Training your dog at least the basic commands is one of your responsibilities as an owner. Two of the most common training methods are verbal commands and hand signals.
Let’s discuss the latter method. We’ll look at the importance of hand signals, preparation for training, sample hand signals, and tips for successful training.
Importance of dog hand signals
Training your dog to follow your commands is useful in a variety of ways:
- Hand signals are helpful when your dog is far away from you. You don’t have to shout your commands. You give the signal and your dog will obey.
- For some competitive dog shows of obedience, hand signals are essential. In a place where verbal cues might not be heard over the screaming crowd and barking dogs, hand signals are a great tool to give your dog the next command.
- Hand signals are the primary tools to train deaf dogs. But some dogs lose their hearing as they grow older. So, the hand signals will be valuable later on in their lives.
- Hand signals can add to the skill arsenal of your dog. She’ll gain an extra boost of confidence when she completes her training. A dog who knows what to do is also going to feel safer. A new form of training will also help her not to get bored.
- Hand signals are also useful if you have a disability as the owner that affects how you speak. If your words are unclear, your dog will be trained with hand signals.
- Hand signals are a subtle way to communicate with your dog. It’s like having a secret handshake with your dog.
Before you start, here are some things you need to prepare.
1. Start training your dog early. Ideally, start before she turns six months old. This will stop her from learning or developing bad habits.
2. Prepare a training room with no distractions. Your dog will have to pay attention to you. A toy, other people, or other animals should not distract her. An empty, quiet room is the ideal place. If there is no traffic there, you can also go to your backyard.
Hand signals are visual commands. So getting your dog to look at you and your hands are the first and most crucial step. It will be distracted by a noisy place. Bring her to the training room when you begin any training session. Make sure you’re not interrupted by anyone.
3. Set aside regular training time on a daily basis. If you don’t use it every day, your dog may forget the hand signals. Even after learning the meaning of the hand signals, use it daily. Remember when she’s old, she might need the hand signals. So keep reminding her every day of the signals so she won’t forget them.
Also, setting a daily routine will make your dog expect regular a time when she has to “work.”
4. Try to practice verbal and hand signals training separately. It could be confusing for your dog to start both at the same time. Train her first in verbal commands. Then, if you know your dog is familiar with the verbal signals, do the hand signal training.
When you have shifted to the hand signal training, make the hand signal first. Then give the verbal command. You can wait for about 5-7 seconds between the hand signal and the verbal cue. This can reinforce what you want your dog to do.
5. There are two general ways to teach hand signals. One is to hold out a treat in one hand and use the other hand to do the signal. The other method is to use the hand holding the treat to do the signal.
Choose the one you want to use and stick to it. Don’t change your method halfway through the training. Your dog might become confused. Changing your method might become detrimental to the training.
Sample Hand Signals
Get your dog’s attention by saying her name, snapping your fingers, or using a clicker. When your dog looks at you, start the training.
There is no official set of hand signals for dog training. You can create your own signals. Consistency and simplicity are the main things to remember. You can also accept these universal hand signals recognized by many trainers.
Start by holding your palm out. Then bring the palm down until it is parallel to the floor. Keep your arm steady.
Use a treat. Bring the hand from her nose to the floor with the treat. The hand signal to your dog will be your palm, which will move down from your shoulder to your leg area palm down.
Another variety is to point a finger to your chest then make a sweeping diagonal movement going down.
Still another variant is just to point a finger to the floor.
Moving the treat from her nose in a forward motion from the “sit” or “down” command. The signal of your hand at your hip will be relaxed and then your entire arm will go backward.
Stretch your palm out in front of your dog’s face. You might not want to use a treat with the hand here. She might interpret the signal as a “go” signal to get the treat. Give the treat if your dog stops moving for a few seconds.
Another way is to flash the palm out signal toward your dog. Then move back a few steps while maintaining a steady signal. If your pet is not moving, you can consider it a successful training. Try to increase your distance from your dog. Read this article for more tips on how to “stay” teach your dog.
Tap the treat to your left hip or make a small circle near the hip. The hand signal will be the tap or small circle.
Move a few steps away from your dog. You can give the “stop” hand signal before this signal. Move the treat from your dog’s nose to above her head.
The movement begins with your hand relaxed at your side. Then bend your elbow and raise your hand to your chest or shoulder. Your dog will be attracted to the treat technically and will come to you.
To reinforce this signal, your dog needs to learn that the “come” command is just one single hand gesture.
Another variety is to start with your hand relaxed at your side. Then bring it to the shoulder opposite of the hand in a diagonal motion.
With the palms out as the signal, you can have both hands at shoulder level. This allows your dog to relax and do what it wants. This may be the signal to end the training as well.
Another variety is to clap your hands once.
Once your dog has mastered the basic hand signals, you can move to the more advanced techniques. Many of these do not need treats to make your dog start the training.
1. Watch me
Point a finger with a treat to your eye. When your dog is looking at you for a couple of seconds, reward her. This is a very important signal because you will need your dog to pay attention to you. But since it is not used extensively during verbal training, it may at first be a bit hard for your dog. It’s a good way to transition to pure hand signals.
Make a circle above your dog’s head with the treat. This should be one circular motion.
3. Drop it
Show a fist then open it.
4. Go (to…)
Point a finger to the place you want your dog to go to. Usually, the verbal cue is the place where you want your dog to go like “Kennel” or “Bed.” This hand signal is very effective during agility training where you need to direct your dog to the next place you want her to go.
Hand Signal Tips
Here are some reminders that you need to remember so that your training will be successful.
1. Be consistent with your hand signals. Make the same hand signal all the time. All the parts of your body should be in the same position too. A single difference might confuse your dog.
2. Take into account the attention span of your dog. In just a few minutes, puppies will become restless. For longer training sessions, older dogs may have more patience. Overall, however, it is better to train for at most 15 minutes.
3. Sometimes your dog will do the act even before you do the hand signal. Ignore her. Give her verbal praise but make her do the hand signal training properly.
4. Phase out verbal signals from hand signals gradually. You can say the verbal signals after each hand signal for the first few training sessions. Then practice the hand signals in the next training sessions, but only say the verbal signals in the first few attempts. Then you can have sessions where you can use only hand signals without verbal signals.
5. For the proofing of the training, slowly use the hand signals outside of the training room. You will know that her training is successful when she follows the signals even if other things or people distract her.
6. If your dog starts disobeying the hand signals, go back to step 1 and do the entire training again.
7. Do not give too many treats. You want your dog to focus on the training and not on eating.
Even though at the beginning of the training you will need the treat, you can slowly wean it out of the sessions. Give her the treat and verbal praise if your dog is successful. Repeat the signal of the hand without a treat. If after a few attempts, your dog doesn’t respond, try again with a treat. Keep trying to remove the treats from her. Even without food, she should follow your hand signals.
8. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement to give your dog. Verbal praise raises her confidence and encourages her to do well. When she is praised for her work, it will reinforce the positive behavior. She will feel that she is making you happy so she will be happy as well. The bond between the two of you will be strengthened.
She will “read” a lot from your tone of voice. If your tone is pleased, then she will know that she has done well. Try to avoid sounding worried, angry, or uncertain when you need to use verbal commands with hand signals.
Training your dog to follow visual (hand signals) and auditory (verbal) commands will be useful for you and your dog in various situations.
Remember that you can create a specialized training program and hand signals. You can tailor your training and signals to one that she can easily learn and recognize since you know your dog best.
Keep the gestures simple. Also, one gesture means one command. Don’t use one gesture for many commands. This will confuse your dog.
Be patient. It will take time for your dog to learn what you want her to do. Have fun with your dog. This training is a time for you to be together.