Hand signals are an effective and distinct way of giving your dog a command. It is an essential part of training a dog to assist someone with a disability, such as a blind or deaf person. Teach your dog one hand signal at a time until the command feels natural for both of you and your dog's response is swift and focused. When teaching a new signal, you may also give a verbal cue in addition to the signal and offer your dog treats if he gives you the correct response. With some time and dedication, your dog can become an expert in understanding hand signals.
Praising your dog is imperative to success with any signal or command. While there is no official "good dog" hand signal, you can choose what comes most naturally to you, whether it is a thumbs up or a single clap. To teach this signal, hold several treats in your hand, and give your dog your chosen "good dog" sign. Give your dog a treat after you have given the signal. If you give your dog the "good dog" signal and your dog remains focused on you, he understands you are happy with his behavior.
Asking your dog to sit is a basic command and one that even a puppy can learn. To begin teaching your dog the hand signal for "sit," hold a treat in your hand and lift it slowly toward your dog's ears, causing him to rock back on his hindquarters and eventually sit in order to maintain eye contact with the treat. Praise him and give him the treat. Once he understands this basic cue, you can hold your arm out toward your dog with your palm up, and raise your arm. Continue using a treat in the signal hand until your dog clearly understands your signal.
Watch and Learn
Teaching your dog a "watch me" command is important yet often overlooked. "Watch me" can be a command, or it can become a habit before your dog is given another command. This signal is useful in an exciting or stimulating environment or if your dog is having difficulty focusing on you. Hold a treat close to your dog's nose, and then bring the treat close to your nose. When your dog maintains eye contact, praise him and give him the treat. Once this basic cue is established, hold the treat away from your face and wait for the dog to make eye contact. Point at the dog's eyes, and then point at your eyes before giving him the treat.
Training your dog to stay can sometimes be a challenging command, especially if there are outside factors contributing to a dog's excitement or distraction. It is helpful to cue the dog to watch you before asking for a stay to ensure the dog is focused on you and not what is going on around him. To cue your dog to stay, place your hand in front of your dog's face with your palm facing him and your fingers straightened. You may also choose to use both hands instead of one.
By Kimberly DeCosta
About the Author
Kimberly DeCosta is an accomplished equestrian and entrepreneur. She has written for numerous equestrian publications and authored marketing packages for large companies and sports teams.