What Does Dog Pointing Mean?

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Have you ever looked at your pup in confusion as he stood, stock-still, staring at something only he could see? This behavior is called pointing. Why do dogs point? Can any breed of dog be taught to point? Pointing isn't often a skill pet parents teach their pups, but teaching him this special skill may have its benefits.

What Does A Pointing Dog Look Like?

A dog "points" by freezing his body, often with one front paw up, and aiming his nose at a particular spot. He will do this to bring attention to something and notify his pet parent of where to look. Although many people associate this behavior with dogs historically bred for hunting, other breeds can and will point.

What does it mean when a dog points? Usually, it's that he found something interesting. That could be a duck, a squirrel or even a tennis ball. Some dog breeds have the word in their name, such as the German shorthaired pointer, because of their love of finding, pointing at and flushing out small animals.

The American Kennel Club places pointers into the "sporting class" of dogs. This group also includes spaniels, retrievers and setters. If you have noticed that your dog likes to point at things and does it frequently, his breed may be more naturally inclined to do this action. If he's a mutt, it may even help you to figure out some of his ancestors!

When it comes to sporting dog breeds, another thing to keep in mind is their unique mix of independent thinking and collaborative attitude. So why do dogs point in front of people? While they are comfortable investigating their surroundings on their own, they also enjoy working with other dogs and being a companion to their humans. The pointing action helps fulfill both aspects of their special personality.

Weimaraner dog pointing on a walk in the sunlit woods

Training Tips for Pointing Dogs

Reacting to any action your dog makes can reinforce it over time. If he's a natural pointer, that means that with a little patience you might be able to train him to point for specific reasons, such as when he sees a neighborhood cat or needs to go out. If your dog shows an interest in pointing or you are interested in seeing if your dog can point, you can work to reinforce the behavior in several ways:

  • Use a whistle, bell or verbal command to teach your dog to "stop." Dogs should be able to stop on command before learning to point.
  • Keep in mind what you are training your dog to point at and determine the chain of events that needs to happen before and after the point.
  • Keep the chain of events consistent while training: walk, stop, focus, point, pause and praise.
  • Start your training in a small area with minimal distractions and move to larger areas with more distractions as your pup improves.
  • If he stands still, you have to stand with him. Concentrate and be silent and focused with your dog for a moment before rewarding him for pointing.
  • Seek other dogs who are trained to point to help teach your dog the skill.

Although pointing is somewhat instinctive in a few breeds of dogs, it is mostly a learned behavior. It's important to point out that it's never too late to teach your dog something new!


Chrissie Klinger