Dogs of all breeds are capable of learning different communication methods; methods like sign language. These hand signals are a way to give your dog commands, especially in public, without having to speak. Sign language is especially effective when a dog is deaf. Sign language also works in reverse – when the owner is deaf and is unable to communicate with their dog effectively. Sign language also works for dogs if neither dog or owner is deaf. In fact, it can act as a fun and impressive way to communicate with your pet.
Recently, in the online blog, Life With Dogs, an article came out about Bruce, a Blue-Heeler mix that was deaf. When his owners Yolanda and Luke adopted the dog from The Lost Dogs’ Home in Australia, it was not communicated to them that their dog could not hear. The dog was completely loving and friendly but when the couple first adopted Bruce, something seemed to be off about him. They took him back to The Lost Dogs’ Home to have him reevaluated. That was when they figured it out that he was deaf.
Yolanda and Luke decided to introduce sign language to Bruce and his training has progressed well. It is necessary that the dog be taught to make eye contact first and foremost, then to introduce hand signals. With repetition and an environment that keeps its attention, a dog will respond more and more. Of course, with everything else that you teach a dog, rewards work really well to instill the reinforcement; treats, toys or time spent together walking or playing ball, etc. can all prove very useful.
Dog trainers and those that show dogs are able to communicate silently utilizing hand signals. In fact, due to their acute sense of sight, dogs can see the hand signals from greater distances. The key is to keep the signs simple and consistent, thus it will be easy for the dog to learn and remember.
It is recommended that the training begin with seven simple hand signals:
1. Sit: extend your thumb out, four fingers splayed together, then click the four fingers down onto the thumb. Begin by pushing your dog’s rump down. Once the dog responds to the command, use the command more often and follow with rewards.
2. Stay: Stand in front of your dog and put your right hand out. This teaches the dog to stop and stay where it is until you gesture otherwise.
3. Down: A very simple command. Motion with a flat hand, parallel to the ground and push the hand downward. Teach the dog to stay down until you are ready for the dog to move again.
4. Come: One of two gestures can be used. Either motion with your hand, waving inward or extend your arms out to signal a welcoming embrace while standing directly in front of the dog.
5. Watch me: Make a ‘V’ with your index and middle fingers and point toward your eyes signalling for the dog to watch you. Many times this is the first signal you would want your dog to learn.
6. Speak: Hold your right hand up, with the four fingers extended out flat on top and the thumb held underneath, the signer opens and closes the hand, signaling the dog to speak with his mouth.
7. All free: This is the simplest sign, the classic "OK" gesture, to signal to your dog that they are free to go and play. The signer forms a circle with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, holding the remaining fingers open in a fanned formation above these.
If you are seeking a new method of communication with your canine or are considering a special needs deaf dog, definitely consider sign language. This method of communication is top notch!