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Hand Signal Methods Explained with Demonstration

Tutorials will play automatically or you can click the video links below in the written supplement.

Training your dog to respond to hand signals is one of the most effective ways to communicate with your dog. Dogs communicate with each other predominantly through body language. Humans communicate with each other through body language as well, but we place more emphasis on verbal language than our furry companions.

When you use body language in the form of hand signals to communicate with your dog, you are speaking to them in a language that is much easier for them to understand. In fact, the less verbal language that you use with your dog, the easier it is for them to understand you.  

There are two different methods to teach a dog that a specific hand signal has meaning.

1) Fade a Food Lure into the Desired Hand Signal.
Here are the steps:

  1. Get the desired behavior by luring the dog into the position with a food reward
  2. Slowly begin fading the luring motion to resemble the desired hand signal
  3. Remove the food reward from signal hand
  4. Then only reward the desired behavior after the chosen hand signal is given.

How to Teach A Dog Sit With a Hand Signal using the Fading the food lure-  Video Tutorial

2) Sequencing- The process of sequencing is used to connect an unknown cue with a previously learned cue.  When you repeatedly place the unknown cue in front of the known cue, the dog learns that the unknown cue predicts the previously learned cue is getting ready to occur. By reinforcing this sequence, you can teach your dog that any cue or command of your choice refers to the same previously learned behavior.  Don’t worry if this seems confusing; I am going to give you a video demonstration to clarify how this process works.

Here is how you connect and new hand signal to an already learned verbal command:

  1. Decide on what hand signal you want to use for a specific behavior that your dog already understands. (Let’s say your dog knows how to sit on a verbal command and you want to teach them that when you touch your ear, you want them to sit)
  2. Give the dog the hand signal (touch your ear), then follow with the verbal command that the dog understands (“sit”). Then reward your dog with a food reward when they sit.
  3. Repeat this process many times(Touch ear, pause for a second, say “sit”, reward)
  4. At some point you will give the hand signal(touch ear) and hold off on giving the verbal command(don’t say “sit”)
  5. By holding off on the verbal command (not saying sit), you give the dog a chance to guess that if they sit after the hand signal (touching the ear) they will receive the food reward.
  6. Now touch your ear and see if the dog sits. If they sit, reward the dog. Repeat this process so that your dog learns the new signal means sit also.
  7. Because you have been following the same sequence over and over, the dog starts to predict that the unknown hand signal means the same thing as the known verbal command.

Here is a video demonstration of how this process works: Click Here

Published on Oct 4, 2014

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