You wouldn’t think it, but teaching hand signals to a dog isn’t any tougher than using voice training. You are simply communicating in another way, and most dogs are eager to learn whatever you’d like to teach them.
There are a few reasons to teach hand signals:
- Your dog is deaf.
- You have a disability that makes talking or talking clearly difficult.
- You want to subtly signal your dog.
- You work with a dog in an environment that requires quiet or silence.
- Your dog is a working dog who is sometimes involved in dangerous situations.
In his book Communicating With Your Dog: A Humane Approach to Dog Training, trainer Ted Baer says hand signals can be most useful: “Dogs often depend on our body positions as well as our hand signals. These visual signals help them to understand and interpret our commands and even our wishes.”
Whatever your reason, there is no downside to teaching a dog to respond to hand signals. Even if there is no disability involved, you can think of it as a different way to communicate.
What Signals Should You Use?
Perhaps the best thing about hand signals is that you can make up your own — and choosing them comes down to what’s best for you and your dog.
It’s not necessary that everyone around you understands your signals. And if your dog is training for a specific duty, such as for K-9, it may benefit him to teach hand signals so you can “speak” to the dog in dangerous or high-tension situations.
Some people use American Sign Language (ASL). The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF) has a useful resources page on its website where you can find examples of hand signals.
How to Begin
As with all training, you’re looking to send the right message in a positive way. This means rewarding your dog when she gets it right. Use treats, hugs, clicks or whatever you usually use to reward your dog.
DDEAF has a few helpful recommendations when getting started:
- Don’t try to train your dog right after she eats. If she’s full, she won’t be as interested.
- Don’t train when either you or your dog is sick or upset — you will only make each other unhappier.
- Try to keep your training sessions short and frequent, ideally 5 to 10 minutes, 3 times a day.
- Always end on a positive note. If you are trying something new and your dog just isn’t getting it, go back to something she knows well.
Remember, this is just as new to her as it is to you, and you can learn together.
Check out these awesome Golden Retrievers demonstrating their obedience skills with hand signals:
Commands to Teach
Again, you are free to teach your dog any hand signals you come up with. If you need help getting started, Ted Baer lists 5 basic commands in his book that he begins with:
- Handclap: This command is designed to get your dog’s attention. “Upon hearing the handclap,” Baer says, “[your dog] should stop what he’s doing, look at you, and wait for further instructions.” (Note: If your dog is deaf, this will not work effectively unless she’s looking at you.)
- Directed Go: This tells your dog where you want her to go/fetch/retrieve.
- Directed Come: It’s similar to the Directed Go. However, in this instance, you are telling your dog that you want her to come to you or bring you an object.
- Stay: This one is universal. Having your dog accustomed to standing in place makes life much easier.
- Down: If you have a leaper, this one’s a must — it teaches your dog to stop jumping without saying a word.
Teaching hand signals to your dog is a fun and useful way to improve your communication. Your dog will appreciate you showing her exactly what you want from her, and you can engage in all of life’s activities while still maintaining control in your relationship.
So give it a try — and let us know how it goes.