Owner using hand signals during dog training

Hand Signals for Dog Training

Dog training helps you stimulate your pooch, encourage better obedience and strengthen your bond. Adding hand signals to your training sessions enables you to maximize these benefits tenfold. As dogs begin to age, there’s also the possibility of them losing their hearing — hand signals help keep communication channels open.

Our guide will help you discover how to use hand signals for dog training so you and your hound can gain the full benefits of each session together.

Why Are Hand Signals Important in Dog Training?

Just as humans respond to body language, hand signals deliver important messages to dogs. In fact, research suggests that dogs perceive body positions and gestures in a similar way to humans.

When dogs enter high-stimulation areas — such as parks or neighborhood walkways — hand gestures help you communicate with your dog more effectively. Some competitive dog leagues also require hand gestures, making them an important factor in your training.

Common Hand Signals for Dogs

Once you’ve established your signals and got some treats ready, it’s time to introduce them to your dogs. Here are some essential dog training hand signals to teach:

1. Sit

Let’s start with the basics — sit. Instructing your dog to sit is helpful when you’re waiting for the traffic light to turn green or meeting new people.

Teach this command by facing your hand towards your chest and gradually raising it until it is parallel with your shoulder. Once your dog’s bottom touches the floor, immediately reward them with a treat.

2. Down

Dogs sleep lying down, making it a comfortable position for them to hold for extended periods. For example, you could instruct your dog to “lay down” while you’re preparing dinner to prevent unwanted behavior such as begging. This command is also an important building block if you’re planning to advance to tricks like crawl or rollover.

Help your dog learn this command by holding your hand horizontally to the ground. Move your hand downwards or point your index finger towards the floor to complete the signal.

3. Stay

Accidents such as breaking a glass or spilling food happen occasionally in every home. Instructing your dog to “stay” in these situations prevents them from injuring their paws or eating something they shouldn’t. If you enjoy taking your dog to a pet-friendly café for a puppuccino, you can also instruct them to “stay” while you put on their harness.

Teach your dog to “stay” by holding your hand just above your waist with your palm out. Remain in this position until you want your dog to move or transition to the “free” signal.

4. Come

High-energy breeds require frequent exercise, and walking your dogs off-lead helps you meet their physical needs. Before unclipping their leash, it’s important they learn one of the most essential dog training hand signals — the “come” command.

You can practice recall with your dog by holding your arm at shoulder height and bringing it towards your chest. As your dog might be a few feet away, you will need to use big, bold gestures to ensure they see you from afar.

5. Heel

There’s nothing nicer than enjoying a walk in nature with your four-legged companion — unless they’re pulling you along every step of the way. Ensure they walk politely by your side with the “heel” command.

First, establish which side you’d like them to heel and place the corresponding hand on your hip. Rotate your hand in a circular motion or tap your hip to reinforce the command.

6. Drop It

Whether your dog picks up one of your freshly laundered socks or something unsavory on the sidewalk, it’s important they learn to “drop it.”

Teach this command by closing your hand in a fist at your dog’s eye level. Open your hand and splay your fingers until your hound releases the item onto the floor.

7. Free

When teaching your dog to stay, sit or lay down, it’s essential they wait for a command to break from these positions. Once you give this instruction, they’re free to relax and enjoy their favorite chew toys.

Signal when it’s time to break from a position with the “free” gesture. Hold your hands at shoulder level with palms facing forward — raise them up and down to complete the signal.


How to Teach Your Dog Hand Signals

If multiple family members are involved in your training sessions, it’s best to establish universal commands. Some other important tips for teaching your dog hand signals include:

  • Choose simple signals for easy comprehension.
  • Introduce your hand signals in quiet environments and gradually progress to more stimulating ones.
  • Practice positive reinforcement dog training by pairing your hand gestures with high-value treats. Pea-sized pieces of boiled chicken and dried liver make great reward options.
  • If your dog responds to verbal commands, pair verbal cues with hand signals in the beginning. Phase out the verbal cues as your dog becomes more familiar with hand signals.
  • Keep training sessions to a maximum of 45 minutes — shorter sessions help you and your dog get the best results.

Common Mistakes When Using Hand Signals

While it’s helpful to pair verbal commands with hand signals, some people make the mistake of introducing both at the same time. If you’re teaching commands to a puppy or older dog with no prior training, it’s best to stick with one training method — verbal cues or hand signals — before incorporating other techniques.

Reinforcing one method promotes consistent behavior and helps your dog gain confidence in their ability. As the owner, you’ll also be more certain that your dog will follow a command in crowded or noisy environments.

Master Dog Training Hand Signals With Off Leash K9 Training Maryland

Whether you’ve acquired a new furry addition to the family or want to teach your old dog some new tricks, hand signals are one of the most successful training techniques. Use these tips to learn how to use hand signals with dogs and communicate more effectively with your pooch.

Off Leash K9 Training Maryland provides an extensive range of dog training services tailored to dogs of any age, size and breed. Each member of our training team is a proud animal lover and has extensive training experience working with breeds ranging from Yorkshire Terriers to Belgian Malinois. Whether you’re looking to feel more confident with your pup in public spaces or provide them with more mental stimulation, our training courses will help you achieve your personal goals!

For more information about dog training services in Maryland, complete our online form or call us at 443-743-3221. We can’t wait to be part of your training journey!


Posted in Blog, Dog Training.