Although pointing is a common characteristic in dogs, not all dog’s point. Typically, dogs that point also have a high prey drive. In other words, hunting dogs are more likely to point than non-hunting dogs. This includes breeds such as Weimaraners and Irish Setters.
Have you ever seen your dog looking off into the distance with one paw raised? It’s like they’re so focused on something that no one else can see or hear.
You can be playing with your dog outside, when suddenly your dog stays perfectly still, unwilling to move.
This is known as pointing and happens when a dog stops all motion and attempts to point their nose in a specific direction. When pointing, they will often lift their front paw. The direction of their head indicates to their owner where they want you to focus your attention.
As you can imagine, this is especially helpful to hunters.
Pointing and Hunting
Hunting dog’s point to indicate that they have found something of interest, such as a nearby animal. Some breeds are more accustomed to this, as they have been bred to spot prey. Retrievers and Spaniels are more likely to develop this behavior.
Hunting breeds cover a large variety of dogs that have the instincts to point, retrieve, and flush out game from wherever it was hiding.
Although it’s possible to teach any breed to get into pointing posture, not all breeds are instinctually driven to point at suspected prey.
Common Pointing (Bird Dog) Breeds
The English and Irish Setter breeds are naturally geared towards pointing, as well as Terriers, German Longhaired, Wirehaired, and Weimaraners.
They each have unique characteristics and builds which make them ideal for the athleticism of hunting and navigating the wilderness. They also tend to be very loyal to their owner and are good at working with them to accomplish tasks.
This is not to say that other dogs are not athletic or unable to take on the same challenging task of pointing and hunting, but it does not come as naturally as dogs who were bred and raised for it.
The History of Pointing
Europeans trained dogs to search for game and then stop completely and point once the prey was located. The direction the dog’s face was pointed would let the hunter know where the game was.
Pointing dogs are also referred to as bird dogs because they would alert their owner of nearby birds. This skill made dogs useful companions and is one of the many reasons they’re considered “man’s best friend.”
…but you might wonder why some dogs continue to point even though their owners don’t hunt.
The simple answer is instincts! This instinct can also be seen when your dog catches a lizard, mouse, or bird and then brings it to you.
They present the animal to you to be useful and feel as if they are helping to assist you as their owner.
What is Pointing Supposed to Look Like?
Proper pointing looks intense! Your dog may go from walking by your side to standing still and pointing their nose sharply in a specific direction.
One of their front paws might also be lifted, and the dog’s tail will probably point up or straight out. It’s a beautiful but intense posture.
Why Do Some Dogs Raise Their Paw
There are a few theories on why some dogs raise their paw when pointing. It may be that the dog is ready to chase the prey they’ve spotted. Having one paw in the air gives them the ability to quickly take off and pursue if needed.
Another theory is that they’re trying to make as little noise as possible, so they don’t scare off the prey. The dog may have spotted the prey mid-step, so they stay perfectly still and leave their paw in the air.
What Distance Can a Pointing Dog Spot Prey?
A dog will likely be able to spot or smell their game from a larger distance than humans. This is why it often appears as though your dog is staring at nothing.
The hunter may ask the dog to relocate if they cannot find what they are gesturing to.
The amazing thing about pointing dogs is they quickly learn that their owners can’t see or smell the prey from the same distance they can. They’ll eventually learn to get closer to the prey before pointing.
Is Pointing Based on Sight or Scent
You may notice your dog pointing at something you are unable to see. This may be because the animal or object they are directing you toward is hidden, but more often than not, it’s because the dog is pointing toward the scent of an animal.
Puppies rely more on their sight to point, but as they grow older, their sense of smell matures, and they can determine what’s ahead based on scent.
Can Dogs Lose The Instinct to Point
If your dog used to point but no longer does, it’s probably because they were never rewarded for pointing. Hunting dogs rarely lose the instinct to point because they’re rewarded by chasing the prey. A domesticated house dog may point the first few years of life, but may eventually lose the instinct because there’s no reward associated with it.
Can You Train a Dog to Point?
Yes, dogs can be trained to point. Like most habits you’re trying to teach a dog, reinforcement plays a crucial role. If your dog is naturally inclined to point, teaching them to point on command is a simple process.
However, it may be difficult to teach pointing without a foundation of other commands. Once your dog obeys commands like sitting, staying, or concentrating on you, you can then move on to teaching them how to point.
Does Your Dog Point?
Pointing is a beautiful posture that some dogs take on. For owners who take their dog hunting, pointing can be a tremendous help. If your dog points but never goes hunting, still praise your dog when they get in this position. After all, the only reason they’re doing it is to make you happy!
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