I am a firm advocate of teaching hand signals along with verbal commands from the very beginning. There are so many situations where they come in handy, and it helps to reinforce the basic command training, also. Plus, it expands the abilities of you and your dog to communicate with each other.
Make the hand signal the moment you give the verbal command. Once your puppers knows the command, start to use verbal or hand signal independently of each other, mixed with using both at the same time together. Your dog is very capable of learning they’re the same thing. Here is a list of the basic commands and my recommended hand signals. You can, of course, use your own hand signal, just as you can use any word you want for a given command. Just be consistent and never change it! Also, make the hand gesture until the dog begins the proper response to the command. And please only give a command ONCE! If you repeat a command, the dog learns that you can say the command all you want, and they can take their time, or just ignore you. SAY IT ONCE, then stop talking, please.
Sometimes you may have an illness (as I recently did) where you are unable to speak loudly enough. Sometimes you may be in a place you don’t want to disturb others with loud verbal commands. Hand signals are also mandatory when training and handling deaf dogs. Plus, they’ll just make you look so freakin’ cool to your friends. Especially if you and your poochie master the hand signals being given very subtly! HA-HA! Then you can pretend you and doggo can actually read each other’s minds! OOOohhhhh!!!!!
Sit - Make a fist, palm downwards towards the ground. I also snap my fingers gently. Luna Belle know that “Sit”, finger snap in my right hand, and palm down fist, all mean the same thing. You want fur baby to stay seated until you give the Break Command.
Lie Down - Point to the ground with your right hand. You want pups to stay down until you give the Break Command.
*Lagniappe* Puppy Pushups - Once your pup-pup has learned Sit and Lie Down really well, do Doggie Pushups. That’s where you get them to lie down, then sit up right, then lie down, then sit up right, several times in a row. Just use the same hand signals and verbal commands for Sit and Lie Down consistently.
Stay - Arm extended in front of you, directly towards the dog, palm of your hand facing the dog, like commanding someone to Stop. Remember that Stay means don’t move until I get back to you and touch your neck, or call you.
Heel - I swing my left arm (I’m right handed), palm facing forward, from just behind my hip, to just in front of my hip. I don’t do an exaggerated gesture, I like to keep it very subtle. Remember to walk your dog on the opposite side of your dominant hand, so the leach is across the front of your body. There are safety and control reasons for this I’ll get more in depth on in a future blog post.
Come - Pat your left hip two or three times firmly, or clap your hands once or twice. I also train Come with a coaching whistle, two toots means come. This way, I don’t have to blow out my voice (I make a living with my voice professionally) when doing distance off-leash training.
Focus - This is the verbal command of Focus, or Watch. I tap the top of my nose, towards the top, close to between the eyes. You want pupper baby to focus on your eyes until you give the Break Command.
I hope this gives you some ideas and reinforces your own use of hand signals. If you have any questions or concerns, drop Luna Belle and I a line!