Using hand signals can make training your dog a lot easier.
Many times, teach our dog a command and get frustrated when they don’t learn quickly enough.
But by using a few hand gestures, we can help them understand the trick easier.
Even research agrees that dogs perform better when they need to use visual-only versus audio-only cues.
To learn how to pair hand signals to tricks, read on.
Why Use Hand Signals for Dogs?
When you’re training your dog to do something, it’s best to pair the action with a hand gesture. That way, you can perform the hand gesture and your dog will know what you what her to do. Although many people use words at first, it’s usually better to add them in later.
Dogs typically respond best to physical signals. Since body language is the main way you communicate and understand your pup, it makes sense that she’d respond better to hang signals when learning something new.
For example, if you’re teaching your dog to lie down, you can make a hand signal—such as pointing down—when she does the action. Keep doing this multiple times during the session to reinforce what the hand signal means. Then use the hand signal with the trick again in future sessions to keep reinforcing it. After she learns this, you can start using the word “lay down.”
Many experts and dog trainers will say that gestures are more important than words. But data backs it up too. One study tested 11 dogs and compared 3 senses: sight, sound and smell. Of course, the dogs who could use all 3 performed the best. But when singled out, sight was 3 times more effective than just sound. So when we take that logic into dog training and communication, our dogs are more likely to respond to hand signals or some sort of visual cue rather than an audio command, like a word.
That’s not to say words don’t matter—they definitely do. Our dog can learn many words. But that teaching is typically sped up by using a hand gesture in replacement of a word at first.
8 Hand Signals for Dogs
If you’re training your dog, it’s a good idea to pair their action with a visual cue before a word. Dogs typically learn fastest this way. Here’s some common hand signals for dogs.
#1 Open Hand Up for “Sit”
Probably the most basic trick you’ll teach your dog is “sit.” It’s useful whether you want your dog to listen, stay in place or stop doing something.
To do this, you can stand with your hand up and your palm open, as if you have something in your hands. When you first start training her, remember to have her do the action so she understands what she’s pairing the hand signal to.
#2 Point Down for “Lie Down”
“Lie down” is another basic hand gesture that should be among the first you teach your dog. That’s because, like “sit down,” it helps divert your dog’s attention when they’re doing a bad behavior.
For example, if your dog is jumping up, saying “no” might not work but saying “lay down” is a command that will stop her behavior.
Once your dog is laying down and does the trick, pair it with a simple hand gesture of pointing downwards.
#3 Point to Eyes for “Look here”
This is a helpful hand signal for dogs because it allows you to capture their attention without any voice or noise. With a simple hand gesture, you can get her to pay attention to the next thing you have to say or any additional commands. You can teach your dog this by giving her a treat when she looks at you and pairing it with the gesture
#4 Stop Hand for “Stay”
A useful hand signal for dogs is “stay.” You can use the command to help her grow her patience when she’s waiting for treats. But mostly, the hand signal is useful for when your dog is behaving badly and you want her to freeze and stop doing the action.
For example, if your dog won’t stop harassing a family member, you can ask her to sit down and stay until she’s calmer.
To do this hand gesture, simply put your open palm forward, as if you’re making a stop signal with your hand.
#5 Hand Sweep Across Chest for “Come”
“Come” is another basic command to teach your dog, although it can be a harder one to teach if your pup gets distracted easily. The effort is worth it though. You can use this command to call your dog back when they’re getting into something, wandering off too far or when you’re ready to go home from the dog park.
To do this gesture, sweep your open hand across your chest to the opposite shoulder. Some people also use the common “come” motion by swaying their palm toward themselves. Whichever you choose, the most important thing is that you’re consistent and that you use different gestures for each command.
#6 Hand Sweep in Air for “Ok”
I use this hand gesture when I’m telling my dog it’s okay to do something and he has my permission. For example, if I’ve commanded him to sit and stay, I will this hand sign paired with “ok” to let him know he can get up and eat the treat.
“Okay” can also be used if your dog isn’t sure about something. For me, my dog is sometimes afraid when his toy lands near a box. For some reason, he thinks the box is going to eat him alive and refuses to get the toy. But when I use the “ok” hand signal, he trusts the situation more and moves forward.
#7 Open Palm for “Drop it”
When your dog has something that you want, this is a useful trick for her to know. It can be used whether you’re playing a game of fetch or if your dog has gotten ahold of something she shouldn’t have.
To do the “drop it” hand signal, place a fist in front of where the item is, such as in front of your dog’s face. Then, open your fist into a palm for your dog to place the item.
#8 Don’t Forget the Treats
When you’re teaching your dog a new command, be sure to have some treats ready. When she performs the trick, give her a treat. This will let her know that she did the right thing. It will help her connect the gesture to the action.
We recommend using small training treats that are appropriate for your dog’s size. When they’re small, you can give her many during each session since it’s a good idea to solidify the connection with repetition.
Another thing to keep in mind is that dogs are motivated more when the reward is greater. If you use your dog’s favorite brand of treats versus one that she just finds “alright,” she’ll probably put her energy into it before getting bored.
Summary on Hand Signals for Dogs
Using hand signals for dogs when training is necessary. As we outlined above, research shows that dogs perform best when they use all their senses. However, sight seems to help them more than sound. Knowing this, we can translate it into the way we train our dogs. Instead of just using an oral command, we should pair it with a visual cue. Hand signals are easy to use and customize.
In this article, we’ve suggested common hand signals for dogs, however, you can choose signals that work for you. Just remember to use signals that are different from each other so your dog doesn’t get confused between commands. And keep in mind, consistency is the most important factor.