The signals game
“Can we play the signals game, Aunt Maggie?” My almost 4-year-old nephew, Owen, asked.
“I don’t know that game. You’ll have to teach it to me.”
He sighed. “Yes, you do. The signals game.” He gestured with his hand a few times. “That we play with Emmett.”
Weeks ago I showed Owen how Emmett responded to hand signals. For instance, an upturned palm means sit.
Little did I know, Owen had so much fun doing hand signals with Emmett that, in his mind, he turned it into The Signals Game.
And so we played it. And we continued to play The Signals Game every time I visited Owen with the dogs in tow.
When we adopted Emmett in 2006, we picked him up from the shelter on a Thursday, and we took our very first training class that Saturday. Our trainer (hi, Jeree!) taught us to use hand signals with Emmett from the very beginning, so we incorporated that into our training with Lucas and, of course, with Cooper.
Cooper excels at hand signals. The other two are good with them and respond frequently without the paired verbal cue. But Cooper? If you teach him something with a paired hand signal, he gets it right away. Verbal cues take him much longer.
There’s some research to suggest that dogs inherently understand our pointed gestures, so it makes sense that if they’re hardwired to understand those types of cues, hand signals can work well. (If you haven’t read The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think put it on your list! There’s a ton of data presented about this very thing.)
Further, it didn’t occur to me until I read your comments on the post about aging that hand signals are great to teach before dogs experience any hearing loss.
I tried to think of all the cues we use that have associated hand signals:
- sit – upturned palm
- stand – fist
- down – pointer finger pointing to the ground
- speak – “talking” hands
- stay – hand up, palm out in a “stop”
- wait – hand pointed to the left, palm out, swipe downward
- watch me – touch nose with pointer finger
- roll over – spin pointer finger
- touch – hand pointed to the right, palm out
- wave – waving
Now, having read The Genius of Dogs, plus Coop’s proficiency with hand signals, plus your helpful comments… I’m trying to think of additional cues that could use hand signals! I’m thinking “come” could use a hand signal, especially if they’re ever too far away to hear me call. And perhaps some other tricks?
Do you use hand signals? What cues do you use that have an associated signal?