Do Dogs Respond Best to Verbal or Visual Cues?

There you were, in the dog park, trying to take Fido for a walk, but he obviously had other ideas as he leaped and bounded around.

Nov 4, 2023By Jayme Wium
do dogs respond best verbal or visual cues

Barking and growling at other dogs, he even snarled at children and old ladies. To top it all off, he chose to ignore your frantic efforts to get him to listen. And no amount of verbal or visual clues you learned from your arsenal of YouTube dog training videos helped in the slightest.

Verbal or Visual Cues?

non verbal cues for training dogs

First, perhaps you and Fido are talking in different languages. Of course, you are – you always have been – but "sit," "stay," and "stop that" all mean a whole lot of nothing when your dog is overwhelmed with the smells and excitement of the park. And all that flapping and clapping you were doing with your hands while the scene unfolded? Well, those just added to the excitement and confusion.

According to a study published by Science Direct, dogs respond better to visual hand gestures than verbal commands. In fact, when both hand and visual cues are paired, the best results are achieved. You can't really argue with science. So, let's delve into the why, how, and what you can do.

Why Dogs Respond Better to Visual Cues

training dog visual cues

There’s quite a lot to consider about the psychology of dog communication. Communication between humans is based on more than just words; the same is true for our canine friends. When we chat with others, we use unconscious yet automatic gestures and hand movements to accentuate and clarify our spoken words. This is called body language; without it, our conversations would seem disjointed and confusing.

For example, your football team just won the season's most important game; instead of jumping up and down in excitement as you recounted the story, you sat staring at your shoes. As you can see, the message you are conveying is contradictory and confusing to those on the receiving end.

Now rewind to that unfortunate park incident and think about your words and actions. Did they match? As you jumped, shouted, yelled, and became aggressive in your efforts to 'calm' Fido down, your message became distorted and backfired. Instead of 'calm down, Fido,' Fido heard, 'Go crazy, Fido, look at me, I'm doing the same!'

As a result, he rushed around, filled with excitement and glee, mirroring the body language you were showing. Exhausted, you’ll agree your commands of 'stop' and 'sit' probably made no sense! Unfortunately, all that careful dog training went out the proverbial window because, for dogs, your 'walk' needs to match your 'talk'! In fact, research shows that although dogs can learn verbal and non-verbal dog commands, visual commands are 99% more effective.

Visual Cues Plus Verbal Cues are Best

dog training verbal plus visual cues

Using both visual and non-verbal dog commands is an excellent approach for effective dog training; here's why. Dogs are very adept at learning to associate certain actions with specific outcomes. Therefore, if each time you say the word 'down' and point to the ground simultaneously, Fido will quickly learn to associate your hand signal with the down position. Proving our point that dog training that incorporates both verbal and non-verbal dog commands is far more effective.

The same applies to calm doggie behavior in the park. As your dog's favorite human, it takes its behavioral cues from you; after all, you are the pack leader! This means your body language needs to be calm and controlled, matching the moderated tone of your voice. Unfortunately, for dogs, loud yelling or shouting is often interpreted as punishment or reprimand, which stresses your dog out further, leading to that manic impromptu obstacle course through the park bushes you recently experienced!

Tips for Using a Powerful Combination

training dog with verbal and non verbal cues together

So how do you incorporate both visual and non-verbal dog commands into your somewhat tattered dog obedience training? Check out the tips below for a little clarity on the matter.

  • Don't rely entirely on verbal commands

Dogs use body language and energy to communicate, for example, tail wagging, jumping up, and barking. Teach your dog to associate each verbal command with an appropriate non-verbal cue. For example, the command 'sit' could be said as you point at the ground. Remember to use positive reinforcement such as praise and tasty doggie treats each time he listens to you.

  • Body language is key

When providing dog verbal commands, be aware of the non-verbal cues you unconsciously display. For example, are you looking at your dog directly, or is your attention on something else? To ensure your dog understands what you are asking them to do, look directly at them and provide your instructions clearly, followed by the associated non-verbal command to clarify.

  • Embrace your inner pack leader

Use calm, assertive body language when providing your pup with doggie commands. Avoid shouting and yelling, as this quickly escalates into selective doggie hearing! Therefore, when practicing dog obedience training, say your commands in a clear, calm voice, followed by the appropriate non-verbal gesture.

  • Be consistent

Like children, dogs need consistency for effective dog training. This means that your verbal and non-verbal commands should always be the same to avoid confusion.

Jayme Wium
By Jayme Wium

Jayme is a pet niche writer with 13 years experience. As an avid pet lover, she has dedicated many years of her life to researching the pet industry. She currently works for a dog rehab rescue center and personally fosters abused and abandoned animals, including cats, birds, reptiles, and dogs. She lives with her Dachshunds and Jack Russel, traveling frequently between the United Kingdom and South Africa.