Using Dog Training Hand Signals

Many dog owners are opting to use both dog training hand signals and voice cues in basic obedience training and for more advanced or specialized training. Dogs most frequently communicate through visual cues so utilizing hand signals provides them with non-verbal communication and provides you with an option for situations where voice commands will not work.

Reasons to Use Hand Signals

  • Hand signals reinforce your verbal cues. Because your dog communicates most frequently through physical, rather than vocal communication, hand signals provide him a visual cue that he may understand more quickly than your verbal command.
  • Hand signals require your dog to focus on you. He will be more inclined to pay attention to you during training if he knows he has to see your command in order to please you with the correct action.
  • Dogs will often respond more readily to a visual cue and choose to ignore a verbal cue.
  • If your dog is excited, he typically doesn't listen well. It has been found that, even in an excited state, a dog will more frequently respond to a hand signal than to a verbal cue.
  • Hand signals can be given at greater distances. Whether basic obedience, agility training or hunting, a dog trained with hand signals can respond to cues given a distance away.
  • Hearing impaired dogs can be obedience trained with hand signals. If your dog is hearing impaired, he already relies heavily on watching you and the world around him, so give him the same opportunity as a hearing dog by providing his training through hand cues.
  • If nothing else, having a well trained dog who responds to non-verbal cues is impressive to a lot of people.

Standard Basic Obedience Cues

While many people have developed cues that work, many dog trainers rely upon a standard set of hand signals when working on basic obedience. You may choose to use your verbal cues in conjunction with the hand signals.

  • Sit - Bend your arm at the elbow and raise your hand, palm facing back, until it is beside your face.
  • Down - Starting with your arm out in front of you, palm facing down. Move your arm downward until your arm is against your side and fingers pointed toward the floor.
  • Stay - After your dog is in a sit or down position, put your hand up in front of him, as if stopping traffic.
  • Come - Starting with your hand in front of you, bring your hand across your body to the opposite shoulder.
  • Heel - Tap your leg on the side of your body you want your dog to come to. Standard heel is to have your dog on the left.

Without even realizing it, you may have already started your dog down the road to responding to hand signals. He's probably already tuned in to those cues in order to respond appropriately and win your praise. The most important thing to remember when training with hand signals is to be consistent with your cues. By using the same signal, time and again, your dog will learn to look for your cues and respond. This will not only make him a more obedient and socialized dog, but will keep him safe in situations where your voice can't be heard but your signal can be seen.