Training dogs has, for a long time, been namely attributed to the use of verbal commands. Things like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ are commonly used by both owners and trainers alike, as dogs have a keen sense of hearing and are very eager to perform behaviors associated with certain sounds, if it will give them the appropriate reward. Demonstrated most notably by physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the form of conditioning a dog to salivate when ringing a bell, using a dog’s hearing is sometimes the easiest way to get them familiar with a command.
But dogs are not just great at hearing. Their visual understanding can also be exceptional. Dogs can quite frequently learn obedience without the use of verbal cues at all! Instead, many dogs rely solely on hand signals from their owners or trainers, making obedience a much more silent affair. With the right temperament, however, this tactic can be just as effective when teaching your dog to be well-behaved.
Teaching your dog to follow hand signals can come in handy for any number of reasons. One of the more common ones is its usefulness to dogs who are deaf or hard of hearing. Using visual cues instead of verbal ones can help those dogs learn obedience and become just as adept at following commands.
However, your dog doesn’t need to be hard of hearing for you to utilize hand signals. Whatever the reason is, hand signals remain a valid method of training for any dog and can be used whenever you decide to start obedience training. It may be easier to start with hand signals from the beginning of obedience, and may take less time for your dog to adjust, but even a dog who is familiar with verbal commands can transition in just a few weeks as long as you provide ample opportunities to practice.
Before you start, take some time to predetermine what types of hand signals you’d like to use for what commands. These can differ from trainer to trainer, depending on how comfortable and easy to utilize they are, but in order for your dog to become familiar, these signals will need to remain consistent throughout each training session.
For every method, you’ll need to have a reward in the form of a treat or toy to mark good progress with each command. For the target method, you’ll need to find an item for your dog to target such as a plastic lid or another similar object. Set aside small sessions of ten to fifteen minutes each to practice and determine which command you will focus on with each session. Be patient, consistent, and ready to reward at all times!