Updated: Apr 7, 2020
More recently as I have been coming into contact with more and more dogs of a variety of ages and breeds, I am becoming increasingly more aware of the importance of using hand signals when you train ANY dog regardless of whether they can hear or not.
My Dalmatian, Logan, is completely deaf and for training purposes I have to use hand signals. Some people with deaf dogs choose to use British Sign or American Sign Language when coming up with the different signals for the different cues and this does work well. However a lot of the time when you are teaching a “down” or a “sit” for example the way that you lure the dog into the position in the first place can be continued on to make the hand signal.
“In fact a hearing dog can be taught to use both vocal cues and hand signals, and by being able to use both you are setting your dog up for the future.”
A brilliant example of how putting in the work in the early stages helps your dog in the future is during old age. When a dog becomes older he may start to lose his hearing. Imagine if you had spent a lot of time training your dog numerous cues like sit, down, come, and stay to find that suddenly your dog can no longer hear you and so essentially your training is now going to be wasted for the next few years of your dog’s life. You are then faced with the potential idea of retraining your older dog. By ensuring your dog knows both hand signals and vocal commands you already have a head start in the future.
"There’s actually not much difference when it comes to teaching hand signals and vocal cues, in fact the two different cues are usually interlinked."
I have included an example below:
A common way to teach your dog to sit is by luring the dog into a position using a small piece of food. To do this you start with the food at nose level and then to quickly summarize, you move the treat back slowly over the top of the dogs head. The dog, keen to see where the food has gone will lean back to look up at the treat and will thus end up with his bottom on the floor. To begin with, you would not introduce a vocal command and instead you’d keep moving your hand back over the dogs head to get him to sit. You’d then remove the treat from your hand but carry on performing the same action. This luring action you have used to teach the sit now becomes your hand signal. You’d then add the vocal cue ‘Sit’ before giving the hand signal. If you continue to practice both the vocal and hand cue separately you will have a dog that is able to recognize both.
By putting in the work at the beginning you are effectively setting up your dog for the future. Anything that is going to make our dogs transition into old age easier is surely worth it?