Common Hand Signals for Dog Training

gray cat and black and white dog
By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 5/10/20242-4 minutes
Dog giving paw to owner

Dog training hand signals are fun to teach and easy for most dogs to understand. More than that, teaching your dog hand signals can be useful when communicating in situations when your dog can’t hear you well.

Dogs are very adept at responding to human body language cues, so teaching them to follow verbal commands and nonverbal commands simultaneously can be highly beneficial. After a while you can test them to find out which approach works best.

All you need to teach dog obedience hand signals are some positive reinforcements (dog treats or pieces of dog food kibble) and a little bit of know-how. There are several techniques in training your dog to follow hand signals. Here’s how to get started:

How to Get Started With Hand Signals for Dogs

The first thing to do before you begin with hand signals is to establish eye contact so you know you have their attention, then you can begin with hand signals. The goal with hand signals for dogs is to get your dog to associate a hand gesture with one of your verbal cues. Link a specific motion to a particular verbal cue, such as bringing a piece of kibble up past your dog’s nose and saying a specific verbal cue like “sit.” From there, getting your dog to react to the hand signal alone is a matter of practice and repetition.

Let’s assume your dog already knows the association between a visual cue for “sit” and the action you want them to perform (sitting). The next thing for you to do is create a new association between an unfamiliar verbal cue and the visual cue they already know.

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

While still using the food reinforcement gradually eliminate the verbal cue. For a while, you might use the verbal cue 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.

Simple Hand Signals for Dogs

Teaching Sit

Start with your dog standing in front of you. Hold a piece of kibble in your fingers and, 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 reinforcement past your dog’s nose. Say “sit” at the same time. You’re leading their nose upward as you say, “sit.” When your dog sits, praise them and give them the treat.

Teaching Down

Start with your dog standing in front of you. Hold the reinforcement 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 reinforcement past your dog’s nose as you signal.

Say “down” at the same time. You’re leading your dog’s nose down as you say “down.” When your dog lays down, praise them and give them the reinforcement.

Teaching Come

Start with your dog in front of you and hold the reinforcement in your fingers. Hold your arm 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 reinforcement past your dog’s nose as you signal. Say “come” and back up a few steps at the same time. When your dog comes, praise them and give them the reinforcement.

Dogs are eager to please and enjoy the mental stimulation they get from learning new things. Teaching them to follow hand signals and nonverbal cues will not only have plenty of practical applications, but it will also create a new bonding experience for you and your dog.

Get more information about dog training and more from our experts on our Pet Expertise page.

Related articles

person in striped shirt, holding a soccer ball, and playing with a chocolate lab
Dog's pant all the time, but why do they do it and when is a sign of something serious? Learn the reasons behind why do dogs pant from Purina dog behavior experts.
person in red shirt sitting on couch petting a sleeping dog
white dog on back on floor next to person
MyPurina App - woman with dog

Reward Yourself with myPurina

Earn and redeem rewards for Purina products with the myPurina app.