Dogs are experts at reading body language. They’re reading our signals all the time, so hand signals are a natural way to teach your dog most cues. Also, studies show dogs are more likely to accurately respond to hand signals than verbal cues.
Studies show dogs’ abilities to understand our pointing gestures may be innate, or perhaps they are predisposed to understand our pointing better than other gestures. Therefore, similar hand signals can be distinguished with learning and practice.
Are there dog-training hand signals that everyone uses?
There’s no set standard for hand signals across the dog-training industry. However, the key for you and your dog isn’t whether you’re following certain signals, but rather that you’re consistent with the signals you choose. Consistency is key in all dog training, especially when teaching and maintaining communication. While there are commonalities among trainers, you decide which signals are the most comfortable for you to use and your dog to understand.
Why hand signals are handy in dog training
Using hand signals is more common than you might think as they:
- Come in handy in a variety of situations where you can’t use your voice
- Hearing-impaired dog
- Deaf dog training
- Sleeping baby, you’re on a video/phone call, or any other time you want to be quiet
- Improve focus: Your dog learns to keep an eye on you for direction and guidance
- Improve cognitive skills
- Provide enrichment and stimulation to help alleviate boredom
- Support building solid behaviors while having fun
How to teach a dog hand signals
If your dog already knows the verbal cue, begin to add on the hand signal.
- Start in an environment with minimal to no distractions.
- Have your dog’s attention (eyes on you) and give the verbal cue along with the hand signal. Be clear and deliberate with your signal, and mark/click when he performs the intended cue.
- Repeat several times.
- Alternate using the verbal cue and the hand signal.
- Drop the verbal cue and only use the hand signal. Of course, your dog must be looking at you first! Say his name first to get his attention, then immediately give the cue/hand signal.
- Keep sessions short and focused.
- Start regularly generalizing hand signals into daily life.
If your dog doesn’t already know the verbal cue, teach both the verbal and the hand signal simultaneously by using lure and reward.
Top 10 Dog Training Hand Signals (With Photos)
Come: Fist over your heart with your elbow at your ribcage (much like if you were saying the pledge of allegiance)
Sit: Palm out and facing upward; bend the tips of your fingers toward the palm of your hand
Down: Use all four fingers together or index finger in a perpendicular position to the ground
Stay/Wait: Open palm facing upward like a “stop” signal
Look/Watch Me: Index or index and middle finger together pointing at your eye
Place/Go to Mat: Similar to down, since you’re usually asking your dog to lie on his mat, a pointed index finger in the direction of the mat can be used to get a simultaneous down
Drop: Closed fist pointed at the ground
Speak: Open palm facing your dog, keep your four fingers together and close to your thumb; open and close repeatedly
Shake Paw: Use an outstretched hand, palm facing up
Rollover: Index finger in a circular motion; if your dog will roll both ways, teach using clockwise to mean roll to the right and counterclockwise to mean roll to the left
As with all dog training, consistency is the top priority. You’re communicating, so be as clear as possible. Think of the numerous nuances in our written communication: For example, there (place), their (possessive) and they’re (they are) mean very different things. Be clear to get the correct point across!
The more hand signals you teach your dog, the better you can communicate and the more fun you’ll have. You can even use hand signals to segue into activities like trick training certifications and canine freestyle.