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The Power of Non-Verbal Communication: How Hand Gestures Improve Dog Training

Learn why hand gestures are important and how to start using them when training your own dog. It's actually a lot easier than you think and you can start doing it now. As a dog trainer in windy Rishworth, West Yorkshire this is something I use on a daily basis.


In this blog we will go through:


Why are hand gestures important?


Using hand signals along with your verbal cues for different behaviours you want your dog to do has many benefits. Living on top of a windy hill in Rishworth, West Yorkshire, hand gestures come in really handy when the wind is blowing and it's difficult to hear (which seems to be every day where I live)! If you are local to the area and like a good wander over the moors, you will understand the struggle! You end up shouting at the top of your voice, trying to be hear over the wind, whilst trying to stay upright as the wind tries it's best to blow you off your feet!


We also need to consider our dog's may not always have great hearing, as dogs age they can start to lose their hearing, just like we humans do, which can make communicating with them verbally difficult. There are things you can do now to make this easier in your dog's senior years. If you teach your dog hand signals for different behaviours now, you'll still be able to communicate with them when they do start to struggle with their hearing in later life.



What does the science say?


Dog's are experts at reading our body language, we just sometimes don't realise just how good they are. There are studies that have found that dog's respond better to gestures over verbal cues.


D'Aniello et al (2016) did a brilliant study into the use of verbal cues and hand gestures, which included 25 dogs that were able to perform certain behaviours (sit, down, stay and come) following both verbal cues and hand gestures. The dog's were then tested on how well they responded when only verbal cues or hand gestures were given. In the final phase of the study, the dogs were really tested to see if they responded to verbal or hand gesutres more; the dog's were asked verbally for a behaviour but a hand gesture for a different behvaiour was given. The results were interesting and showed that in the study, female dog's responded better to gestures, whereas male dog's responded better to verbal cues. Overall, the data did show that for all behaviours (apart from come), the dog's followed the gesture over the verbal cue and concluded that "dogs overall preferred to execute the action required by the gesture rather than that required verbally".


How to use hand gestures when training your dog


Now you know how important hand gestures are, lets take a look at how you can start using them now, I promise it's much easier than you think!


Simply pick a hand signal that you would like to use for a particular behaviour, for example when I ask my dog to wait, I put my hand out, palm flat and facing them (like the stop sign used when directing traffic). You can choose any hand signal you like, just make sure it's easy for you to remember!


Once you have chosen your hand signal, simply use it each time you ask your dog to do a certain behaviour. For example, for a wait, ask your dog verbally to wait and put use your wait hand gesture at the same time. Be sure to practice and reward your dog each time for doing the behaviour right. You can test your dog and see if they have learnt the hand signal by using it without the verbal cue, hopefully if you have practiced enough your dog will follow the hand signal and do the behvaiour you are asking for, make sure you throw a party when they do and give lot's of verbal praise and a nice tasty treat.


Don't forget, when learning something new, make sure you always start in an environment that isn't distracting for your dog, I tend to do my training in the living room. Once you are sure your dog understands the hand signals, you can gradually start using them in more distracting environments but be sure to do this gradually; for example practice in the garden, then in a quiet location away from your home.


If you need some help


If you would like some help teaching your dog hand signals, or if you have an older dog that is starting to struggle with their hearing, I can support you to teach a range of hand signals to your dog. Simply book a discovery call HERE and we can have a chat about your support needs and how I can help.


I do both online and face to face support sessions, for areas within ten miles of Rishworth there is no cost for travel (areas include but are not limited to: Rishworth, Saddleworth, Rochdale, Oldham, Halifax, Sowerby Bridge, Ripponden, Brighouse, Littleborough & Todmorden). For those outside of the area, I can support with online meetings or for fuel costs I will travel to see both you and your dog.


References:

If you would like to read the studies sited in this blog, you can find them below:


D'Aniello, B., Scandurra, A., Alterisio, A. and Emanuela Prato-Previde (2016). The importance of gestural communication: a study of human–dog communication using incongruent information. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304365640_The_importance_of_gestural_communication_a_study_of_human-dog_communication_using_incongruent_information [Accessed 18 Oct. 2023].


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