How to Teach a Dog to Read Sign Language

Three Methods:Finding Hand SignsWorking With a Hearing DogWorking With a Deaf Dog

Teaching your dog sign language is not as hard as it sounds. Dogs read body language as much as respond to voice commands, so incorporating a sign isn't difficult. First you must choose your signs. Then you use those signs to train your dog as you normally would.

Method 1
Finding Hand Signs

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    Try obedience signs first. Using obedience hand signals first is good because other dog trainers will know these signals, even if they don't rely on them solely.[1] For instance, a common hand sign for "down" is to hold your hand up at your shoulder with your elbow bent, then move your hand to the floor.[2]
    • The main drawback to using only obedience signs is they may not cover everything you want to do with your dog.[3]
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    Use American Sign Language (ASL). Another option is to use American Sign Language. One plus of ASL is that people who are deaf will be able to communicate with your dog. One drawback is that ASL often takes two hands, which can be a problem if you have your dog on a leash. Nonetheless, some people modify ASL to be used with one hand.[4]
    • You can find basic ASL dictionaries online.
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    Make your own hand signals. You can also, of course, make up your own hand signals. The plus side is you'll be able to easily remember them. The downside is the only people who will be able to command your dog are people you teach the signs to. In addition, some people find it hard to just make up signs off the top of their heads.[5]

Method 2
Working With a Hearing Dog

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    Decide what trick you are going to teach your dog. The first step of training is to decide on a trick. For instance, one of the most basic tricks or commands is "Sit." "Sit" is good because you can use it in many situations, from getting your dog to stop jumping to helping him to calm down and wait for a treat.[6]
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    Begin with a voice command. You can use whatever verbal command you want, as long as you are consistent. For sit, obviously the command "Sit!" is the most common.[7]
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    Use a treat. With a treat, you can show your dog what you want him to do. To get him to sit, first show him you have a treat. Then, bring the treat above his head, just out of reach. This action should get him to sit on the floor.[8]
    • If your dog wants to move before you can get him to sit, you probably aren't holding it close enough to him. Bring it directly in front of his nose.[9]
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    Say your command. As you are using the treat to get him to sit, say your verbal command. So, you would say "Sit!" as you bring the treat above his head.[10]
    • Essentially, you want her nose to go up in the air, following the treat. That action will often get him to put him butt on the ground.[11]
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    Offer praise and the treat. When the dog sits or does the command, say "Good dog!" or "Yes!" immediately. Also, give him the treat.[12]
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    Practice without the treat. Practice for a while using the treat. Once the dog gets the hang of it, try it without the treat. Use the same hand motion and command, but don't have a treat in your hand. When your dog does the trick, praise him for it.[13]
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    Work on the new sign. Once your dog knows the voice command, work on using the new sign with him. Say the command, and incorporate the new sign. For the first couple of times, it may be best to start with the old hand sign and move into the new one. After a few times, leave off the beginning, but continue with the voice command.[14]
    • In some cases, such as "down," it may be possible to teach him the sign from the beginning. With "down," you generally start in a "sit" position and move the dog to the floor by using a treat and bringing it down to the floor in front of him. Then you modify the sign later so you don't have to hit the floor.[15]
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    Try it without the voice command. Once the dog seems to understand the new sign, try it without the voice command. Make sure you have the dog's attention first by calling his name. He has to be looking at you to get the hand sign. If he doesn't seem to understand, work the voice command and hand sign together some more and then try the voice command again by itself.[16]

Method 3
Working With a Deaf Dog

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    Start with a "watch me" sign. With deaf dogs, you have to make sure they are watching you before giving them a signal. Therefore, the first thing you must teach them is a "watch me" sign. Pick a hand signal for it. Make the hand signal for your dog, and then point to your nose. When your dog looks up at you, give a hand flash or a thumbs up (as a replacement for the clicker that some trainers use), and then give him a treat and praise. Practice this signal with him until he understands he needs to look at you with the "watch me" sign.[17]
    • This method should also work just fine if you are deaf and are working with a hearing dog.
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    Pick a hand sign and trick. Choose what you want your first trick to be. As noted, "Sit" is always a good place to begin. Choose your hand sign for "Sit."[18]
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    Give the sign. After doing the "watch me" sign, give the dog the sign for the command you want to teach. Immediately use a treat to position him for the command.[19]
    • For instance, for "Sit," hold the treat in front of his nose, and then move it above his head so his butt hits the floor.[20]
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    Offer him praise and the treat. As soon as the dog is in the correct position, give him praise and attention. Offer him the treat as reward.[21]
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    Keep practicing. Continue practicing the command. Once the dog seems to understand, remove the treat from the equation. Practice the hand sign without the treat until the dog has it down pat.[22]

Tips

  • Remember to keep training sessions short. Dogs have short attention spans, so try to work with them a few minutes at a time. If you try to make them work for 30 minutes or an hour, you'll both be frustrated.[23]

Sources and Citations

  1. http://www.deafdogs.org/training/signs.php
  2. http://humanebroward.com/downloads/basic%20dog%20obedience%20-%20hand%20signal%20down%20-%2010smr.pdf
  3. http://www.deafdogs.org/training/signs.php
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Article Info

Categories: Working with Dogs