Training with Hand Signals

Hand signals are fun to teach and easy for most dogs to understand. All you need to get started with your dog are a few kibbles of food. There are several ways to teach your dog hand signals. Below, you will find one such method:
 


• The first thing to do is to get your dog to associate a hand gesture with one of your command words; see below for tips on how you can link a specific motion to a specific command. From there, getting your dog to react to the hand signal alone is a matter of repetition. 



• Let’s assume that your dog already knows the association between a verbal command (“sit”) and the action you want him to perform (sitting). The next thing for you to do is to create a new association between an unfamiliar hand signal and the verbal command and action that he already knows. To get started, pair the verbal command with a hand signal (see below for examples of common hand signals). When the dog performs the correct action, immediately reinforce this behavior with a kibble. You will have to repeat this many times to ensure your dog understands the association. 

• While still using the food reward, gradually eliminate the verbal command. For a while you might use the verbal command and hand gesture together half the time and the hand gesture alone half the time.

• Once your dog reliably reacts to the silent hand gesture when you have the food, gradually remove the piece of food from the equation. Soon your dog will sit, lie down or come with just a motion of your hand.

Sit

Start with your dog standing in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers and, starting with your hand at your side, bring it up slowly, folding your arm as if you were going to toss something over the same shoulder. Do this slowly, bringing the kibble past your dog’s nose. Say “Sit” at the same time. You’re leading his nose upward as you say sit. When he does, praise and give him the kibble.

Down

Start with your dog sitting in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers and, with your hand raised above your head, bring it down, keeping your arm straight until it is hanging at your side. Do this slowly, bringing the kibble past your dog’s nose as you signal. Say “Down” at the same time. You’re leading his nose down as you say down. When he downs, praise and give him the kibble.

Come

Start with your dog in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers. Start with your arm held straight out to your side parallel with the ground. Now sweep your arm forward so your hand touches your opposite shoulder. Do this slowly at first, bringing the kibble past your dog’s nose as you signal. Say “Come” and back up a few steps at the same time. When he does, praise and give him the kibble.

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