Some of these are ‘universal’, some vary from person to person.
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here.
A hand signal is simply a cue to your dog to carry out a particular action.
You can use whatever cues you like, but most of our basic gundog hand signals have evolved because they are clear, and make sense to our dogs.
Obviously clear signals are important. Giving sloppy signals has great potential for confusing your dog.[wp_ad_camp_1]A good way to make sure your signals are clear and consistent, is to practice them in front of a mirror, or better still, film yourself signalling in the field.
The signals you choose to use may depend on who teaches you, but you may also want to consider how dogs perceive these signals from a distance.
Left and right
Signals for left and right are very straightforward. You simply hold out your arm nice and straight, parallel to the ground, palm towards the dog, in the direction in which you want him to run.
In early training, and when the dog is at extreme distances, you can add emphasis to the right and left signals by adding a step to the side.
Your movement makes your intention clear and is easier for the dog to see when he is along way away.
Traditionally the stop signal is a raised arm and hand, palm towards the dog, fingers together. Like a policeman stopping traffic.
I don’t actually use this any more, I’ll explain why below, but this is what many trainers still teach.
Not everyone uses a recall signal, but a good visual recall cue if you want one, is simply a straight arm, by your side, fingers together and pointing down, palm towards the dog.
The back cast signal is probably the one with the most variety. All involve a raised arm (like the stop signal) usually accompanied (here in the uk) with some kind of movement.
This may be anything from a pronounced forward ‘push’ of the entire arm, to simply a flick of the hand from the wrist.
From a distance and facing you however, these signals are not nearly as clear as our right and left cues. And there is scope for confusion.
Long distance signals
There are various ways of ‘enhancing’ your signals to help your dog when he is a long way from you.
In addition to some movement to either side, you can increase your visibility, and the prominence of your signals by holding something white, like a hanky, in your hand.
In the USA, where Field Trials are very long distance retrieving competitions, handlers may even wear white jackets to help the dog see them.
Whilst we might not admire their e-collar techniques, there is no doubt that American retriever handlers are world masters at handling retrievers at extreme distances. And they have also taken steps to tackle the problem inherent in our ‘stop’ and ‘back’ signals.
The Stop and Back confusion
Traditionally, in the UK, the STOP and the BACK signal have been very similar indeed.
I have long thought this confusing for dogs, and now adopt the American system of using the raised hand only for ‘back’. I rely on the whistle alone to stop the dog at any distance, and use a raised finger (as if pointing at a naughty child) for ‘sit’ at close quarters.
Whatever signals you use, try and keep them nice and ‘crisp’.
One way to avoid ‘flailing’ your arms around is the keep your hands together in the centre of your chest at all times during handling. Only move a hand to give a signal.
Once again, if you are not sure how clear your signals are, put a blind retrieve out with a camera behind it. Film yourself handling the dog onto the dummy.
Hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised!