What are some basic hand signals (commands) for dogs?

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Sometimes, a dog will ignore a verbal command because she either doesn’t have good hearing, can’t focus, or just be too far away to hear one. She may, however, be able to see one.

Many dog owners and trainers, therefore, use a combination of verbal commands with a hand gesture. The combination can be much more effective than issuing only a verbal command. Always be sure the hand gesture is done simultaneously with the verbal command so the dog can make the proper association—and always be consistent!

Many owners have their own way of doing hand gestures, but these are the basic ways:

Sit: Begin with your arm down, alongside your body, with your fingers pointing toward the ground. Raise your forearm and hand by bending your arm at the elbow. When the movement is finished, your palm should be facing up and your hand should be above your dog’s head. If you have a treat in your hand, your dog will follow the hand movement with her nose and eyes. The dog’s rear end will tend to go down, so she ends up sitting. (If the rear end doesn’t go down automatically, you may need to gently push it down.)

Stay: Begin with your dog sitting or in a down position. Move your hand so you’re holding it at arm’s length in front of your dog’s face, as if telling her to stop. Your palm should face her nose with your fingertips pointing up. Every time the dog tries to get up (and it will at first), immediately—and calmly—put it back into the stay position. When it’s time to get up, say excitedly, “OK!” and pull the leash up gently to walk.

NOTE: If you have a very excitable dog, or one that doesn’t seem to focus—or if the dog is upset and you need to calm it down, put herin the sit/stay or down/stay position for about a minute and a half—near an extremely busy area. The dog will have to focus so hard, it will calm her right down!

Down: Begin with your arm stretched out in front of you and your palm facing down. Lower your arm until it rests against your side with your fingers pointing straight down.

Heel: This command teaches your dog to come to your left side, so tap your left thigh with your left hand. If your dog is in front of you, guide her into position by leading heraround behind you, from your right side to your left.

Come: Hold your left arm straight out in front of your body. Then slowly move your hand across your body so that your left hand ends up touching your right shoulder. Speed up the motion of your arm once your dog learns the command.

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