hand Signal Inspiration
You can find lots more dog training hand signal examples on the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund’s (DDEAF) dedicated resource page. If your dog is hearing impaired, the DDEAF also has plenty of other resources that can help you train them and ensure their safety and wellbeing in day-to-day life.
How to Teach Dog Training Hand Signals
Many owners hold the misconception that once you’ve trained your dog with verbal commands, it’s impossible to add on hand signals. However, the reality is that it’s never too late to teach your dog training hand signals.
Here’s how to teach your dog a hand signal if they already associate the behavior with a verbal command:
- Show your dog the desired hand signal.
- Now, say the verbal cue.
- Reward your pet once they perform the desired behavior.
Over time, your pup will begin to associate the hand signal with the action. You can then fade out the verbal cue and rely solely on the hand signal. It’s best to initially teach your dog these hand signals in a distraction-free environment, where you can gain their undivided attention.
Common Mistakes When Using Hand Signals
There are a few common but easily avoidable mistakes owners make when teaching their dog hand signals.
The most common mistake by far is teaching your dog hand signals and verbal cues at the same time. While it seems like the “quickest” route, it’ll only serve to confuse your dog, and you might actually teach them to only perform the behavior if you’re using both signals simultaneously.
Just like verbal cues, you also need to ensure you remain consistent with your hand signals. Once you’ve chosen a hand signal for a particular behavior, stick to it and don’t change it up, even if you feel like you’ve come up with a more “suitable” hand signal. Changing hand signals will frustrate your dog and make the training process extremely difficult.
You should also make sure that you and your family have mutually agreed on the hand signals you want to use.
Master Dog Training Hand Signals Together
Hand signals help your dog learn desired behaviors faster, and communicating with your dog in their preferred style will truly strengthen the bond you share together.
Remember to be patient and consistent when teaching your dog hand signals, and always take into account their attention span. If you push them too hard, it’ll only serve to frustrate them. Keep hand signals clear, simple, and distinct from one another.