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Common Hand Signals for Dog Training

Hand signals are an excellent form of non-verbal communication that many dogs can master quickly during training.

August 8, 2023 4 min read
Common Hand Signals for Dog Training

Teaching your dog basic commands can be tough, especially when you only rely on verbal cues. Hand signals are often more effective for dog training and can come in useful as your pet gets older and potentially starts to lose his hearing. Ideally, you should begin teaching your dog hand signals as a puppy. However, dogs of all ages can be taught this non-verbal form of communication.

Why Train Your Dog to Respond to Hand Signals?

Adding hand signals to your dog training regimen can help make your training efforts more versatile. Training is an essential part of puppyhood and what your dog learns from you will follow him throughout his life. As many dogs tend to struggle with understanding their owner’s verbal communication, introducing common hand signals can result in a better response from your pet.

What are the Most Common Hand Signals for Dogs?

It is important to be patient when teaching your dog hand signals. Dog training can be a lengthy process but can also be rewarding for both you and your pet. Practice the following common hand signals to help you better communicate with your furry friend:

1. Attention

The first thing you want to do is get your pet’s attention. This step allows you to shift your verbal cues to non-verbal cues by teaching your dog to stop and pay attention to you when prompted. To get your pet’s attention, use one finger to point to your eye. You may need to use a verbal cue at first and progressively phase out any words and only use your hands. Each time your dog looks at you attentively after using the hand signal, offer a treat.

2. Sit

Teaching your dog to sit is important for all pet owners. There may be circumstances in which your pet will need to quickly stop and sit for his safety or the safety of others. The “sit”’ hand signal for dogs is an open hand with your palm up. Start with your hand out in front of you and raise it in an upward motion toward your shoulder.

3. Down

The next most common hand signal for dog training is the “lie down” signal. To perform this action, hold your pointer finger at chest level and do a diagonal sweeping motion downwards. An alternative hand signal for “down” involves doing the opposite of “sit.” Begin with your hand near your shoulder and move your hand in a downward motion, with your finger pointing towards the floor.

4. Stay

Stay is one of the most important hand signals that you can teach your dog. This non-verbal cue ensures that your dog remains safely by your side out in public and near potentially dangerous places, such as busy streets. To teach your dog to “stay,” hold out your hand with your palm facing you. Slowly move your hand upwards until you reach your shoulder.

5. Come

There may be times when your dog is at a distance from you and you need him to come closer, such as when you’re walking leash-free in the dog park and your pet wanders too far. To teach your dog to “come,” place your arm at your side with an open hand. Bring your hand diagonally across your body to your opposite shoulder.

6. Drop It

Most pet owners have encountered a situation in which they need their dog to drop something from their mouth, such as a small critter or piece of harmful food. Teaching your dog the “drop it” signal could potentially save his life. When training your dog to “drop it,” have your dog hold a toy in his mouth. Next, show your dog your closed fist, then open your fist. When your pup drops the toy, offer praise and a treat.

7. Heel

Another common hand signal that you should teach your dog is “heel.” Heeling means that your dog walks with his shoulder near your leg. To teach your dog this hand signal, tap your hip to signal to the dog to move to the specified location. You can also make a circular motion on your hip with your finger.

8. Free

The “free” hand signal can be useful in a variety of situations, especially during training. When you use the “free” hand signal, you are telling your dog that he can stop whatever you have asked of him. For example, you may tell your dog to lie down but when he no longer needs to be laying, you can give him the “free” command as a release cue. To signal “free,” raise both hands up to your shoulders with your palms up toward the sky.

Teaching Your Pet Hand Signals During Dog Training

Teaching your dog hand signals may seem like a difficult task but many dogs are capable of picking up non-verbal cues quickly with consistent training. It’s best to train your dog in a quiet place free of distractions. Use your dog’s name or a clicker to get his attention and be sure to reward your pet for good behavior. Practice over time, starting as early as possible, and your dog will likely pick up your non-verbal communication in no time.

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