Dog Training Hand Signals
A picture instructional guide

Dog training hand signals are very useful for several reasons: Canines are visually oriented animals and will understand hand signals for dogs very well. They can read your body language easier than understand your spoken words.

Some training methods use cues that can then become the actual hand signal! This makes an easy transition from getting the behavior going to putting it under the control of a dog training hand command.

Dog hand signals are a great tool to use with deaf dogs as well as in obedience competition where verbal commands might not be heard or are not allowed. It is easier for dogs to understand a hand signal than a verbal command (perhaps, with the exception of Border Collies).

It is another way to build communication and trust with your pet as well as to enhance his confidence. When a dog understands what he is being asked to do, he feels safer, because he knows what to do.

Common dog training hand signals

Although there are no official dog training hand signals, some hand signals for dog training are recognized by most professional trainers.

You will notice that most of these are universal hand signals because they derive from the visual cue used when training a particular behavior with a specific training method.

white dog laying down training hand signal, down dog training command
Dog training hand signals from Luring a dog behavior:

When you teach your furry friend basic obedience commands like sit, down, stand and heel using luring, you hold food in your palm. Then you move it around to make your pet do what you want him to do.

That palm movement can then be turned into an actual dog training hand signal!

Here are some examples (see pictures below):

Sit: you lure your pooch by moving the treat up from his nose to his forehead. This movement becomes a full motion with your palm facing up from your leg to your shoulder.

Down: you lure your pet by moving the treat from his nose down to the floor. This movement becomes a full motion with your palm facing out starting at your shoulder level (the last motion of the sit position) and going down to your leg palm-down.

Stand: Starting from a sit or down position, you lure your hound by moving the treat from his nose up and forward. This becomes a full motion with your palm starting relaxed at your hip, then move your arm backwards.

Heel: you lure your canine friend with a treat to walk next to you (usually on your left side). If your pet is coming from -in front- of you, then you lure him to go around you from right to left (in a half circle around you). This movement becomes a signal by moving your hand in a small circle near your hip or tapping your hip. If your pooch comes from behind you, then he should just appear on your left side.

Dog training hand signals from Target training:

When you use a target to prompt a behavior in your pet, most of the time you also make a hand movement that can later become a dog training hand signal.

Here are some examples (see pictures below):

Spin: You will use the target in a circular motion above your dog to get him to spin around. This will become a full motion of your hand doing a spin in the air (less obvious).

Go to your crate: You will use the target to move your pet into the crate. Then point with the target. The pointing motion will become the visual signal for "go to..."

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List of hand signals for dog training

dog training hand signal for sit by DTE

Sit: Start palm-out at leg and moves up as if to touch your shoulder.

dog training hand signal for down by DTE

Down: Start palm-out at shoulder and moves down towards floor ending palm-down.

dog training hand signal for stand by DTE

Stand: Start palm-out at the side of the hip and moves straight backwards (like an invitation to enter motion).

dog training hand signal for stay by DTE

Stay: Palm-out stretch in front of dog.

dog training hand signal all done or free by DTE

Free: both hands up at shoulder level, palms-out (as in "all done"). This signal lets your pet know he is done and can relax or do something else.

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dog training hand signal heel by DTE

Heel: Tap your hip or circle motion of your hand near your hip.

dog training hand signal take it by DTE

Take-it: Close your hand into a fist.

dog training hand signal drop it by DTE

Drop-it: Open your hand from a fist.

dog training hand signal go to your mat by DTE

Go to: signal with your whole arm to the place.

Dog training hand signal come by DTE

Come: one (or two) arm out parallel to the floor, bring your hand to your chest.

dog training hand signal watch or eye contact by DTE

Eye contact: hand from resting position on your side moves (with pointing finger) to your eyes.

Remember that these are only suggestions for dog training hand signals. You can use any body movement that comes naturally to you and is easily recognized by your canine friend.

How to teach dog training hand commands

You will be applying the principles of Operant Conditioning!

A behavior will happen more often if it is being rewarded. And your command should act as the "green light" for your pet to do the behavior and get rewarded.

If your furry friend already responds to a dog verbal command, adding a dog hand signal is easy:

  1. First do the hand signal.
  2. Immediately after say the verbal command (that your pooch already knows).
  3. Mark and reward your dog's response.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 several times!
  5. Now try the dog hand signal but don't say the verbal cue.
  6. If he responds - Mark and reward!
  7. If he doesn't respond to your hand signal be patient and repeat steps 1-4 again until successful.

If you are training a new behavior and want to add a dog hand signal follow these steps:

  1. Your pet must be rewarded only sometimes (randomly) before you can add a command. Read "How to get a reliable dog training command" for more information.
  2. Now do the hand signal.
  3. Mark and reward your pet's next response.
  4. Repeat steps 3 and 4 several times!
  5. If your dog does the behavior without you doing the hand command first- Ignore it!
  6. Your puppy must be doing the behavior for you often during a training session (this will happen if you reinforce the behavior a lot! - it's basic positive reinforcement).
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 until he is only responding after you do the dog training hand signal.
  8. Once you and your pet are communicating very well, you can start making the hand signals less and less obvious, your dog will still be able to catch them!

You can make your own unique visual signal and teach it to your dog as explained above!

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