How to Teach Your Dog Sign Language: 7 BASIC Signals

One way to bond with your dog is to learn how to communicate with him using sign language. This can also be a useful tool for training.

Dogs are smart and intuitive, so with some patience and practice, you can teach your dog to understand and respond to many common commands using sign language.

This guide will explore how to teach your dog sign language, focusing on 7 basic commands!

What are the Sign Language Options for Dog Training?

dogs can learn sign language
Dogs are highly intelligent, even when they’re deaf, and can be trained to obey hand signs.

There are a few different options for training a dog using sign language, but one popular method is using American Sign Language (ASL).

Choosing ASL also allows someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing can use the same commands for your dog.

You can also make up your own signs for commands as long as you use them consistently. If you have family members, teach them to use the same commands every time they interact with the dog.

Be patient and consistent, and don’t get frustrated if your dog doesn’t learn everything overnight. With patience and practice, your dog will be understanding signs in no time!

How to Teach Your Dog to Understand Sign Language

Tips for Using ASL to Train Your Dog

Use clear, concise commands. American Sign Language is all about clarity and precision, so make sure your commands are short and to the point.

Learn them first. Before teaching your dog to obey the sign, learn to form the sign correctly and consistently. This way you won’t confuse your dog by changing the sign as you learn it.

Be consistent. When you’re teaching your dog a new sign, use that sign exclusively for that command and don’t move on until your dog has mastered obedience to the sign.

Start with the basics: sit, stay, come, down, and off. Once your dog masters these signs, you can move on to more advanced commands such as speak, quiet, and shake.

With a little patience and practice, your dog will understand and obey these signs in no time!

What Are the Best Sign Language Commands to Teach a Dog?

Dogs can understand and obey sign language
Through sign language, you can have more interaction with your dog.

The 7 best sign language commands to begin training your dog to obey are sit, stay, down, come, heel, wait, and leave it. These foundational skills will help your dog stay safe and learn more difficult commands later.

Teaching your dog to obey these signs should come after the dog has learned the skill.

For example, rather than instruct you in how to teach your dog to sit, we’ll instruct you in the sign for sit that you should teach your dog.

Once your dog has been trained using hands-on training, treats, and praise, then move on to incorporating sign language into your training routine.

7 Basic Sign Language Commands to Teach a Dog

teach a dog sign language for wordless behavior control
Knowing sign language helps your dog behave without yelling, repeating commands, or disturbing those around you.

1. Sit

The sit command is the most basic and important command you can teach your dog.

It is a great starting point for teaching other commands and tricks, and can also be used as a way to create calm when your dog is getting too excited.

To sign the word sit in ASL, extend the first two fingers on each hand. Hold your right two fingers up at shoulder height, and your left two fingers horizontally in front of you.

Bring the right hand two fingers down on top of the left hand two fingers, simulating 2 legs that are sitting. Do not bend the right fingers when you bring them down. Both pair of fingers stay straight.

2. Stay

We love to use the stay, or remain, command with our dogs because we can help them to obey without yelling, and control their behavior as long as we are within their line of sight.

We prefer to use the sign for remain, as it’s easier for dogs to recognize from a distance.

Hold the thumb and pinky out on both hands, tucking the rest of the fingers to the palms.

Holding both hands like this in front of you at about waist height, use your wrists to move your hands up and down once or twice.

It’s okay to have a little elbow movement as well. The idea is that the movement is showing the hands remaining in the same place. This sign is easy for dogs to recognize and obey quickly.

3. Down

The ASL down command is incredibly intuitive, and your dog may already know the sign from previous training if you’ve trained him to stay down.

Extend only your right index finger and make a repeated downward pointing motion in front of your torso.

4. Come

The command for come can be hard to teach your dog unless you have his undivided attention. This sign can’t really be used for field recall unless you happen to catch your dog’s eye.

When we are in the field with our dogs, we use vibrating training collars with a recall function to get their attention. This type of collar gives them a vibration to get their attention so they know to look and find us.

Once we see them looking, we use the sign for come to signal that we want them to join us in the field.

Extend the index finger of both hands. With hands away from your body, draw them to you while pointing the index fingers toward yourself.

5. Heel

The heel command teaches your dog to walk by your side when you are out on a walk.

This is a helpful command for both you and your dog, as it keeps him safe by preventing him from running into the street or chasing after other animals.

To teach this command using ASL, we prefer to use the sign for follow. This sign is easy for the dog to understand, and intuitive for owners to remember.

To make the sign for follow, extend both thumbs, keeping the fingers curled against the palms. Hold both hands, thumbs up, next to your chest with your right hand behind your left.

Move both hands forward, with the right hand following the left hand to complete this easy sign.

6. Wait

The wait command tells your dog to stay until you release him. The most common way to teach a sign for wait is to hold up one index finger and push it out from your torso signaling your dog to wait for a minute.

This single-handed sign is ideal for showing your dog what you want with one hand, so we recommend teaching it to your dog.

The ASL sign for wait is simple, but it requires two hands. We’ve experienced times where we needed our dog to wait but we didn’t have two hands to tell him, so learning both signs is idea.

To sign wait in ASL, extend both hands in front of you with palms facing up and fingers extended. Wiggle your fingers rapidly without moving your hands.

This sign expresses the feeling of anticipation while doing nothing.

7. Leave it or Drop It

The ‘leave it’ command tells your dog to leave something alone that he is interested in. This is a command that can save your dog’s life, or keep him from chewing something valuable.

For leave or drop, we prefer to use the ASL sign for drop that indicates to get rid of something. The sign is intuitive and easy for dogs to understand right away.

To make the sign, hold your right hand up with the back of it facing your shoulder. Touch your fingertips together as if you were holding a ball or a wad of paper.

Next, extend your arm and hand in a gentle throwing motion, opening the fingers. This motion simulates the idea of dropping or throwing something away and is similar to how a dog drops a ball.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the basic commands that you can teach your dog. We hope that you and your dog will enjoy learning these new commands and discover a new world of fun communication!

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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