Before title of this post annoys anyone or comes across as arrogant, let me first say I absolutely get that dogs are visual communicators and hand signals can aid in the communication process (check out this video). I also understand that there are benefits of using hand signals in the hunting industry, agility fields, and other applications, but this article specifically relates to the average pet dog owner, the average pet dog, and the average pet dog problems where hand signals are often used as the benchmark standard of a well-trained dog. I’m not saying hand signals aren’t cool or shouldn’t be used, I’m just asking, “What’s the big deal?”
When starting off new dogs in our training programs, we use a lot of visual cues to help aid in the learning process. This may mean adjusting our body language for the sit command, pointing to the ground for ‘down’, and bending down for a recall. The reason that we do all this is because dogs generally learn easier and faster with visual cues. But once the dog knows what down means, should you really still have to bend down and point the the ground everything you need them to lay down? No! At some point we have to ween them off the help and hold them accountable to a command that they know; we need to stop helping them if it’s not needed.
Also remember that in addition to always needing to add a hand signal to your dog’s commands in order to get a response, remember that in order for your hand signal to be effective – your dog has to already be looking at you!! So if your dog is in heavy prey drive and is in the act of chasing a squirrel, is making a grandiose hand gesture for ‘come’ really going to help your dog turn around and come back to you? Or let’s say your dog is leash reactive and is firing up over the sight of another dog, is your raised hand going to help him sit and regain his composure? Or let’s say you have your hands full pushing a stroller or carrying something and you can’t make a hand motion?
Because we don’t always have the luxury of setting up and staging our training, hand signals become less and less effective and more of a burden in real world training applications.
I guess my confusion exists because a hand signal is a form of help in my eyes, not a complex skill that only a few gifted dogs are capable to soaking in. I guess I’m just more impressed with a dog that is functionally trained and managed with voice commands. Am I missing something here?