Utilizing Hand Signals in Dog Training
When training, hand signals for dogs are an extremely helpful tool and resource to help communicate better.
Utilize “BIG” hand signals so your dog can see them at a distance! I always teach my dogs hand signals, and there are several reasons. The first is that dogs learn common hand signals faster and easier than verbal commands. Dogs speak to each other with body language, and so learning dog training hand signals and reading your body language is like second nature to your dog.
Our dogs often learn to ignore us and our commands. How often do you “talk” or “chatter” to your dog with no meaning?
There is nothing wrong with this constant talking, but since most of it has little to no meaning for your dog he begins to “tune you out” to some degree. He listens to your tone, and reads your body language but then begins to pay attention to other things in his environment. Dog training hand signals are often harder for your dog to ignore because dogs communicate with each other using body language!
Your pet needs to learn the association between the verbal command and hand signals. The most effective way to teach your dog is to follow these 2 steps:
- Keep your hand signal simple.
- Reinforce behavior with rewards (treats and praise).
Once your dog is accurately responding to your commands slowly fade out the reward. If your dog already is familiar with the standard commands: sit, stay etc. then making the transition to hand signals is fairly straight forward. Training is best when you work with your pet daily. If you make it a priority, your dog will pick up the hand signals quickly!
Benefits of Hand Signals
Common hand signals are actually quite simple to teach your dog – much easier than getting behavior on verbal cue. And hand signals can be used in many situations where a verbal cue just won’t work.
The general dog-owning population today is much more aware of the fact that dogs are, first and foremost, body language communicators, thanks to the work of people like Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., and Turid Rugaas. Dogs need to make sense of our movements in order to survive. They depend on reading us to make their world work for them. As Dr. McConnell writes in “The Other End of the Leash,” “All dogs are brilliant at perceiving the slightest movement that we make, and they assume that each tiny movement has meaning.”
This makes teaching dog training hand signals incredibly easy. Our dogs already assume our movements have meaning; we just have to make sure they’re attaching the meaning we want them to have for our particular signals. You’ll realize how truly brilliant your dog is when you see how quickly she comes to understand the meaning – and offer the requested behavior – for your body language cues for sit, down, come, and anything else you want to put on a nonverbal cue.
In fact, many dog folks think their dogs have learned verbal cues, only to find out that their dogs are actually keying off non-verbal communications the owner doesn’t even realize she’s making, such as a tiny bend forward at the waist with the “down” cue, or a slight movement of the hand toward the chest that accompanies the word “sit.”
Owners do these things so consistently that they become an important part of the picture for the dog, and the human doesn’t realize that the verbal cue is actually secondary. This is bad news for putting behaviors completely on verbal cue, but good news for putting behaviors on a hand signal cue.
Perhaps the best thing about dog training hand signals is that you can make up your own — and choosing them comes down to what’s best for you and your dog. It’s not necessary that everyone around you understands your signals. And if your dog is training for a specific duty, such as for K-9, it may benefit him to teach your dog some dog training hand signals so you can “speak” to the dog in dangerous or high-tension situations.
Hand Signals Are Very Convenient
It also helps when I don’t have to yell commands at my dog when I am on the phone or immersed in conversation with another person. I can quickly issue a hand signal and tell my dog to lay down or stay in one quick movement without skipping a beat!
And, dog training hand signals are crucial if you ever take your dog off leash and he is an extended distance away! At such an expanse he might not be able to hear a verbal command so a hand signal can be imperative! Dogs who are deaf really rely on deaf dog hand signals in order to function and coexist with their people!
When my puppies are tiny I begin giving them dog obedience hand signals at the same time I issue a verbal command. Often the hand signal is learned quicker than the verbal command!
If your dog already knows his verbal commands you may simply begin giving him a clear hand signal at the same time you give the verbal command.
If he is learning both; just pair the two together by saying the command and using the same hand signal as he is doing it.
More Hand Signals Information
Hand signals can be used to train a dog and it’s just as easy to do as verbal commands. Essentially, it’s sign language; you’ll use your hands to signal to your dog what you want it to do, such as sit or lie down. Dogs are excellent at reading body language. Many even find it much easier to read what people are saying with their bodies than with spoken language.
Dog training hand signals are useful in a variety of situations. For instance, they’re often easier to use or required for competitive obedience or dog sports. Deaf dogs obviously won’t be able to respond to spoken commands, so hand signals allow their owners to train them just like any other dog. And, if you enjoy training, this is one more thing to add to your dog’s repertoire of skills. Just think how impressed your friends will be when you have your dog doing all sorts of tricks with just a few small movements of your hand.
Hand signals are used instead of verbal commands and the first step is to get your dog’s attention. Your dog must be able to see the hand signal, so make sure it’s looking at you.
It’s best to introduce this training in a distraction-free environment. Go to an empty room of the house or outside during a time when you know distractions will be at a minimum. The quieter it is, the better because you want your dog’s undivided attention.
To get their attention, say your dog’s name, snap your fingers, use a clicker, or make some other sort of sound. As soon as your dog looks up at you, proceed with the hand signal training.
Many people find it easier to teach their dogs basic obedience commands by using hand signals before spoken commands.
If you’ve already completed voice command dog training with your dog or puppy, then simply complete the motion and follow it immediately with the voice command. Over time, your dog will develop an association between the voice command and visual cue. Eventually, your pup will no longer need the verbal cue to spur it into action once you have given the hand signal successfully.
There are some standard dog training hand signals recognized by most dog trainers which you might like to begin with. However, you can also create your own signals to train a dog.
Once you have your dog’s attention, immediately give the hand gesture. For example, if you’re telling your dog “sit,” go ahead and complete the hand signal listed below.
Dog Hand Signals For Sit:
When using positive reinforcement training, getting your dog to sit is pretty basic; you put the treat in front of his nose and slowly bring it up above his head. As his head comes up his rump usually goes down into the sit position this is the point that you would click and treat.
The hand signal that goes with the “Sit” command follows along those lines. I use my palm facing upward and do a slight sweeping motion, as if you had a treat and were bringing it up to get him to sit.
Dog Training Signal For Down:
I use a very obvious hand signal for the “down” command because I need him to be able to see it from 50 yards away if he can ever be trusted to be off leash. While my dogs were running on the beach, it was critical for me that they could drop on a dime at the sign of trouble and if I had a tiny hand signal they would never be able to see it.
I put my palm straight out in front of my dog’s face (almost like the high five, or stay signal) when I teach them “down”. This hand signal is unmistakable and can be seen from a great distance.
As you are teaching your dog to lay down use one hand to take the treat in-between his front legs and toward the ground while raising your other hand out in front of him. It won’t take long for him to successfully pair the two things together; and soon you can simply flash the hand signal and wait for your dog to lay down!
Signal For Stay:
Drop your Fingers Toward the Ground for the STAY hand signal
When teaching “Stay” I point my fingers to the ground in front of my dog’s nose. It is key to make certain that they are in front of the dog’s nose to make certain that you have its attention. Stay is one of those commands that most people already use a hand signal for! It is just important that you are consistent and use the same hand signal each time you command your dog.
Signal For Come:
The COME hand signal
As I call my dog to “Come” I use a sweeping hand motion and wave my dog toward me. Each time you call your dog, use the same signal and motion to help him learn.
Basic Steps for Teaching a New Hand-Signal
- First do the hand signal.
- Immediately after say the verbal command (that your pooch already knows).
- Mark and reward your dog’s response.
- Repeat the process several times until your dog has a strong association between the outcomes.
Dogs can learn several cues for one behavior; they just can’t learn several behaviors for the same cue. Anytime you’re teaching a new cue for an already-trained behavior, use the new cue first, followed by the old one (verbal cue). It’s as if you’re saying, “Dog, this cue (hand raised high in the air) means the same thing as this other verbal cue (the word “down”).”
Your dog will quickly figure out that the new cue is always followed by the one he knows, and he’ll anticipate the second cue, offering the behavior sooner in order to get his click and treat faster. Dogs are really good at anticipating. Remember that figuring us out is how they make our world work for them. As soon as your dog realizes the new cue is always followed by the old cue, he’ll jump the gun – which is exactly what you want. Why wait around for the second cue? He knows what he has to do to make you click the clicker and earn the treat.
Remember to use verbal cues early on to teach your dog. It can be extremely helpful to have verbal cues to place your dog into hand-signal training mode. Common verbal cues include command words, tone of voice, and even an associated sound like a whistle, bell, or clicker (though we prefer to use the clicker as a cue associated specifically with positive reinforcement).
Once you have started teaching your dog hand signals and you think he understands it is time to drop your verbal command and see if he understands the meaning of the hand gesture.
Just give a signal and wait to see if your dog comprehends, be patient and wait several seconds. If he does not, go back to teaching mode be pairing the verbal and hand signal together with treats. If he complies you know that he understands your signal!
Now vary your commands, sometimes only use dog training hand signals, sometimes only verbal commands and sometimes both to keep your obedience and hand signals strong!
It does not matter what hand signal you use as long as you are consistent and your dog can see the signal from a distance!
The Science of Visual Cues
Recent research from Nihon University, in Japan, helps answer the question as to whether visual or verbal cues are more effective with dogs.
“Megumi Fukuzawa and Marina Watanabe looked at how sight, sound, and smell can cue dogs to a person’s presence. They tested 11 dogs in an experiment that allowed the dogs to detect the presence of a person by smell only, sight only, sound only, or using all three senses at once. They timed the dog in each situation to see how long it took him to find the person in the testing room and get a treat.
As you would expect, the dogs found the person almost every time when they had all three cues – sight, sound, and smell. When it came to only one cue at a time, the sight, sound, and smell situations were each about equally effective in helping the dog, although none was as effective as all three cues at once.
The interesting detail is in how quickly the dogs located the person. In the situation with all the cues and in the sight-only situation, the dogs were about three times faster than in the sound-only situation. In other words, seeing the person was far more effective than only hearing her. In the smell-only condition, the dogs were slower than they were with all the cues or with the sight cue, and they were faster than in the sound-only situation. However, these differences were not significant.
Seeing the person, rather than smelling him or hearing him, also led to more tail wagging by the dogs. So visual cues seem to be the most exciting for dogs, at least in terms of locating humans. The researchers concluded that although sight, sound, and smell are all important for dogs when interacting with people, sight seems to provide a noticeable advantage.”
In summary, dog training hand signals are an extremely useful resource for all sorts of applications. You never know when you may be in a situation where either your dog may be unable to hear you or you will need to be silent. Hand signals are very important in chaotic or emergency situations where sound lanes might get a little busy. Training your pup to respond to visual cues will help to strengthen the bond between both you and your four-legged friend!
Does Your Dog Know Any Hand Signals? Please Share Below In The Comments Section.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.