Image via iStock.com/Zbynek Pospisil
By Rebecca Desfosse
January is National Train Your Dog Month, and there’s no better way to celebrate the bond you have with your pup than by teaching him a few tricks in an exciting, new way. That’s exactly why the Association of Professional Dog Trainers created the National Train Your Dog Month in 2010—to remind pet owners to make training a part of everyday life with their dogs.
When it comes to training your dog, there are a variety of “cues” you can use. A “cue” is a stimulus used to get your dog to do a particular action or trick, like sitting or giving you his paw. Many pet parents use voice cues, but hand signals for dogs are completely underrated as cues.
In fact, they’re one of the most effective cues you can use to train your dog. Hand signals for dogs are easy to teach and use. They’re especially useful when teaching deaf or hard-of-hearing dogs or when training in a noisy environment.
Why Use Hand Signals for Dogs?
Using dog hand signals for training is effective because of a dog’s innate nature and propensity for understanding body language. “Dogs communicate with each other primarily through body language. Yes, they use vocal cues too, but their body cues are more dominant. From saying they are ready to play or expressing they aren’t comfortable with something, they can do it all with body positioning,” says dog trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care, Russell Hartstein, CDBC. It only makes sense that dogs learn and respond so well to body cues.
Using hand signals for dogs during training also helps to minimize user error. According to Jessica Gore, CPDT-KA, animal behaviorist and founder of Competent Pup, “For the average person, hand signals may be the way to go, and will definitely offer results. Other forms of training—like shaping with a clicker, for example—require skill and finesse not always possessed by the average dog person (or trainer, for that matter).” Dog hand signals are easier for you to execute and for your dog to understand.
Cues You Can Teach Your Dog Using Hand Signals
Ready to learn how to train your dog to respond to hand signals? Here are easy four hand signals for dogs that you can teach your pup today:
Start with your dog standing in front of you. Hold a tasty treat, such as Wellness WellBites grain-free beef and turkey recipe soft and chewy dog treats, in one hand. With the other hand, you’ll use your hand signal. For sit, hold your hand with your palm up, above the dog's head. “It’s almost as if you are holding an imaginary plate of food over your dog,” says Gore. When your pup sits, give him one or two dog treats and praise him.
To teach a dog the hand signal for down, start with your dog sitting in front of you. Then, point to the ground and hold. Gore notes that sometimes a closed fist is used to indicate down. Whichever cue you use, make sure it is consistent and use the general principles as above. Give a treat when he listens to the cue, and shower him with praise.
3. Come or “Target”
According to Gore, recall cues are sometimes taught with a wave or a hand gesturing inward. Another fun hand signal for this behavior is targeting. “Targeting is where the human holds out their hand or fist, and the dog is taught to 'target' (or bop, usually with nose) the hand,” says Gore.
Again, reward your pooch with a dog treat when he targets your hand. For more complicated tricks like these that require longer training sessions, you might want to use smaller dog training treats that are lower in calories, like the BIXBI Pocket Trainers chicken flavor grain-free dog treats.
4. Go to Bed
To teach your dog to go to bed on cue, simply point in the direction of the bed. “Unlike some other animals, dogs look to where you are pointing, instead of at the finger that is pointing,” says Gore. Once again, reward him with a treat and praise when he responds appropriately to your cue.
It’s Never Too Late to Teach Hand Signals for Dogs
If your pup already knows some of these behaviors by the verbal cue (e.g., the word “sit”), it’s not too late to add a hand signal. “To do this, first give the hand signal, then say the word, then reward your pet. By doing the hand signal before the word, your pet will start to begin to correlate the gesture with the action,” says Hartstein.
Training dogs with hand signals is easy and rewarding. Not only will it give your pet the chance to strengthen physical and mental muscles, but it will also strengthen the bond you share together.