Whether you have a shelf full of dog training books or you regularly scour through your favorite dog training blogs for new tips and tricks, the majority of the training advice out there focuses on using verbal commands to communicate with a dog.
There’s nothing wrong with this at all. Teaching your dog to respond to verbal commands means that you’ll be able to communicate with them even when your dog has their back to you, or happens to be out of sight.
However, hand signals definitely have their place in dog training too. Why are they important and how can you start training your dog to understand specific hand gestures? Read on – we’re about to explain all of that and more!
Why Are Hand Signals Important in Dog Training?
So, if your dog already understands verbal commands, why teach hand signals? Or, even if your dog is still in the initial training stages, why is it important for them to learn hand signals alongside voice cues?
There are a few reasons why hand signals are important. The first, and most obvious, is in situations when your dog can’t hear you properly. If you’re in a noisy environment with lots of distractions, a clear hand signal is a better way to communicate than shouting your command and trying to be heard.
This also applies to dogs that are deaf. Even if your dog has perfect hearing now, they often lose this as they age. If this were to happen to your dog, it wouldn’t matter quite as much if you already communicate using hand gestures.
Other than that, hand signals can also often be easier for a dog to understand. Dogs are great at reading body language – it’s second nature to them. Some dogs respond so much better to hand signals than to verbal commands. There’s even an Italian study that proves this – the canine participants responded to verbal cues 82% of the time, yet listened to hand signals 99% of the time.
Hand Signals for Basic Commands
It’s completely up to you which hand signals you use for each command that you teach your dog. However, there are some that are common go-to’s.
Watch/look at me: start by signalling to your dog to get their attention, and then point at your eyes.
Come: hold both arms straight above your head. Then, move them round and down in a circular motion away from each other. This is quite a big gesture, so that your dog can see it from afar.
Sit: hold your palm straight out in front of your chest. Then, slowly bend your elbow and raise your palm up towards your face, over your dog’s head at the same time.
Lie down: hold your finger straight out in front of you. Then, rotate this slowly to point at the ground.
Stay: hold your palm straight out, as though you were telling someone to stop.
Drop it: hold your hand out in a fist, and then open your palm.
Heel: either tap your hip with your hand, or use your hand to form a circular motion by your hip.
Like we said, the hand signals that you use are completely up to you. If you’d prefer to wave your dog over when calling them, rather than making a big circle with your hands, then go ahead and do this. The most important thing is that you remain consistent with the hand signals that you use.
Teaching Your Dog Hand Signals
There’s no point trying out the hand signals above and expecting your dog to instantly understand them. You need to first teach your dog what each signal actually means.
To do this, follow the exact same steps that you would when using verbal commands. Even if your dog already knows the command, go back to basics to teach them the hand signal.
Then, at the exact same time that you give your verbal command, use your hand signal too.
Over time, you’ll be able to phase the verbal command out and rely solely on the hand signal. It’s important to practice with hand signals alone, but keep your dog fresh on verbal cues too. If you use both together, you’re much more likely to get a successful response.
Hand signals really do have their place in dog training. Not only are they a useful additional way to communicate with your dog, but dogs tend to love learning them too!
If you’re looking for an easy place to start, check out some of the dog training tutorials on our website and simply swap the voice commands for hand signals.