Hand Signals and Communication with Your Pets

Neil Copeland of Seven Lakes Kennels

By Neil Copeland

Special to the Insider

Many of us use gestures to signal to our pets when we intend for them to respond with a behavior. Using gestures can be a gentle and conflict-free approach when your pet understands what is being asked of them. 

Let’s consider some common gestures and some basic methods to elicit the behaviors we seek.

How often do you see a human use a closed fist while repeating the word “sit” to get their pet to lower its bottom to the ground? I see it quite regularly, accompanied with vocalizing the word three to five times before sparking any kind of attention.

We can eliminate the word “sit” by simply connecting the treat to the nose and luring the pet into a sit position. This will furnish the behavior. Please give the treat when the pet’s bottom is on the floor. Continuing with the closed fist, allow the pet to smell the treat while you lure them into the sitting position. Then give the treat once the bottom is on the floor. 

As you advance, hold your fist up. And withholding the treat without saying the word sit, if your pet has made the connection with a closed fist and a positive reward, his bottom will hit the floor. You can then provide the treat in a timely manner. 

Repeat and continue to withhold the treat for longer times without saying the word “sit.” Be aware that you may have to simplify many times until your pet understands.

I have seen the pointer finger many times and often it is associated with a snap. Just like we do with kids, we “mean it this time.” Well, your pet is not going to respond the same way as a child. 

Many times, this gesture is used with pets for a recall. Again, place a treat in your hand and your pet is distracted or just smelling around. Make a sound (not calling their name) to get their attention, point and reward with the pointing finger. 

The point provides rewards associated with a pointed finger, giving them the idea to come over. You may add the snap if you feel necessary. 

If it were doing this method, I would have my pet on a long line such as a 25-foot cord to discourage any other opportunity for distractions while getting their attention. 

Repeat this sequence until you see your pet is understanding that a pointed finger means something positive, taking away any unneeded conflict.

Using gestures is fun and demonstrates that you and your pet can communicate without begging for a specific behavior. It all starts with teaching the behavior and making it positive. Good luck with your pet and happy training.