Training Dogs Using Hand Signals

Hand Signals in Dog Training

Woman showing warning finger to her dog outdoor.
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Many dog trainers and owners train dogs using hand signals. At times, they use them instead of spoken commands.

What Are Hand Signals

Hand signals are sign language. You use your hands to signal to your dog what you want him to do, such as sit or lie down. There are some standard hand signals recognized by most dog trainers, but you can also create your own signals to train a dog.

Why Use Hand Signals

There are several reasons people use hand signals to train a dog, including:

  • Dogs are excellent at reading body language. Dogs find it much easier to read what people are saying with their bodies than with spoken language. Many people find it easier to teach their dogs basic obedience commands by using hand signals before using spoken commands.
  • It gives owners of deaf dogs a way to communicate with their pets. Deaf dogs obviously won't be able to respond to spoken commands. Hand signals allow their owners to train them just as you would any other dog.
  • To compete in obedience events and dog sports. There are a number of instances where hand signals are easier to use or required when you are involved in competitive obedience or dog sports.
  • It's fun! If you enjoy training your dog, this is just one more thing to add to his repertoire of skills. And just think how impressed your friends will be when you have your dog doing all sorts of tricks with just a few small movements of your hand.

How to Train a Dog Using Hand Signals

It's just as easy to train a dog using hand signals as it is verbal commands. The following steps can help you with your training:

  • Get your dog's attention. Your dog must see the hand signal, so make sure he's looking at you.
  • Give the hand signal. For example, if you're telling your dog "sit," you hold your hand palm out next to your body, and then bring the hand up until it's parallel to the floor.
  • Follow the usual steps for training the dog the command you're working on. If you're training the dog to sit, use the opposite hand (the one not used to give the hand signal) to hold a treat over his head to lure him into a sit.


There are a few common mistakes people make when they train a dog with hand signals. Here are some tips for avoiding them:

  • Train hand signals separately from verbal commands. It can be confusing for a dog if you change between giving hand signals and giving the verbal command during the same training session. Stick to one or the other until your dog is able to do both with no hesitation.
  • Always use the hand signal first. Sometimes dogs know verbal commands before they learn hand signals. If this is the case with your dog, be sure to give the hand signal first. You can then give the verbal command, and then practice several times until your dog learns to perform the command with just the hand signal. If you give the verbal command first followed by the hand signal, your dog will have a tougher time making the connection between the hand signal and what you want him to do.