How to Train Your Dog with Hand Signals

Dogs watch us to learn what we want, so our stance and body language communicate our will. Train your dog with hand signals to be sure you understand one another.


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You Will Need

  • Treats
  • Practice
  • Positive tone


  1. Step 1

    Train with hand and verbal at first

    Combine hand signals with verbal directions at first. Use only a one-word command when training your dog. To have the dog sit, for instance, don't be inconsistent and confuse the dog with the words "sit down"

  2. Step 2

    Teach sit

    Slip a hand under the dog's collar and tease them with a treat until they sit; after which, say "sit" and reward the pooch. Stand up, waving one open hand past the dog's face toward your chest, palm up, as you say it again. Quit talking once the motion is recognized.

  3. Since dogs are more responsive to signals, they will be easier to train if you limit verbal directions to simplify things.

  4. Step 3

    Tell them to stay

    Condition the dog to stay, one of the hardest commands, pulling each time you command with a leash. Return the dog to the same spot when they disobey. Once you have cooperation, hold your palm toward their nose, as if you're a policeman telling someone to stop.

  5. Step 4

    Practice “Stay”

    Back away while holding the hand toward the dog, to test. After getting seconds of compliance, drop the hand and give the praise, 'good dog!' They respond to praise, so continue the same cycle until the dog will stay put on a hand signal alone.

  6. Step 5

    Instruct “Come”

    Order the dog to "come" holding a hand out like a handshake, bending your elbow to pass the hand across your chest, and the dog's face, and slowly touching your opposite shoulder. Reinforce with positive tones, finally just using the signal.

  7. Step 6

    Make them lay

    Make the dog lay down by first using the leash to lower the dog whenever you say "down," perhaps using a treat as a lure. Repeat, replacing the word with a hand motion, laying the palm down on the floor in front of the dog's eyes.

  8. Step 7

    Start higher

    Emphasize, in cases where the dog may not be picking up the signal, that you want the dog down by starting with your hand higher. Drop it abruptly at a 30-degree angle from your body. The dog will respond quickly.

  9. The palm down should be used exclusively for the "down" signal, instead of for the "sit" command, to avoid confusing a dog.

  10. Step 8

    Train with repetition

    Continue to practice all of the commands, using hand signals when walking, before feedings, or when letting the dog in from relieving themselves. This is not about control but canine communication and building habits.

  11. Some 300 Labradors, golden retrievers, and Newfoundlands trained by the Italian School for Rescue Dogs were credited with saving more than 100 lives on Italy's beaches, including a dozen halfway into 2010.