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Training your dog to respond to commands is a rewarding but often time-consuming process.
Once you have convinced your dog to respond to various voice commands, someone comes along and suggests that you should train your pooch to respond to hand signals as well! Why?!
There are a lot of good reasons to teach your dog to respond to hand signals as well as your voice, and in fact, it may even be easier for them to interpret hand signals than the sound of your voice.
In this article we will go through the benefits of teaching your dog to respond to hand commands, and also show you the 10 most important hand signals that your dog should know.
We will also share some top tips on how to teach your dog to understand these new visual commands.
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Why Train Your Dog To Respond To Hand Signals?
There are lots of good reasons why you might want to teach your dog to respond to hand signals.
Sometimes you want to give your dog commands when it is noisy and they can’t hear you. If you want your dog to compete in competitive obedience of sports, responding to hand signals is a requirement!
Deaf dogs are obviously unable to respond to voice commands, and don’t forget that many dogs lose their hearing as they get older and may struggle to hear your voice commands.
Teaching your pooch to respond to your hand commands can be fun and impress family and friends.
But more than this, it can also be easier for dogs to learn hand signals than voice commands.
Remember that dogs do not understand the words that you use, but they learn to respond to certain sounds, which they must pick out from ambient noise and distinguish from other, similar words.
Dogs are incredibly good at reading body language and distinguishing physical gestures is pretty much second nature to them.
An Italian study shows that dogs (admittedly very intelligent Labradors and Golden Retrievers that had been professionally trained so don’t necessarily expect the same results from your dog) respond to voice commands with 82 percent accuracy while they respond to hand signals with 99 percent accuracy!
Moreover, when conflicting hand signals and voice commands were given, in 70 percent of cases the dogs responded to the hand signal.
So, are hand signals the answer to the best possible training for your dog? Maybe.
Hand signals obviously only work when your dog is looking at you, while voice commands can be used to get their attention.
When you aren’t in a competition setting, the best recipe for an obedient dog is to use both voice and hand signals at the same time to give the command.
This will also prepare them for hearing loss in older age if they are no longer possible to distinguish the sound of your voice.
10 Essential Dog Training Hand Signals
In theory, you can train your dog to associate behavior with any hand signal.
However, training experts have come up with a series of hand signals that are easiest for dogs to interpret and associate with different behaviors. Here are the 10 most important:
1. Watch Me
If you intend to give your dog a series of hand signal commands, you will want them watching you and paying attention. To signal this to them and keep their attention, point to your eye with one finger.
Sit is probably the most common and important dog command, and this is a good place to start when it comes to training your dog to understand hand signals. Hold your palm open in front of your chest and move you hand in an upwards motion.
3. Lie Down
If you want to settle your dog by getting them to lie down, hold your finger in front of your chest at a horizontal angle. Then slowly flick your wrist 90 degrees in a downward action to indicate towards the floor.
Debatably the most important command along with sit, this is an essential command, especially when you are on the street with your pooch. This time hold your palm in front of your chest facing away from you and down at your dog.
If you want your dog to come to you, call them to your side and start with your own hand at your side, hand open and palm facing forward. Bring it up to your opposite shoulder in a diagonal motion.
If you want to let a dog that you have told to sit know that it is OK to stand up, hold your hand at your side with your palm open and facing forward. Then draw your hand backwards in a sharp motion.
If you want to call your dog to heel, hold your hand near your hip and either tap your hip or move your hand in a circular motion near your hip. Both actions call you dog to your side.
8. Take It
To encourage your dog to take something out of your hand, or that is near you, hold you hand out in front of them with your palm open, and then close your palm into a fist.
9. Drop It
If you want your dog to drop something that they have in their mouth, hold your hand out in front of them in a fist, and then open your palm.
When you are done with a session of giving your dog commands and want to release them to go and do their own thing, hold your hand up around your shoulders with your palms open and facing up and forward. It looks a little like a shrugging motion.
You might have noticed in the pic of me and Archer I have two fingers out and Archer is touching his nose to my fingers. We start teaching touch by simply sitting next to our dog and putting out our two fingers nearby. When he goes to sniff our fingers we mark the behavior.
UPDATE: These are very basic instructions. Our goal is to get you more detailed instructions and hopefully videos to help you teach your dogs some of these essential hand signals.
Tips For Teaching Your Dog Hand Signals
Training your dog to respond to hand signals is just like training them to respond to any other command.
You need to show them the command and the behavior that is expected in response to it.
When they respond correctly, you need to reinforce the behavior through reward.
As they come to understand the command, you then slowing phase out the use of rewards.
However, there are a few extra things to consider when teaching your dog hand signals.
- You will need your dog’s attention before you start any training session, as they are going to need to be looking at you in order to be able to see your hands. For this reason, start the training in a distraction-free environment in which nothing is likely to pull your dog’s attention. As your dog becomes familiar with the signals, you can then move training sessions into more realistic, stimulating situations.
- You may want a clicker or other form of sound generating device to get your dog’s attention and looking at you during the training session. You can also use their name.
- If your dog already understand the equivalent verbal commands, you may wish to use the verbal command to show them the meaning of the hand signal. However, after the first few times, it is important to avoid saying the voice command along with the hand signal so that your dog learns that the hand signals means this, independent of the voice command. This can be a hard habit to break for many dog owners.
- Don’t train your dog to understand voice commands and hand signals at the same time. This can be confusing for them, and they may learn that it is a combination of the two that calls for the required behavior, making either on its own significantly less effective.
Unless you and your dog are into competitive sports, you probably have your dog trained to respond to voice commands.
However, it can be very useful to train your dog to respond to hand signals as well.
You can use them to command your dog in noisy environments when they can’t hear you and you can continue to communicate with your dog if they start to lose their hearing as they get older.
Training your dog to understand hand signals might also be easier than you think, as dogs are a lot better at reading body language than understanding verbal queues.
So, really, hand signals is a way to ensure you have a better trained, more well-behaved and controllable dog.
Back when we first started working with Linus our trainer advised us to teach him both hand signals and voice commands.
Linus responded better to hand signals and we would use them when he was far away and we didn’t want to shout.
Do you guys use dog training hand signals with your dog?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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