5 Useful Hand Signals You Can Teach Your Dog

rhodesian ridgeback responding to lay down hand signal

Learning new things and ongoing training can keep your dog mentally engaged and also give them a job to do. Ongoing training is a great fit for any dog and is a particularly good fit for working dogs who are happiest when they have a defined role in the family and a useful job to keep them occupied. Aside from these benefits, teaching your dog to respond to hand signals is also a handy and helpful tool to communicate with them. Here are are some useful hand signals you can teach your dog:

Why are Hand Signals for Dogs Effective for Training?

Hand signals can be a great way to communicate better with your dog. They also tend to help increase a dog’s response to a command when paired with a verbal command. Plus, starting to associated hand signals with verbal commands when your dog is younger can help them continue to respond well to commands as they age. In addition, dogs who suffer from hearing loss can benefit greatly from learning hand signals.

5 Useful Hand Signals You Can Teach Your Dog

If you are diligent, persistent, and consistent, you can teach your dog to respond to hand signals for almost anything. Here are a few useful hand signals to pair with valuable basic commands to get you started:

1. Watch Me or Look at Me

Although dogs tend to respond best to commands that are verbal and paired with a hand signal, you do want to train them to respond to the hand signal by itself as well. When you make the shift to nonverbal cues, you need to make sure your dog knows when to pay attention to you. This makes a hand signal for “watch me” or “look at me” valuable.

Oftentimes, the hand signal for this is something like pointing one finger towards your eye, but could be another hand signal that you do not plan to use for something else. Establishing this hand signal lets your dog know that it is time to pay attention because another hand signal command is coming.

2. Sit

“Sit” is a basic command every dog should know, so successfully pairing it with a hand signal can help make your life a little easier moving forward. A popular option for this hand signal is to hold out your hand at chest level, palm up, and then move your hand up.

3. Down or Lie Down

The “down” or “lie down” command can be a great way to calm your dog and help them settle down. A common hand signal that is paired with “lie down” is holding your pointer finger out in front of you at chest level and sweeping downward diagonally.

4. Come

This is a useful command, especially if your dog is off-leash. Pairing a verbal “come” command with a hand signal, and making sure your dog learns to respond to the nonverbal hand signal, can be a big help.

A common hand signal for this command is to hold your hand open at your side and then bring it up diagonally to touch your shoulder. It’s usually a good idea to avoid patting your chest with your hand as this is a signal often used by everyone to invite a dog up or to encourage them to jump up.

5. Stay

“Stay” is another useful, popular, and meaningful command for your dog to learn. It can help make things easier when you are at home with your dog and safer while you are out in public with them. A common hand signal for “stay” is simply to hold your hand out in front of you, palm facing your dog.

How to Train Your Dog to Respond to Hand Signals

Training your dog to respond to hand signals is similar to training your dog to respond to basic commands. Consistency, rewards, and praise will go a long way in helping your dog associated the hand signals with the desired action. Here are some tips for training your dog to respond to hand signals:

1. Pick Unique Hand Signals

When you are thinking about training your dog to respond to hand signals, it’s important that you choose unique hand signals and stick to them. You want to pick something specific, so your dog can recognize a specific action and then associate it with a specific desired reaction.

Because consistency matters so much in training effectively, you want to make sure your hand signals won’t be confused with any other hand movements people may use when talking expressively with each other or interacting normally with your dog.

2. Pair Hand Signals with Verbal Commands

When you are starting to train your dog to respond to hand signals, it’s a good idea to pair the hand signals with verbal commands. As your dog makes the association between the desired action, the verbal command, and the hand signal, you can start using only the verbal command, only the hand signal, and both to continue to strengthen the association.

3. Stay Consistent and Use Rewards

As you begin training and keep moving through it, make sure you stay consistent with the words you use for the verbal command and the hand signal associated with the command. Then, make sure you reward your dog for responding well to them. You can use treats and praise to reward proper responses.

As your dog starts responding more consistently to the hand signal and verbal command, you can start rewarding with treats more sparingly while continuing to praise them for the proper response. Once they’re responding to the verbal and hand signal commands without needing a treat, you can start backing off on the verbal command to get them to respond to a nonverbal hand signal.

4. Refresh Training as Needed

Once your dog is responding to the verbal command by itself, the hand signal by itself, and when both are used, you can likely back off the training a little bit. But, you can still refresh it every now and then by varying the command combination you use and rewarding them for the proper response. This will help keep the association fresh and strong to ensure your dog responds to whichever signal you give them for the command.

Hand signals can be a useful tool in your dog training kit and can help you communicate better with your dog. With these tips, you’re well-equipped to start training your pooch to respond to hand signals.