4 min read


Can Dogs Understand When You Point?



4 min read


Can Dogs Understand When You Point?


When your dog loses his ball during a nice game of fetch, you may try to point to where it is. You may notice that sometimes your dog easily finds the ball, and other times it seems like he doesn't know what you mean. Of course, things would be easier if our dogs could talk. We'd be able to communicate freely, and maybe they would understand how sorry we are when we accidentally step on their tail. 

We have to find other ways to communicate with our beloved four-legged friends. Pointing is one of the ways we do that, but do our dogs know what we mean when we point?


Signs That Dogs Can Understand When You Point

Dogs can understand when we point more than other animals - even better than chimpanzees. So, when you're looking at something or trying to tell your dog where to go, he knows that he should look or go in the direction you're pointing. 

When you point at something, your dog may realize that you are giving him a visual command. A research study found that dogs can find hidden treats when their owner points to them. This is something other animals are not able to do. 

When your dog notices that you are pointing, there are some signs you will notice right away. When you point, your dog will frequently become alert and look in the direction that you are pointing to. When there are two treats to choose from, your dog will most often choose the treat that you point at. 

Your dog will lift his head and get perky. If he is excited about what you are pointing at, he may start wagging his tail or lifting his ears up, eagerly wondering what you are pointing at. 

When your dog loses the ball during a nice game of fetch, your pointing will help him find it (most of the time). He may follow your point and use his strong sense of smell to find the object of his desire. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice when your dog knows that you are pointing at something:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Listening
  • Wag Tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice when your dog is noticing when you point:

  • Open Mouth, Tongue Out
  • Upright Posture
  • Alert Eyes

History of Dogs Understanding When We Point


Since the 1990s, researchers have done many studies on human and dog communication. Dogs can read many cues from their humans. When we are sad, they take cues from our posture, tone of voice, and attitude. Once a dog notices that we may need some extra attention, she will frequently get calmer and lean in for cuddles. 

The closest ancestors to dogs are wolves. The bond between human and wolf began over 15,000 years ago. Wolves and humans each needed help hunting, and they needed protection, so they formed an alliance to help them move forward and thrive. Over the years, wolves turned to dogs, and different dogs were bred in order to create the numerous dog breeds around today.  

In order to form closer bonds with humans and improve the relationship, dogs began picking up on cues and then acting according to those cues. Over time, wolves and dogs grew to be very different. Wolves do not have the same ability to understand human cues. This is a huge difference between wolves and dogs, and it shows the close connection between humans and dogs. 

Pointing is a large part of the communication between humans and dogs. Taking visual cues and commands, dogs are able to follow the lead of their humans. This evolution was necessary for survival, as the dogs who were able to better understand humans were more likely to be bred. 

The Science of Dogs Understanding Pointing


A dog's brain is more complex than you might think. Their brains have evolved to understand humans better and better. Over time, they have become man's best friend. 

When dogs begin to pick up on what pointing is, they respond to praise and appreciation. When dogs are being praised, the right hemisphere of their brains is activated. Praise activates a dog's reward center, and that praise motivates them to continue following commands. 

Dogs can sometimes understand a human's words and gestures on the same level or better than 3 or 4-year-olds. Dogs can understand up to 165 words, and they can understand what these words mean and how they should respond based on the tone they are spoken in. 

Training Dogs to Understanding Pointing


Training a dog to understand gestures such as pointing is easier than you might think. Dogs begin learning what pointing means at a young age. Service dogs can even be trained to understand a bit of sign language! 

Dogs best learn what pointing is in natural settings. When you throw a ball, point at it, and then praise your dog when he gets it. This will help him learns to understand what pointing means. 

If you want to make sure your dog picks up pointing quickly, there are a few easy things you can do. You can begin hiding treats around the house, or you can try putting two treats in two separate cups far away from each other. Point to the cup you want your dog to go to, and heavily praise him when he follows your command. 

The trick to any training is repetition, repetition, repetition! And dogs actually benefit quite a bit from being trained. It helps their brains stretch and remain active. When dogs are being trained, their brains release Oxytocin. Oxytocin brings feelings of happiness and love, which motivate your dog to continue learning new tricks. 

Training helps dogs understand more human body language and more words. When training is fun for dogs, they associate learning new things with having more fun. It also makes dogs feel less anxious because they are able to engage and understand you better. A dog's intelligence can be developed through more and more training. This will help them lead a happier life, and it will make your life with your pup playful and peaceful. 

You can train your dog to understand pointing with simple rewards and praise. To teach your dog how to use pointing to help them search for things, just continue the training and complicate it a bit. You can do this by hiding treats in unknown spots.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Written by a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/02/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.