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The signal Exercise

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Today I stood in front of the mirror and took a good look at my signals for the Utility signal Exercise.  They’ve evolved quite far from where I started with my first Utility dog!  Let’s look

1) You can see my original signals here:

Fifteen years ago I was working with a very speedy dog, and I realized that she was consistently anticipating the recall when I was giving the down signal, so I decided to switch to a “moving” hand and a “non moving” hand.  Now, if the left hand moves my dogs know that they will be doing a stationary activity, and if the right arm moves they can come running in immediately.  I have liked the results so I still use this approach.

The new series looked like this:

My next evolution was my recall signal.  I realized that I could not send my dogs out and then recall them back with a signal  because they could not distinguish between the signal to take the right hand jump from my recall.

Here is my old recall signal followed by a cue to take the right hand jump.  Pretty similar to a speedy dog!:

So, I changed it.  Here is the recall signal that I am using with Lyra:

Then Brito came along and by a fluke of training I taught him to offer a fold back down when I did something completely different with my left hand.  So now his “down” signal looks like this:

All of these signals are fine.  Just take a moment to stand in front of a mirror and go through your signals in random orders.  Can you tell instantly and clearly what the signal is going to be?  Make sure your signals are distinct from start to finish.  For example, does your sit signal look like your down signal when you return your hand to a neutral position?  I have seen signals that look like these, and the dogs are often confused.  Understandably!:

While dogs seem willing to adapt to almost everything we throw at them, I’m pretty motivated to use signals that are as clear and crisp as possible, so that they can respond instantly and with confidence.

To recap, Here are Lyra’s current signals:

and here are Brito’s:

Take a look at your signals; pick whatever is both comfortable and clear, especially from 50 feet away!



About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

3 responses »

  1. Love that you’ve customized these and it’s interesting to see what you’re using. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Denise,

    I a writing to you, and am quite happy if you chose to not allow this post onto the open forum/

    I notice that your signals are what I would call ‘macro-signals’ — rather large movements.

    For instance with a number of signals the very first movement you make is to bend your elbow out – before you lift your arm. With your sit signal, you swing your hand away from your body, before your turn it palm up, before you raise your arm.

    I can see very real difficulties with the dog anticipating here. You would need to teach your dogs to wait for a certain PART of each signal before responding.

    In my experience dogs respond to tiny tiny movements. I remember one dog who used to trial here, who was over and over flunked for anticipation on the recall because she responded to her handler making tiny movements with her hand as she started to make her recall signal.


    Jenny H

    • I noticed the same thing, Jenny. My previous dog would guess and offer either a sit or down the moment I started to put out my right elbow to raise the arm up. I ended up using opposite arms for the Sit and Down signals. Sit and Come were on the same arm, but I made sure that the way that I raised it looked different between the two motions. This wasn’t tested over a good span of time though, as that dog died young.


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