How to Teach a Dog Commands in Sign Language

by Brenna Davis
When dogs learn sign language commands, their owners are better equipped to communicate with them.

When dogs learn sign language commands, their owners are better equipped to communicate with them.

training-the-dog image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com

Teaching a dog commands in sign language allows you to communicate with your dog even if she loses her hearing. Many dog owners opt to teach their dogs both verbal and sign-language commands. Dogs do not have very good vision, so verbal commands are better from a distance; sign-language commands provide a backup system if your dog is unable to understand verbal commands. A variety of dog sign-language options are available, ranging from American Sign Language to signals you've developed just for your dog. Choose a sign that works, that you're comfortable with, and that you will be able to consistently use for commands.

Step 1

Start with a simple command like "sit." If your dog already knows verbal commands, tell her to sit while using your hand signal. The "official" hand signal for teaching a dog to sit is to raise your hand from your side to straight out in front of you, palm up, much as you might invite a crowd of seated people to stand. When your dog sits, click the training clicker and give her a treat. Gradually eliminate the verbal "sit" command over several days. If your dog does not know verbal commands, use a hand signal instead that naturally encourages her to sit. Try putting your hand above her head and pointing to her rear. Wait for her to sit, then click and give her a treat.

Step 2

Repeat the training exercise five to 10 times a day. When your dog is reliably obeying the command, begin giving her a treat every second or third time rather than every time. This is known as an intermittent reinforcement schedule, and is an effective way to help a dog to permanently learn a command.

Step 3

Teach your dog to stay, using the same method you used to teach her to sit. Establish a hand signal, such as holding your hand up just as you would to signal to a person to stop moving forward. Back away from your dog slowly. Dogs tend to stay in place when they are being watched by their owners. Click and give her a treat while she is still staying. Gradually increase the time you expect her to stay over the course of several weeks, then begin asking her to stay while your back is turned and while you are out of her view. It may take a dog as long as several months to learn to stay in place when she is not being watched.

Step 4

Put your dog on a long leash to teach her to come. Walk away from her. If she has a verbal "come" command, say that word while using the hand signal for come. You can use a sweeping hand gesture with your palm pointing downward, quickly raising your forearm and moving it down across the front of your body. Click and reward her when she comes. If your dog does not have a verbal command, act excited while giving her the hand signal. She may be confused, but she will eventually come. When she does, click and give her a treat. Repeat the activity five to 10 times each day. When your dog reliably obeys the command, increase the distance from which you expect her to come, and continue practicing. Then work up to asking her to come around distractions such as children, other dogs, or squirrels.

Items You Will Need

  • Dog training clicker
  • Dog treats
  • Collar
  • Leash

Tip

  • Consider teaching your dog a "good dog" sign. Some owners use a thumbs up sign, but you should pick something your dog can easily see that does not resemble any other signs. When first teaching this sign, give the sign and then give your dog several treats so that she develops the positive association.

Warning

  • Never call your dog to punish her, and never yell at your dog for not obeying a command. This behavior teaches fear and can increase disobedience.

References

Photo Credits

  • training-the-dog image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com

About the Author

Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.