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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Teach Hand Signals Before Your Dog Goes Deaf

Kosmo, our 12-year-old Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, is deaf. He's also, I believe, autistic, but that's another subject for another post.

The only human communication he responds to now is body language. Thank goodness he knows the hand signal for "Come!"

It's the easiest, most natural signal you can teach a dog, and there's no reason not to start when your dog is a puppy. Throughout the course of your dog's life, you won't always have the option of using a hand signal, but neither will you always have the option of using a verbal command. It's nice for him to know both, independently, and the best way for him to learn them is to practice them together.

The most frequently used "Come" hand signal--the one used almost universally by handlers in competitive obedience--is done with your dominant arm. Start with you arm outstretched to the side, held parallel to the ground. As you say "Come" to the dog, sweep your forearm in across your chest, and your hand to the opposite shoulder. Then drop your arm at your side. Each time you practice this motion, give your recall command. Praise the dog liberally when he comes to you, preferably with a treat if your dog is food-driven.

When giving this hand signal, or when developing your own repertoire of other signals, be consistent. It's just as possible to "slur" a hand signal as it is a verbal command, making it perplexing for the dog to figure out what you want. The best way for you to practice your signal is in a mirror. Once you have it, your signal should be as automatic, clear, and rehearsed as a soldier's salute. At that point, you're ready to teach it to your dog.

You'll be amazed how easy it is for the dog to learn this hand signal. Once he seems to know it, continue to reinforce with praise or treats, and continue to use the verbal command with it whenever possible. You'll notice your dog not only listening better to you, but watching you better too!

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