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Can Pets Learn Sign Language?

Can pets learn sign language? The answer may surprise you! Let's explore your pet's ability to master this form of communication.

dog sign language

You may gaze into your pup's eyes and think he or she is the smartest pet in the world. Despite your personal bias, you may not be entirely wrong. Dogs are very intelligent creatures, and in fact, studies have shown that most canines can understand approximately 85 words and phrases. But what about sign language? Other animals, such as gorillas, have been taught to sign. Can dogs be taught to communicate non-verbally as well?

Is it possible to teach canines basic sign language? Figo explores the answer below.

Can dogs learn sign language?

The short answer is yes. Many pets can be taught simple commands using hand signs and signals. For instance, it's common to teach a dog to lie down by patting the ground or teaching it to "come" by waving it over and/or clapping.

Additionally, some dogs who are deaf or who live with deaf humans have been taught basic American Sign Language (ASL) so that their owners can communicate with them.

And then there is K9Sign. This new type of sign language, which was developed by a cognitive psychologist and behavioral specialist for humans and animals, has been designed to give dogs a way to "talk" to their owners.

Canines are taught gestures that they can make to express how they're feeling or to ask their owners for such things as water or different types of food.

Tips for teaching your dog sign language

Ready to teach your dog sign language? Your first step is to decide whether you want your dog to learn ASL or K9Sign language.

Your dog should also know basic commands, such as sit, stay, come, and down. Once your canine has mastered these, you can start teaching them the appropriate ASL or K9Sign hand signs.

The following, for example, is how you would teach your dog the sign language command for "sit."

  • Display the appropriate sign for sit to your pup

  • At the same time, verbally ask your dog to sit

  • Reward your dog with a high-value treat when it responds appropriately

  • Repeat until your dog associates the hand sign with the command to sit

During your training, look for these indicators that your dog is catching onto the signing lessons:

  • Raised ears

  • Alert body posture

  • Looking to your hands for cues

Watch me

If you own a deaf dog, one of the first commands it'll need to learn is "watch me" or "look." You can teach this command by using a high-value treat to draw your dog's attention to your face.

When your dog makes eye contact with you, give it a thumbs up and reward it with a treat. Repeat this process until your dog understands the meaning of this command.

Can cats learn sign language, too?

When we talk about pets and commands, often the conversation defaults to dogs. But cats can learn sign language, too! This isn't surprising to many parents of precocious felines, who are well aware of their curious copilot's intelligence.

While there is currently no standardized system of 'kitty sign language' in the vein of K9Sign, cat moms and dads can teach ASL to their pets.

Like dogs, cats can be deaf, or be adopted by someone who is deaf, so the benefits of teaching sign language are the same. And the training process is similar as well.

The number one most important factor is having a cat who is highly food motivated. Secondly, it helps if you're teaching a younger vs older cat. Follow the same training routine outlined in the dog section above, and make sure you use high-value treats. With enough repetition, many cat owners report that their kitties have successfully learned to understand non-verbal signs.

Engaging their brains

Teaching your dog sign language is also a fun way to engage your canine mentally, which is just as important for your dog's well-being as feeding them a good diet, investing in pet insurance to cover unexpected medical emergencies, and giving them plenty of physical exercise.

Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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