Why Dog Hand Signals are Better Than Verbal Commands


Dog training hand signals have been around as long, in time, as
dog obedience and dog training.  Verbal commands are not always
“where it is at” when it comes to dog training and dog

And, having been a successful professional dog trainer for over
25 years and working with everything from Service Dogs, to Police
Dogs to Cheetahs; I am a firm believer that to teach your dog basic
hand signals is crucial to having a well trained companion or good

Let us acknowledge that sometimes you are going to be in the
middle of a conversation with your significant other, or a friend,
or anyone and you are going to need to impart a hand signal to
communicate with your dog; rather than shouting an inappropriate
verbal command or cue.  And, you are going to want good behavior
to follow without that loud verbal cue.  No one wants to shout
“QUIET” or “DOWN” when they are the phone involved in a
serious conversation with someone you care about.

So let us begin by explaining a little more to the point about
why your dog needs to learn some dog training hand signals and why
it will actually improve your dog obedience.

Dogs Understand Dog Hand Signals Better

I know, I know… I have said this before in other dog training
articles; but it is important to remember that dogs do not actually
speak Human, or English or Dutch or French (pick your poison

They do not spring from the womb understanding whatever our
chosen language is in the country we live.

I know, that seems like common knowledge, but you have no idea
how many people during my in home training that I have to remind of
this simple “fact”.

Just yesterday I was at the home of a 10 week old Shetland
Sheepdog puppy.  His new lovely dog owners have only had him for a
week and he is admittedly still adjusting!  Thankfully, they
employed me, a dog trainer, to help them set him up for

Dad was excited to show me how he was working with the new
bundle of fur, and mom was over the moon in love with him
already.  But both were shouting English commands at him.  I
personally like to sit back and evaluate the current situation and
see how dog owners interact with their pup before I come to too
many conclusions.  Then we sit and discuss problems and questions
and finally get around to the problems or concerns I have witnessed
or am having.

After getting to know one another for a bit of time, I asked if
they had trained him with the words they were using?  One of which
was the husband saying, “stay, stay, stay, stay, stay” as he
hopelessly tried to back up to call the puppy.  They both admitted
that they really had not.

You don’t need a professional dog trainer to tell you that
this puppy doesn’t understand the verbal commands and verbal cues
his owners are trying to teach him.  Will he learn?  Eventually,
probably, yes.  But it will be a difficult and confusing path for
him.  First he needs to be helped and taught our language through
markers and
positive reinforcement

If you want to communicate with better and more accurate skill
right away, with a new pup or an adult dog that has had no
training.  Employing visual cues and basic hand signal and hand
gestures s is the fastest most effective way to help them learn and

Dogs Speak with Body Language

Another reason that dog hand signals are more important while
effectively communicating with them is because dogs and puppies
communicate with each other through a complex body language.

Sure, dogs bark and verbally communicate; but it is fairly rare
with and in the presence of one another.  Most of the time all it
takes is a look or a body posture for one dog or puppy to
communicate with another.

Some dogs are more vocal than others, but growls and barks are
often reserved for an escalation when body language and body
posturing is not working effectively.

It is simply natural for a dog or a young pup to ignore verbal
commands and verbal command (in the beginning, before you
effectively teach your dog) but thrive on visual cues, eye contact
and verbal commands.

Have you ever noticed how much time and how often a young puppy
will look you in the eye?  If you are not using positive
reinforcement to reward this and teach your dog this behavior on
cue, you are missing out on a major way that he is hard wired to
communicate with you.  And, if you don’t add this to your dog
obedience training regimen (on cue) you will lose it completely
because the dog learns that this is not how you communicate and
this behavior is not rewarding to him.

Be sure to reward attention and eye contact!  Then, as your
next step put it on, at least, verbal command!

We Don’t Give Hand Signals with No Meaning

And, yet, one more reason that training dogs with sign language
or hand signals is that we do not tend to give hand signals that
have no meaning to the dog.

How often to you talk randomly or babble to your dog?

Do not misunderstand me, I am by no means judging, because I do
it all the time.

I have long drawn out conversations with my dogs about the
weather, my job, my relationships, and everything else I am
thinking.  Of course!  Because I am a verbal mammal and they are
my near constant companions.  Who else would I tell my deepest
secrets too?

But, you have to understand from your dog’s perspective (since
he really doesn’t understand you) he begins to ignore your loving
babbling with loving stares in the distance or just enjoying the
moments of being with you.  By verbally communication with our
dogs, often, we desensitize them a bit to speech and therefore
verbal commands.

It is not the worst thing in the world as long as your commands
sound slightly different than your dissertation on what happened at
work that day.  But you can understand that when training dogs,
basic hand signals can be more effective with your dog.

Deaf Dogs

The other quick mention, where you will simply HAVE to learn
basic hand signals or even American Sign Language is when you are
working with a deaf dog!  Your dog training commands will teach
your dog,  nothing.

These dogs thrive on physical touch for attention, stomping of
feet (also to get their attention) and hand signals or sign

Do not worry if you end up adopting or buying a deaf dog or deaf
puppy.  You can still talk to them and impart all of your deepest
secrets, just like the rest of us do.   But using your hands,
your left hand, your right hand and your training hand will become
crucial to effectively communication between the two of you.

We have a few deaf dogs that come into the veterinary clinic,
where I am a vet tech.  Each time to go to take one of these dogs
to the back for diagnostics or a nail trim, their owners will
remind us that the dog can not hear and is indeed deaf.  I always
reassure the owners that we do know that information and keep it in
our computers but we will still talk to them along the way! 
Because when you are talking kindly, you are also smiling and using
the body language that they have come to know at home with their
loving owners, without even thinking about it.

If you are struggling with a deaf dog,
finding a professional dog trainer
that uses positive
reinforcement will be a great investment to investigate.  Do not
fall prey to the dog trainers who want to use shock collars on
these very precious dogs, these techniques can scare your dog and
teach your dog not to trust you.

So now that we have discussed the “why’s” of using hand
signals and you are excited and ready to move forward and to teach
your dog basic hand signals, let us discuss the “how’s”! 
Training your dog may take some time but with positive
reinforcement, teaching and guidance you will love these new
“hand commands” or hand signals!

The Two Biggest Rules of Hand Signals

In order to teach your dog these are the two rules, according to
me and my experience as a professional dog trainer who has competed
successfully and won titles and trophies, worked with deaf dogs and
been a trainer for so many years.  Learn from my ample


Size, to me, is one of the most important aspects to teach your
dog basic hand signals or even advanced hand signals.

I often work my dogs off leash at a distance (especially when
doing dog agility or other dog sports) and even in places that
allow off leash training and dog walking (like dog friendly hiking
trails and dog friendly beaches).  If my hand signals are small,
like using one finger, my dog can’t see that when he is off leash
and from a distance.

Most often I see this with the “Down” hand command.  People
begin teaching their puppy with rewards and positive reinforcement
and luring them to the ground with their hand and their finger. 
Naturally, for the human, the hand signal becomes getting in the
dog’s face to get his ongoing attention and gesturing to the
ground.  The dog learns and is conditioned that the dog owner has
a reward and he learns to drop to the ground when he sees this
visual cue.

However, I will be the first to tell you that if your hand
commands require that you get into the dog’s face up to your
dog’s nose to get his attention and then the hand gesture is as
small as drawing your dog’s nose to the ground, you will not have
an accurate “Down” hand signal when he is off leash!  In order
to teach your dog, the hand signal must be large.

If your dog is 50 yards away he can’t see your visual cue. 
He might be able to hear a shout or a whistle to get his
attention… but from there you are at a loss.

Let me explain from experience.  I used to have to dogs that
were very social and good off leash.  At the time, I lived in
Georgia and near several beaches they were allowed to be off leash
on during certain times of day and season.  One day they were out
playing in the waves with their ball, probably 100 yards away, and
I saw a car coming.  It was not coming directly toward them… but
I was worried that they might inadvertently run in front of it and
get run over.  I didn’t expect the owner or driver of the
vehicle to notice them frolicking in the waves.  There was no way
I could make it to them even if I had ran.  And, I didn’t want
to call them for fear they would veer in front of the vehicle and
both be hit by the car.

I was able to whistle to get their attention and then deliver my
hand signal so that they would remain in place and safe while the
car passed.  And, I could get to them.

If you ever want an off leash dog, you need to have BIG and
substantial hand signals.


is also imperative with any dog training behaviors
or dog training commands but especially with hand signals.

Because dogs are such visual creatures and rely on body language
to communicate, this makes it even more difficult for them to
understand and teach your dog if you are not being consistent with
your hand signals and your meaning therein.  They are much more
forgiving if you occasionally get a word wrong.

I remember having my first police dog in training living with
me, his language of choice was German and he was quite good (having
been imported with a lot of skills).  I took him home one weekend
to meet my parents.   I was pleased to exhibit his training and
commands to them and even catch him in the bite suit.  My parents
eagerly asked about his commands and I ran through them with
excited accuracy.  Then my mother almost died ha ha.  Although
she didn’t realize it at the time.  I will spell his commands
phonetically for you so you can see how close they are; his down
command was “platz” and his bite command was “pocken” very
similar if you aren’t working the dog or paying attention.  She
got up in his face and whispered “pocken” “pocken”.  His
face was priceless as he realized she was misinformed and he laid

Let’s get on with some basic hand signals so that you may use
your newly learned information in a constructive manner.

Basic Hand Signals

My hand signals often differ from those you see in AKC obedience
or other types of obedience.  It doesn’t really matter what you
use as long as you are consistent!

I will mention, if you want to compete in high level AKC or UKC
obedience trials, you can use hand signals OR verbal commands, but
not both.  So train both hard and decide which your dog excels at
the best before you compete.

Now grab some tasty rewards and treats and your dog and his
leash and let’s get started.


Teaching your dog to sit should be pretty easy.

The “sit” signal is one of the few hand signals that most
dogs know, without their owners really knowing that they have
taught it.

It starts by using the treat and putting it to your dog’s nose
and slowly drawing the treat, upward.  As the dog follows the
treat with his nose, his rump will naturally descend into the
“sit” position.

Of course as he sits tell him what he is doing and release the
treat.  This hand signal is fairly natural, except as you begin to
use it as a visual cue and as he understands the verbal command,
you should make it bigger for him to see by keeping your fingers
together, palm up and making a sweeping movement up toward the
ceiling or toward the sky and using the verbal command that you
already taught him.  The two together will solidify that this
slightly different visual cue is the new hand signal for

It doesn’t matter if you use your left hand or your right


I talked about this before but didn’t go into great detail
about the hand signal.  I figured I would get to that now so that
it is in a concise area for dog owners to review at a later time if

As mentioned, I do use tasty treat rewards and get my puppy’s
attention by putting it by the dog’s nose.  If he is not
sitting, I recommend that you try and get him into sit position
because that will make it easier on your pup and you.  Putting his
rump up directly in front of a wall helps too.  From here I use
the reward to draw the puppy or dog’s nose down and slightly in
toward his  elbow.  This should help

him crumple down and in.  Once he learns the behavior and the
cue with your help.  Or learns the cue with capturing I begin to
add my hand signal.  I use the hand signal with my hand directly
in front of him palm down but fingers toward the ceiling.  It
should look like STOP or some people use the hand signal for
STAY.  But I like it for Down because it is big and easy to see. 
Want to make it more impressive in size, you can sweep that hand
toward the ground so that your dog sees the motion from a

Again, it doesn’t matter if you use your left hand or your
right hand.


Come is another important hand signal for a dog that is a
distance away!  Most puppies are hopefully learning this command
or cue early in life.  To make it this fun, I like using my right
hand and arm.  I make a 90 degree angle parallel with the floor
and sweep that hand, palm facing toward my tummy in and toward my
body.  I use the right hand to hopefully encourage the dog either
in front of me or to my left side for heel position.


Remember that we talked earlier about consistency.  Be sure
that your STAY hand signal looks different than your down hand
signal, or you will confuse your dog!

I use my palm, facing toward my dog but with my fingers pointed
down toward the ground.  And I use a quick but tight movement
toward my dog’s nose as I give the cue in a no nonsense

Hand signals, when executed with accuracy and good timing, will
turn any dog into a good dog.

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Why Dog Hand Signals are Better Than Verbal Commands
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Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
Why Dog Hand Signals are Better Than Verbal Commands