Dog Training Hand Signals

As discussed in the first article of this series, obedience training for your dog is something you can accomplish on your own. All you need is a little patience and a basic understanding of what to teach and how. In this article, we’ll start delving into “how”, starting with how using hand signals can make training easier.

Hand signals are a wonderful dog training aid, if properly used. They are employed by professional trainers in all arenas and can help your dog recognize commands faster by providing a visual element. In fact, it’s very likely that you’ll soon find your dog will respond to the hand signal without the voice command. Silent commands are used in all canine competitions and a dog trained “to hand” is a beautiful thing to watch. Best of all, it’s not difficult to learn or to teach your dog. Imagine how impressed your guests will be when your faithful friend responds to a simple gesture of your hand.

Before you start, it is extremely important to understand the most important aspect of using hand signals: Never raise your hand as if to strike your dog. If your pet sees your actions as threatening or intimidating, you’ll never establish the trust necessary for your dog to want to please you. Keep your hand gestures passive. Hand shyness in dogs is painful to see and can take months or years to train out. ‘Nuff said? OK, let’s get started.

Let’s start with the 4 essential commands in the previous article. After all, our main focus at this point is to make your canine companion more manageable. I’ll describe the most commonly used gesture for each command. Feel free to make up your own, but be sure that each signal is unique and distinct, to avoid confusing your dog.

No: So, we’ve jumped right into a contradiction. Generally, in “working” a dog, you’ll be telling the dog what you want him or her to do, not what you don’t want. Chances are, if your dog is misbehaving, he or she probably isn’t focused on you or your signals, anyway. The “No” command isn’t used widely in competition and there isn’t really an established hand signal for it. If you still want to reinforce this command with a hand signal, you may want to consider the ASL sign for “No”: Hold your hand at about shoulder level with the index, second finger and thumb extended forward. Close the extended fingers against your thumb, in a “duckbill” motion. Another common method is to use a sharp clap, but be warned, this may cause your dog to cower at loud noises.

Down: Start with your arm extended out in front of you, roughly parallel to the floor or ground. Your hand should be open, with the palm down. Lower your hand toward the floor. It’s most common to maintain the horizontal hand position as it moves downward.

Stay: The basic gesture is to face the palm of your open hand directly toward your dog. If your dog is beside or behind you, at “heel” position for instance, drop your arm and hand to your side, fingers down, with the palm of your hand directly in front of the dog’s nose, if possible. If you are facing your dog, point your fingers upward with your palm at an angle that’s easy for your dog to see. Don’t thrust your hand out forcefully, although slowly moving it toward your dog may help emphasize the command.

Come: Most commonly, the arm is extended outward, parallel to the floor or ground, then slowly moved across the body so the inside of the hand touches the opposite shoulder. Use a slow, exaggerated movement during early training stages and you can usually use a smaller, faster motion as your dog learns the command.

Those are the essentials; I’ll throw in one more widely-used command:

Sit: The “accepted” sign for this may seem a bit unnatural. It starts with your hand and arm at your side, and the hand comes upward to the side of your head, crossing in front of your dog’s eyes. Some owners prefer to use a more natural gesture, like extending the arm toward the dog and pointing the index finger down. This gesture, however, may not be easy for your dog to distinguish from the signal for “Down”, especially at a distance.

Remember to move slowly and use the proper voice commands calmly in conjunction with these signals during your training sessions. You’ll also want to consider the distance between you and your dog as your training progresses and exaggerate the motions as necessary to be sure your dog recognizes the signal.

Last, but not least, it’s important to be consistent. Don’t change the rules in the middle of the game by changing up the signals after training starts. I’d also recommend keeping your hand signals politically and socially correct. This suggestion is for your protection more than your dog’s.

Upcoming articles in this series will explain simple methods for training individual commands as well as general training tips. You’ll be surprised at how easy, rewarding and just plain fun training your dog can be.

Dog Training Hand Signals and Dog Training Hand Signals

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