James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.
Training Dogs With Hand Signals
Dogs are very intelligent, there’s no doubt about that. They can learn to respond to basic obedience commands, perform silly tricks at a freestyle competition, and search for drugs and survivors, amongst many other things. During the training process, you can choose to use verbal and non-verbal cues such as hand signals. These are not mandatory—you are free to choose which type of cues you want to use with your dog!
Hand signals can be very useful if your dog is deaf, and trying to use verbal cues would be a waste of time. They are also highly recommended if you’re planning on participating in obedience or freestyle competitions. Any freestyle routine would lose its “wow factor” if the owner chose to use verbal cues! Hand signals are also very intuitive by nature: they can be used by most people, they’re extremely easy to teach, and they certainly speed up the training process. Did you know dogs are more likely to pay attention to our body language rather than the sounds we make? This is the reason why dogs respond so effectively to this training tactic.
The Process of Hand Signal Training
How does this process work? Simply put, the hand signal becomes associated with a certain behavior. This is classical conditioning, plain and simple. If you’re not familiar with this concept, classical conditioning tells us dogs (and many other animals, including humans!) can pair a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus; as a result, the neutral stimulus becomes conditioned. This may sound extremely confusing but, in fact, you see it happen every day.
Let’s imagine your dog, Mr. McNugget. The first time you grabbed Mr. McNugget’s leash, he looked at you and probably thought, “That is one weird-looking piece of furniture!” The leash is the neutral stimulus. On the other hand, Mr. McNugget loves to go for a walk; going for a walk is the unconditioned stimulus. Something funny started to happen, though. Every time you grabbed that “funny piece of furniture,” Mr. McNugget went to the doggy park. After a few repetitions, the leash became a conditioned stimulus, which means Mr. McNugget would jump out of his bed and run towards the front door as soon as you grabbed the leash.
The hand signal is the conditioned stimulus. Before the training process, it didn’t mean anything to the dog; however, through classical conditioning, it acquired meaning and became associated with a certain behavior.
Three Rules for Hand Signal Training
Here are the three rules for hand signal training:
- Hand Signal vs. Lure
These few basic rules should be followed when using non-verbal cues. Consistency is the number one rule! Before starting the actual training, you need to choose which signal you’ll be using; choose a very specific gesture and don’t attempt to change it a few training sessions later; you need to stick to it! Otherwise, your dog won’t understand what you’re trying to teach him, and you may increase his frustration level.
Hand Signal vs. Lure
Second, you need to make sure you know the difference between a hand signal and a lure. Although most hand signals may start as a lure, they’re not the same! Luring is a training method in which we grab a piece of food (or a toy) and use it to guide the dog into the desired position. After a few repetitions, we remove the food, but the hand movement mustn’t change; it should then gradually evolve into the chosen hand signal.
The third rule is to use positive, reward-based training methods only. Your hand should be associated with training, food or petting; not with punishment! If you physically punish your dog, he’ll learn to fear your hands and, henceforth, won’t be able to focus and relax during the training session. Remember: if you’re getting frustrated with your dog, interrupt the training session, and try again a few hours later. Every dog has his own pace, and it’s vital you respect your dog’s learning rhythm. Training is supposed to be fun!
How to Verify Training Progress
Keep your training sessions short and frequent, instead of long and occasional. Fifteen-minute sessions should be able to help your dog maintain focus; keep him motivated by offering him the appropriate rewards at the right time. If your dog is not showing any progress, try to answer the following questions:
- Are you sending your dog mixed signals? An open hand is completely different than a closed one. Are you pointing a finger? Do you always point that finger? Is your hand signal changing throughout the training session?
- Does your dog know why he’s being rewarded? Are you using a marker? If you are, how are your timing skills?
- What kind of reward are you using? Are you sure that’s the best option for your dog? What if he prefers a completely different type of reward?
- How often are you training your dog? Several times a day? And how long are the training sessions? Is your dog losing his motivation and acting distracted during those sessions?
- Are you training your dog inside, in a calm, familiar environment? Or you chose to go outside, where squirrels run, and children scream?
- Are you using a hand signal and a verbal cue simultaneously?
These questions should help you understand why you’re having problems with your training process. Although it may seem like a lot, it’s not that hard. Dogs can effortlessly survive our training mistakes; once they notice and understand our behavioral patterns, the learning process will run smoothly.
If you wish to bring your training skills to a whole new level, ask for help! A positive dog trainer will gladly help you improve your timing, create a reward hierarchy, and choose the appropriate training technique. He will also help you choose the best hand signal for each behavior and how you can use them in your day-to-day life.
Questions & Answers
Question: I've been told "no touching" your dog while going through this process. He is reactive and very easily distracted with any outside stimulation, smells, etc. What are your, the writer of this article, thoughts on not touching a dog while training?
Answer: If you're training your dog and they are very reactive, then it might be a good idea to slowly ramp up the stimulation. Start with the least distracting environment, then slowly make it more distracting. The goal is to have them respond to your commands no matter the environment.
© 2018 James Livingood
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2018:
We had to have our last dog Skippy euthanized last December and only have a cat right now. Will use your suggestions should we get another dog. Dogs are smart and can learn quickly if consistency is utilized in training. Ours certainly understood many cues through the years.
‘Down’ signal requires your palm upward with a treat. Take the lure close to his nose. Then, slowly move your hand down in a vertical line. Gradually, he will take a down position. You can have palm down too for another trick. In that case, push your dominant hand gently on his head until he goes for a down posture.
Most dog owners face a hard time commanding the ‘Stay’ position to their dogs. You need vigorous drills at least 10-15 minutes a day in order to calm him down at the right moment such as party. Stretch your fingers apart from one another with palm down position and move your hand straight away from body. Then hold your palm in front of his eyes for a few moments.
As he learns the trick, distract him with simple items for example throw down a water bottle. Keep a close eye contact so that he can avoid these distractions. You can also call out his name at this time to grab his attention away from those eye catching events.
Use plenty of treats if his behavior satisfies you. Invent newer hand signals for dogs respectively for each command. Just remember that next time you have to similarly repeat the signal for a perfect outcome. Hand signals for dogs are especially crucial at the old age. The pet might become deaf. But with the priorly practiced hand signals he can maintain a close connection with you.
How To Teach a Dog To Give Paw
Train Your Dog to Shake its Paw
Every dog owner loves to be proud of his dog. Showing off cool dog tricks from time to time can make the life of you and your best friend happier. Having playtime after obedience training helps you and your dog relax and enjoy a successful learning session.
Most pets love to lick people, so the ‘kissing’ command is by nature one of the easiest ways to teach. Every time your dog licks your face, your dog will quickly learn ‘Give me a kiss’.
I f your puppy isn’t a like type, you can use a simple trick. Put peanut butter on your face and say ‘Kiss me, good dog, kiss me’. With each kiss, you can pleasantly compliment your dog and give it a little treat. Your best friend will eventually learn to kiss you.
Your dog giving you a high five is something every domestic dog needs to know. To be honest, anyone with a dog can teach this trick in 5–10 minutes. From the dog owner’s point of view, it only takes a few treatments and a little time and effort.
Learning how to teach a dog to eat softly is a skill every dog owner must learn. Many untrained dogs tend to bite off some of their owner’s fingers along with a piece of food when feeding their snacks. This can be a way to ensure they get food. Owners tend to make the mistake of pulling their hand as soon as the dog’s mouth touches the skin.
Who doesn’t want to teach dogs to cheat? Almost all dog owners want to know more about how to teach dog skills. Even if you haven’t trained your dog before, a short 10–15 minute training session can help you learn some simple tricks to help you teach your dog tricks. Your dog will not get bored during this short time and will keep more of what you are trying to teach him.
Before you start, take the dog toilet, prepare enough snacks, take the dog to a place with little or no distraction, and tie a string to the dog’s collar. Put the dog in a ‘sitting’ position and stand in front of it. Let your dog know that he or she has been treated by having him lick or smell it. Hold your dog’s leash in your left hand and a snack in your right hand.
Dogs are very sociable animals, so teaching them how to shake hands might be a good idea. Most dogs like to be with people. This trick will help you get in touch with people easily. If your dog hasn’t learned the obedience command ‘sit’ yet, you should start with teaching ‘sit’ after mastering ‘sit’.
Then the ‘shake hand’ training will be easier to teach. Ask the dog to sit, and reward the dog when it sits. The dog needs to sit well. A sloppy sitting may not work for this exercise. Having a flat collar on your dog can help you get started with this trick.
Ask the dog to use the ``paw shake’’ ``shake’’ ``hand shake’’ he wants to use in the future, then gently pull the dog’s flat collar to the left, praise the dog and watch the weight come off the paws. Reward them.
To teach your dog to give high fives, the first thing you want to do is bring your dog in a quiet environment where you can train your dog without interruption. It’s a good idea to practice in the living room or where the dog is familiar. If the dog tries to train outside or where he is not familiar with, he will distract the various smells and sounds of the environment. The goal is to get your dog to focus on you and the training at hand.
Other dogs are overly excited about getting treatment and will do anything to get it. In each case, you need to learn how to teach your puppy to eat food gently. Dogs have either acquired improper training habits by their owners or have not learned to eat softly from the start. As a dog owner, your task is to show your dog how to eat food in a gentle, proper way.
Here are a few extra tips to teach your dog to cheat, don’t get too excited or lose focus, and always give a lot of praise when he’s done the right thing. Offer rewards or snacks to encourage your dog. Start with simple tricks and do only one at a time to avoid confusing your dog.
Next, kneel in front of the dog. When doing this, don’t allow your dog to jump to you. When you say the word ‘Down,’ hold a snack between your dog’s paws. Repeat this command until the dog is lying down.
You may need to move the snack between your forefoot to lie down. Putting a snack between your feet will cause your dog’s head to fall down and sniff and eat the snack. This way, the body also falls naturally. If the dog is not lying down, move the snack further back towards the dog’s chest.
When you ask the dog to ‘shake your hand’, gently pull the dog collar back to the left, and while still pulling the collar, lift the dog’s right paw and say ‘shake, good dog’. Since the weight is on the other foot, you should be able to lift the foot easily. Put your feet down, praise enthusiastically and reward your dog with a small snack. Do the same exercise this time.
Gently shake your dog’s paws and enthusiastically say ‘Wave your hand, good dog’. After practicing more than 10 times, do not pull the dog collar, ask ‘shake your hand’ and hold your foot. After consistent practice, in the end your best friend will give you his feet when you ask to ‘wave your hands’. Always train your puppy to be positive and positive.
Your dog should be excited and happy to ‘waggle’. If your dog still doesn’t offer his paw after mastering it, repeat the steps and let the mood be more optimistic and more exciting. If your dog doesn’t provide a paw, start from scratch.
Put the dog in a sitting position and ask to shake its paws. If your dog doesn’t yet know how to shake his paw, all you have to do is grab his paw and give him a treat. After a few times he will find out that raising his feet wins him a treat.
Then you’ll want to raise your hands higher and higher and place your palms on him in a high-five way. Your dog will begin to distinguish between shakes and high fives based on the position of the hand. You move from the shake to the foot position and gradually try to move to the high five position.
You can teach your dog to shake it or give it a “paw” and this is an easy start trick to teach almost any dog. In a sitting position, the dog puts his paws on his hands and says the word ‘paws’ (or shakes). Then give the dog a snack.
Now repeat this a few times to encourage the dog to hold his paw in his hand without help. Gives him praise and hospitality when he does this successfully. Once the dog has mastered this, he can move on to a variant called High Five. In this trick, it does the same thing, except to raise it higher than when you wave your hand.
If this doesn’t work, start treatment with your dog’s nose and slowly move to the ground. Then slowly move the snack between your feet. Starting this way, your dog may want to focus on treatment and follow it. It leads to lying on the floor.
As soon as the dog lies down, praise it first, then give it a snack. Remember to always do it in that order-positive reinforcement and they are rewarded. This command is recommended because your dog is being praised for doing what you want. Then treatment is given as a reward for doing that right. This will also inspire your dog to do better.
If your dog is used to after successfully performing the ‘down’ command, you can incorporate the ‘Stay’ command.
You can teach your puppy how to ‘shake’ after mastering the ‘shake hand ‘shake’ command. Ask the dog for ‘a wave your hand’ command and reach out to grab it, but don’t touch it.
Pull your hands back out of your feet and say “good wave”. His feet are waiting for you to receive it. Most dogs try to hold your hand and put your paws in the air.
Be careful with this command because your puppy will be confused because you give the order and you haven’t caught the paw you should do. While your dog’s paws are in the air, you will be delighted to compliment your dog so that you know this is the right move for your command.
After practicing 20 to 25 times, you’ll understand that your dog won’t grab your paws if you say ‘shake hand shake’. Instead of saying ‘shake your hand’, now ask your dog to ‘shake’. If he or she lifts your feet but doesn’t shake and you might need to be more excited, give the order to a more playful mode. Start your training session from scratch. Reach your dog’s feet and encourage them to reach out and move. Don’t forget to keep these training sessions short.
The most important thing while training your dog is to encourage him whenever he does what you like and strengthen him with lots of encouraging compliments and caress. To increase the accuracy of your training, you can use marker signals that tell your dog exactly which behavior has gained reinforcement. For example, while training a dog, you can say ‘yes’ at the moment the dog touches his hand with his paw.
Another fun trick to learn after this is to sit down. This is an easy-to-learn trick that many dogs do not specifically learn and appear to do on their own naturally. If your dog doesn’t, you can teach him by gently pressing his bottom towards the floor by saying “sit down” and reward him with lots of compliments and treats when done correctly.
Don’t be frustrated if your dog doesn’t immediately understand. Some dogs take longer to teach ‘down’ than others. Having a dog fall to the floor means lowering the guard, and some are not used to it. Remember to learn commands before your dog fully understands its meaning. This may take longer than you want, but like everything else in dog training, the results are well worth it in the end.
When your dog learns hand signals and can easily give high fives, you need to incorporate verbal commands. This command can be anything, but it’s usually the name of the trick. The high-five command is suitable for this example. To do this successfully, you need to say command high fives as if the dog moves its paws towards the hand. We’re talking about a fraction of a second here, but the closer your command is to the action, the faster your dog will learn it.
Another fun you can do with all kinds of dogs is to teach him to jump over the hoop. First you need a hoop of the right size for your dog’s size, and make sure you don’t hold the hoop too high in a position where your dog could get hurt if you try to jump or fall to the other side. Start this trick with your dog on one side of the hoop, then use a snack to encourage your dog. At first he may try to go under or around the hoop.
Encourage and reward him for passing it. If he’s mastered this, go ahead and pull the hoop a little further off the ground and let your dog jump through it until the dog can do it at the maximum height that fits your dog’s size.
With this method, you will start teaching your dog that your hands do not release snacks until the dog stops biting. To do this, you only need to feed a small portion of the food from your hand, without lifting your finger from the food. Be careful, but firm.
If your dog is a little stupid, your first instinct is to move your hand away. Keep your hands in place and wait for the dog to figure out that it will not get food until the dog stops biting his fingers. When he finds out this and calms down, let him ask for a reward.
Disclaimer — There is an affiliate link in the beginning from where I earn a little money.
Top 8 Hand Signals To Teach Your Dog (including Deaf Ones)
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.
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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.
1- 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!
RELATED ➦ The Great List Of Dog Obedience Commands
2- 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.”
3- 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 dog training treats handy!
Reward him every time he gets it right.
Here is a good dog treat to make a home. You can even have a bite.
4- 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.
5- 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 dog 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!
➔➔I bet you want more training tips like these➔ Download our Free TRAINING guide today.
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.
Want to teach your dog to give hugs? Read our article ► Giving Hugs: Training Your Dog to do the Cutest Trick
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?
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
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.
Training Your Dog With Hand Signals
Hand signals can be used to train a dog and it's just as easy to do as verbal commands. Essentially, it's sign language you'll use your hands to signal to your dog what you want it to do, such as sit or lie down. Dogs are excellent at reading body language. Many even find it much easier to read what people are saying with their bodies than with spoken language.
Hand signals are useful in a variety of situations. For instance, they're often easier to use or required for competitive obedience or dog sports. Deaf dogs obviously won't be able to respond to spoken commands, so hand signals allow their owners to train them just like any other dog. And, if you enjoy training, this is one more thing to add to your dog's repertoire of skills. Just think how impressed your friends will be when you have your dog doing all sorts of tricks with just a few small movements of your hand.