How to Train a Dog to Use Hand Signals
Have you ever wondered why your dog is not responding to your voice commands? It may not be her fault. Some dog breeds respond better to visual signals, and some only respond to visual signals. If you do not use the same body language or symbols each time you train your dog, she has to figure out what you want, and sometimes she gets things wrong.
I have trained my pooch to respond to both verbal and hand signals because at times the wind is blowing and she cannot hear my verbal signals, and at other times (like when she is looking at an interesting dog walking down the beach), she is not looking at me and only responds to me if I speak, LOUDLY! “Pay attention” may be all she will listen to.
Important Hand Signals
There are standard hand signals that almost all trainers use. but the ones that I use are simple and easy for the dog to understand.
- The simplest is “sit”, and I hold my fingers together as if I am holding a treat and move them over my dogs head. This is the way many dogs are trained to sit.
- For “down” I place the palm down and move the hand down towards her as I am giving the voice command.
- “Stay” is just a hand pushed into the face, emphasizing what she needs to do. My wrist is pointing up so that she does not confuse this with any other command.
- “Come” is nothing more than a wave of my arm, just like all of us use when calling someone over.
- Tricks can also be taught and perfected using hand signals. My dog can tell her left paw from her right paw (when she is given the right hand signal!), bows, spins, and of course she will roll over and play dead!
There are some trainers that will tell you that a dog needs to learn oral commands first, and then hand signals, so that she will not become confused. This is wrong.
Dogs can and should be taught both at the same time. If you do not use your hand signals when teaching your dog she will pick up on your body language and train herself. Sometimes she will be wrong.
How Do I Start Teaching Hand Signals?
- Make sure she is looking at you. Achtung!
- Use a treat as a lure and teach your dog to sit. This is easy and almost all dogs will be able to master this command the first time out, so use your hands. When she sees you holding your fingers together and moving them over her head, even without the lure, she will obey her first hand signal command. You have started. Teach more commands today or if your time is up, start again tomorrow.
- Teach “down”, and as you are using the voice command put your hand out, your palm down, and move it down towards the ground.
- If your dog already knows “stay”, give her the command and put your hand in front of her face—at the same time that you give the oral command.
- To call her, use your hand to motion her over to you.
- Always teach new tricks using a new hand signal. If you need to, make up new hand signals. Just use the same signal every time.
Hand signals are especially important as your dog grows older. She may become deaf but will never feel lost if you use the same signals she is used to.
You can use hand signals with any type of training. I use treats and positive reinforcement, but if you use a clicker hand signals will be great.
Be sure to incorporate hand signals into your training. Your dog will thank you for it.
Hand Signals and TricksClick thumbnail to view full-size
Can a Hand Signal Save Your Dog's Life?
The hand signal I feel most important is the “touch” command. I use it as a safety command; giving it rarely and only if the situation requires 100% rapid response.
The hand is held out, palm in, and my dog knows that she needs to come over and touch her nose to my hand.
You can use this hand signal in noisy traffic when it is important that your dog come next to you instead of crossing a dangerous road.
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Dr Mark