Dog Training: Teaching the Dog Hand Signals

Hand signals are easy to teach your dog. You transmit body language that the dog reads now. Hand signals simply are giving these body signals in an overt and deliberate fashion. It is a nice change for the dog. It gives the dog another connection to understand what you want. And it prevents boredom for the dog.

Before discussing the teaching of hand signals, it is necessary to clarify one issue. The hand signals are an attempt to teach the dog to obey without a verbal command. However, this does not, in any manner or form, prevent you from exercising your vocal muscles and praising. So many people think that, because the goal is a silent command, everything else must be silent. Unless you do your training in a library, praise vocally. Let the dog hear you. You do not have to be silent.

Now that we have that clear, let’s teach the dog hand signals. – Essentially, hand signals are a pairing of a distinctive movement of your hand with a verbal command for a behaviour that you want from the dog. Associate this hand movement with the verbal command frequently and the dog will obey the hand movement alone.

What will make this transition much easier is to have the dog know the verbal commands well. Hand signals can be given for such things as sit, down, come, stand, stay and most other things that come to mind. Hunters in the field can direct their dogs to go left, go right, go further out and so on by hand and arm movements. Once the dog knows that the hand movements have meaning, it will watch for and obey those commands.

As an example on how to teach a hand signal, let’s use the example of sit. Let the signal for sit be a upward left hand movement, from your left hip to your left shoulder. Once this movement is completed, drop you hand to its natural, normal position. Now that you have the hand signal set in your mind, it is time to teach the dog.

Draw the dog’s attention. Have the dog looking at you. This is imprtant – the dog must be looking at you. Say “sit” and move your left hand from hip to shoulder. The verbal command and the hand movement occur at the same time. When the dog sits, praise. Remember to praise. You also can give a treat if you wish. Finish the exercise and then repeat this pairing of the hand signal and the verbal command. Is the dog focusing on you? The dog must see the hand signal in order to learn it and to pair it with the verbal command.

After numerous repetitions over days, you are ready to try hand signal alone. Again, make sure the dog is watching you. Give the hand signal – without a verbal command. If the dog even begins to sit, praise. The praise is telling the dog that it is right and to keep going. Praise and finish the exercise. The more you praise, the faster the response will be given. And that is teaching hand signals. – As a rule, it would be a good idea to have the dog see the hand signal paired with the verbal command at least a hundred times before giving the hand signal alone. Some may say this is excessive. However, there are reasons for this suggestion. You are not only teaching a hand signal. You are teaching the dog a different language. That language is signing. And the repetition is not only for the dog’s sake – it is for your sake. You want to be able to give this signal naturally and with the same motion each and every time. The dog can’t learn a hand signal if you are not consistent with it. Another reason for so many pairings of the hand signal with the verbal command is that you want to make sure that the dog does not fail. You want to create situations where the dog succeeds. It increases the dog’s confidence and the dog will think that you are just a terrific, patient teacher.

And why rush … this is fun stuff.

Catherine Forsythe
Director of Operations

[tag]dogs, training, hand signals, praise, repetition[/tag]