Knowing which hand signals to teach your dog is a handy way (I had to) to help you improve your communication with your pooch both in and out of training. Giving commands coupled with a hand signal can help your dog more easily grasp what you want him to do by giving him both an auditory and visual cue. If you have a deaf dog, hand signals become more than just backup, they become your entire command. These hand signals for dogs are the most useful for training and for using that training.
Getting Started with Hand Signals for Dogs
As you read through these hand signals to teach your dog, there are a few things to keep in mind. Think of these as general guidelines for all the hand signals.
Pair your hand signal with a verbal command
Unless your dog is deaf, you’ll need to couple the hand signal with a verbal command. For example, your open hand down pairs with “sit” or “down.” Even if your dog is deaf, I recommend using the verbal command just so YOU learn which hand signals pair with which expectation. Sometimes we need a little training, too!
Keep it simple!
Keep those verbal commands simple, preferably one or two short words. “Crate up” is a good, short way of sending your dog to his crate and it’s a lot shorter than saying “go to your crate.”
Reinforce with rewards
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: until your dog masters a command, you’ll need to keep some tasty training treats handy! Reward him every time he gets it right.
Gradually phase out verbal cues
As your dog masters the hand signal, you can gradually phase out the verbal cue. Start by using it every other time, then every third, then just cut it out completely once you notice him responding consistently without it.
Phase out the reward
Your final step in teaching hand signals to your dog: phasing out the reward. Once he has a firm grasp on the hand signal, you can start giving him a treat every other time, then every third time, and so on until you stop completely. Replace the food with praise.
Okay, now that we know some basic guidelines for teaching your dog to recognize hand signals, let’s get started on the most useful signals to teach him!
8 Hand Signals to Teach Your Dog
These 8 hand signals to teach your dog can help you better train your pooch and control him when you need to. Using these signals, you’ll be able to train your dog faster and better and get better results when you use those commands in real world situations.
1- Open Hand Down
This is the hand signal you commonly see coupled with the sit command. As you say, “sit” move your hand towards the floor palm down. This natural movement is picked up on by the dog quickly and easily.
2- Finger Point
The finger point is an excellent hand signal to use in conjunction with commands like “kennel” or “mat.” It’s also useful for agility training. Before you can use it for agility training, though, you need to master it with just one location. Start with the crate or mat. Once your dog understands it, you can begin using it on an agility course.
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3- Thumbs Up
Just like with people, this hand signal, in conjunction with a click or treat, lets your dog know he did a good job. When you phase out the treats for the other hand signals, you can use this one as praise. It’s also a great way to praise a deaf dog.
4- Finger Point Down
Another of the common hand signals for dogs, finger pointing down is used to give a visual cue to the “lie down” command. It’s also an easy to pick up signal for your dog.
5- Palm Out Hand
Putting your hand out, palm forward is an excellent visual cue to pair with a command like “off”, “stop”, or “freeze”. Just remember, you can only use it with ONE command. Otherwise, you’ll just confuse your dog.
6- Time Out
The classic time out signal used in sports makes an excellent visual cue for your dog for commands like “leave it”, “drop”, or “quiet”. Although usually only used for deaf dogs, there’s no reason your hearing dog can’t have a nice visual cue for these commands. A bonus is that it is obviously different from other hand signals for dogs.
7- Hand Out
This hand signal is commonly used for the “shake” command. However, it can also be used for commands like “come”.
8- Two Fingers Pointed at Your Eyes
This is an excellent addition to hand signals for dogs to get your pooch to watch you. This can help signal to your dog that you want his eyes on you.
Using Hand Signals to Train Deaf Dogs
One of the benefits of pairing hand signals with verbal commands is that you’ll be setting the groundwork for your dog’s elderly years. If your pooch already knows that “open hand down” meats “sit,” you won’t have to worry about completely retraining him if his hearing starts to go.
But what about dogs that were born deaf? For them, hand signals are absolutely vital to training, yet you can’t really use the “verbal/hand” combination. So how do you get started?
Wondering if your dog is going deaf? Read our article: ►How Do I Know If My Dog Is Going Deaf & How Can I Help?
Above all else, you’ll need patience. If you don’t feel that you can handle training a dog that can’t hear you, then please let someone else adopt them. It’s okay to say, “this isn’t the dog for me.” My aunt recently passed on a deaf dog because both she and my uncle work full-time and she didn’t feel like she could put in the time and level of commitment that he deserved.
If you do decide that you can handle training a deaf dog, here are a few extra guidelines that will help you get started.
Learn sign language
Get yourself a sign language book and dig in. Start with words that you would normally use with a hearing dog. While training typically involves just one or two words per command, it’s amazing how much our dogs pick up from our everyday speech. If I say, “I’m running down to the store,” she knows I’m going out. In fact, she’s learned every variation of that phrase: “I’m going out,” “I’m going to the store,” and “I’ll be right back.” Sign language opens up a lot of new possibilities for communicating with your pooch!
Decide on a method of getting his attention, then stick to it
The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund recommends either thumping the ground with your hand (it creates a vibration), or choosing a specific spot to touch your dog to get his attention.
Reward, reward, reward
As with any dog training, rewards are essential. Clickers don’t work, obviously. Neither does verbal praise. Training treats are pretty much a must here. Combine the treat with the thumbs up signal every single time, so eventually the “thumbs up” becomes your praise. You can also clap your hands, the other universal sign for “great job!”
If you’ve never worked with a dog that couldn’t hear you, I recommend getting some backup. A professional training who has worked with deaf dogs is definitely a major help. If you can’t afford a trainer, or prefer to do it yourself, these books are great resources.
Hand Signals for Dogs Make Life Easier
Hand signals for dogs are a great way to help your dog learn commands more quickly and easily. Adding in a visual cue can help engage different parts of his brain, which means a better understanding of the command as well as a better result. Give these hand signals for dogs a try and let us know how they worked for you.
Have you used any of these 8 hand signals to teach your dog different commands? Do you have any tips for training a deaf dog? Share in the comments!