Before mama even got me, she bought a puppy training book from a book shop.
At that point, there were no puppy plans. She just thought it would be useful when a puppy comes along one day.
The puppy came along roughly a year later, and that puppy was me!
The book did come in very handy. It had schedules to follow, advice on suitable toys, and how to teach basic commands.
One thing that it taught mama was to use hand gestures in the first stage of training. A good dog trainer will probably tell you the same thing. And a recent study is backing it up!
Dogs prefer visual communication
While we know that dogs are as good at understanding human gestures as two-year-old human toddlers, the study reveals something new – dogs prefer visual over verbal communication.
The authors asked dog owners to give their water rescue dogs four commands – sit, stay, down, and come. First through gestures only, and then only through words. They found that the dogs performed better when their owners used hand gestures.
It’s also interesting to note that the females were more likely to respond to gestural than verbal commands and males responded to verbal commands significantly better than females.
In the next part of the study, dog owners confused their dogs by giving a verbal command (e.g. stay) while gesturing something else (e.g. sit). The result? The dogs almost always followed the gestural command.
But not when they can be closer to their owners
The only exception was when the owners paired the verbal command “come” with the gestural command “stay” as they moved away from the dog.
While to dogs gestures are more salient than words, they seem to want to be close to their owners. Hence, when they receive conflicting commands, they would rather choose the one that allows them to move towards their owner.
This shows that dogs process both gestural and verbal commands, but they make a choice on which to follow.
Use hand gestures when training your dog
Mama recalled that when I was a puppy, I often ignored verbal commands but behaved better when she used hand gestures.
Verbal commands usually fully replace gestural ones as we grow older. But maybe it is better to keep both for different situations!