Which is better: Verbal Commands or Visual Commands?

Choosing a more effective training system for your dog

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Which is better: Verbal COMMANDS or Visual Commands?

If you own a dog, then training is a daily part of life. But which training system is the most effective? Is it better to focus on verbal commands or visual commands? Through lots of research and some advanced science, we’ve learned that one is more reliable than the other.

Eye of the beholder

Dogs are masters at reading body language. But which part of your body do dogs look at most? For most other animals, dogs will look at the face first and longest. However, when looking at images of humans, research has shown that they tend to look at our hands and arms the longest, especially if the image contains a hand signal.

Picking which to follow

While it’s a good idea to train your dog to respond to both visual and verbal cues, there are times when you may not be able to use one or the other. In a stressful situation, which is better to rely on? In a recent study involving water rescue dogs, it was found that when presented with either a visual or verbal command, the visual command had a higher success rate. Additionally, when presented with conflicting visual and verbal commands, they tended to follow the visual command over the verbal one.

1+1 = higher success

Does this mean you should only use visual commands? No! You should teach your dog to respond to both in tandem. There may be instances when your dog is not looking at you or you are not visible. It could also be too noisy or too distracting for your dog to hear you above the din. It’s always best to reinforce one with the other; though keep in mind that when your dog’s focus is completely on you, science points (pun intended) to visual being more effective than verbal. Happy training!


Brock Casper is the Southwest Region Team Manager for Rover-Time and has been part of the RT team for two years. When he isn’t working he enjoys reading, playing video games, watching horror films, and going on walks with his dog, Loki.  He lives in the northwest part of Chicago with his partner, Laurel. They enjoy making delicious food together and watching cooking shows.

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