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Does your dog understand verbal commands like “Sit,” “Down,” and “Come”? See how teaching him hand signals is a fun and rewarding next step in his training regimen!

Training your dog isn’t just for getting him to follow your directions — it’s also a great way to bond, and when done correctly, can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog.

Once he understands and responds to your verbal commands for sit, down, and come, hand signals are a good next step in the training process. They’re fun to teach and easy for most dogs to understand. All you need to get started are a few kibbles of food. There are several ways to teach your dog hand signals. Here’s one way to do it:

Getting Started with Hand Signals

The first thing you’ll want to do is to get your dog to associate a hand gesture with one of your command words. Later in this article, we’ll give you tips on how you can link a specific motion to a specific command. From there, getting your dog to react to the hand signal alone is just a matter of repetition.

Let’s assume that your dog already knows the association between a verbal command (sit) and the action you want him to perform (sitting). The next thing you’ll want to do is to create a new association between an unfamiliar hand signal and the verbal command and action that he already knows.

To get started, pair the verbal command with a hand signal (see below for examples of common hand signals). When your dog performs the correct action, immediately reinforce this behavior with a kibble. You will have to repeat this many times to ensure your dog understands the association. 

While still using the food reward, gradually eliminate the verbal command. For a while you might use the verbal command and hand gesture together half the time and the hand gesture alone half the time.

Once your dog reliably reacts to the silent hand gesture when you have the food, gradually remove the piece of food from the equation. Soon your dog will sit, lie down, or come with just a motion of your hand.

Hand Signals for Sit, Down, and Come

To teach your dog to sit, start with him standing in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers and — starting with your hand at your side — bring it up slowly, folding your arm as if you were going to toss something over the same shoulder. Do this slowly, bringing the kibble past your dog’s nose. Say “Sit” at the same time. You’re leading his nose upward as you say sit. When he sits, praise him and give him the kibble.

For the “down” command, start with your dog sitting in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers and — with your hand raised above your head — bring it down, keeping your arm straight until it is hanging at your side. Do this slowly, bringing the kibble past your dog’s nose as you signal. Say “Down” at the same time. Lead his nose down as you say “Down.” When he lies down, praise him and give him the kibble.

To teach him to come when you call, start with your dog in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers. Start with your arm held straight out to your side parallel with the ground. Now sweep your arm forward so your hand touches your opposite shoulder. Do this slowly at first, bringing the kibble past your dog’s nose as you signal. Say “Come” and back up a few steps at the same time. When he comes, praise and give him the kibble.

Whatever commands you decide to teach your dog, be sure to remain patient, have fun, and lavish him with praise for a job well done.

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