How do you teach hand signals?


New Member
I'm assuming you're clicker training, so forgive me if you arent. It's very simple to add hand signals.
Once the dog is doing the command consistently, every time you are in a clicker session, or if you have already added a verbal command, every time you ask for it, you start to add the hand signal. (or slowly raise up, or change how you lured the dog into position and make that the hand signal).
Right as the dog starts to do the action you add the signal, or in conjunction with the command word if you've alreayd taught one.

So Example of this is, my dog is learning to crawl right now. I started off luring her across the floor from a down, to the best of my ability (she almost never lures for me) by putting a treat in my palm and then wiggling my fingers to get her to notice it and eventually follow it. I added the command "crawl" every time. I am now working on getting her to crawl without my hand being flat on the floor, and eventually I'll be able to wiggle my fingers, palm side up, any time and at any level and she'll know it means "crawl towards mom."

Does that make sense? You want to add it before you click, and while the dog is in motion. If you add it before hand, as in you are using it to ask teh dog to do something, it will confuse it. If you add the signal after it's done moving, it won't know what it means either. And if you add it after you click and treat, well, the dogs focus is not longer on what it just did and on what it is now eating. It is usually very simple and doesn't take long if the dog is already doing the action you want before hand. Once you get the timing down when teaching hand signals, you'll be zipping through them in no time!


Honored Member
Staff member
Hit the nail on the head. It's very simple.
Another example:
Your dog has a solid understanding of sit. You tell her to sit, while using a hand signal. Do this over and over and over again, and eventually she'll associate the hand signal with the behavior. Dogs are very visual, so hand signals are typically learned much easier than verbal commands. After all, when you see two dogs interacting for the first time, they aren't usually carrying on a conversation. Their FIRST response is always body language, then verbalization(growling, whining, barking, etc). If you work on it hard enough, your dog will do just about anything with only vocal commands, only hand signals, or both. Just keep at it. :) Hope this helps.


Experienced Member
very nice advice. i'll add something too. teaching a hand signal is just like adding a verbal. to the dog it's another word for sit if you point up (my signal) so i teach it like i teach verbals with lure first then once your dog gets its start saying SIT as he starts to shift weight back and bend his legs. You're looking for that moment in time that the dog just starts to do the behavior to add your cue it. I like to introduce the verbal or hand signal early on and not wait. Don't say the verbal when teaching the visual or the dog will disregard one over the other and you poison one of your cues. Dogs most often disregard verbal over visual b/c they are visual beings so you don't want your verbals getting trashed.

to effectively teach both you need to not use both all the time and not contaminate one with the other. the behaviorist i was fortunate enough to find teaching a puppy class suggested doing verbal and hand sessions separately. all hand sessions and other times all verbal. make like a statue when you teach verbals and don't give off other cues to poison your verbals. have your treats ready to go in your hand so you can dispense them quickly like pennies off a roll without fumbling in bag or pocket and creating other noise and motion.

it also helps to put both hands behind ur back and not have the clicker or treats visible and don't hold treats in your signalling hand because the doggie brain will go away and watch the treat instead of listening.

ShaktiShiloh as a video that just in my mind as wanting you to see. Watch trainer Lexi's body when she's doing hand signals. [media][/media]

Lexi has other neat vids but this one is what i specifically thought of and may give you ideas on good signals---the upward ones for sit is sort of a natural as is the downward motion for down, a plam facing back for wait sort of like a block. some signals are just naturals.

you can use verbal markers and treats if you don't like clickers. i have better luck with clickers but not everyone likes them so i try not to assume. some clicker trainers have such good results we get a little too exuberant. :dogrolleyes: just keep your marker different and not something you will use in common conversation. for example i use YESSSS! in a way i would never otherwise say it.