Do Dogs Understand When You Point

Do you know the only two creatures on the entire planet that have been proven to understand the gesture of pointing? The answer is humans and dogs. Growing up around dogs and working as a professional trainer and behaviorist, I have long known that most dogs understand the gesture, but I recently read an article in TIME magazine that really surprised me. It showed research that had proven that even chimpanzees with their incredibly advanced brain and almost human like behaviors didn’t understand when humans pointed at something. This is pretty surprising considering one chimp has mastered 240 words with sign language. What explains this phenomenon? The answer is not that dogs are smarter, it lies in how they apply their brain. Dogs are naturally social creatures that crave interaction with other dogs and especially with humans. As they evolved, the most social dog was the most likely to reproduce since he would get favorable treatment from humans. This has given us a species that from birth can understand human gestures that even other primates don’t comprehend. I hope that this shows you the importance of using body language when training your dog. Weak body language shows the dog that he can push you around and strong body language shows the opposite. I also frequently see situations where a humans body language confuses a dog and makes the situation worse. One example is when someone tells a dog to come as they walk towards the dog. This is a clear indicator to the dog to stay where he is (when the alpha approaches they typically stay in position or lower themselves to the ground). So the next time you are having issues with your dog ask yourself, is my body saying the same thing that my mouth is?

Matt Covey
Suburban K-9
Elgin, Il