Do Dogs Look at Where You Point? What to Expect

Dogs have long been known as man’s best friend, but their ability to understand human communication goes beyond simple companionship. One intriguing aspect of canine behavior is their responsiveness to human gestures, particularly pointing. 

Have you ever wondered if your furry friend really pays attention when you point at something? 

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of dog cognition and explore the science behind their ability to follow human pointing gestures. So, do dogs look at where you point? Let’s find out.

Understanding Canine Communication

Before we delve into dogs’ ability to follow human pointing, it’s essential to understand how dogs communicate among themselves and with humans. 

Dogs use a combination of vocalizations, body language, and facial expressions to convey their emotions and intentions. 

As highly social animals, they have evolved to be exceptionally attuned to human behavior as well, making them adept at interpreting human cues.

The Pointing Experiment

The first documented study exploring dogs’ response to human pointing was conducted by Dr. Brian Hare and Dr. Michael Tomasello in 1998. 

They devised an experiment where a human would point to one of two identical cups, hiding a treat underneath it. 

The objective was to determine whether the dog would follow the human’s gesture and choose the correct cup with the hidden treat.

The results were astonishing; the majority of the dogs in the study successfully followed the pointing gesture, indicating that they could understand and interpret the human’s intention to guide them to the treat.

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Canine Perspective-Taking

To comprehend why dogs are so proficient at understanding human pointing, researchers turned their attention to the concept of perspective-taking. 

This cognitive ability allows animals to infer what others may be thinking or seeing based on visual cues. 

Studies have shown that dogs are indeed capable of perspective-taking, making them capable of understanding what a human can or cannot see, and subsequently, follow their pointing gestures.

The Role of Domestication

The domestication of dogs, which began thousands of years ago, may also play a significant role in their ability to follow human pointing. 

Throughout their co-evolution with humans, dogs underwent various genetic changes, including increased social intelligence. 

This trait might have been selected for by early human societies, favoring dogs that could better understand and respond to human cues.

Developmental Factors

Another interesting aspect of canine cognition is the developmental timeline for understanding pointing gestures. Research has shown that puppies as young as eight weeks old can already follow human pointing. 

This early proficiency suggests that the ability to understand pointing is not solely learned but has an innate component as well.

Individual Differences

While the majority of dogs demonstrate a remarkable capacity for understanding pointing, there are individual differences in this skill. Some dogs may be more responsive to pointing cues than others. 

Factors such as breed, training, and individual temperament can influence a dog’s ability to follow human gestures.

The Role of Training

Training plays a vital role in reinforcing a dog’s ability to respond to human pointing cues. Dogs that have undergone training to follow gestures and commands are likely to be more adept at understanding pointing cues. 

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Positive reinforcement training methods can be especially effective in strengthening this ability and enhancing the human-canine bond.

Communication Beyond Pointing

Understanding human pointing is just one aspect of the intricate communication system that exists between dogs and humans. 

Dogs can also interpret other human gestures, such as nodding, gesturing with their hands, and even gaze direction. This remarkable ability highlights the depth of the human-dog relationship.

The Neuroscientific Perspective

Neuroscientists have also delved into the fascinating world of canine cognition. 

Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that certain areas of a dog’s brain become activated when they receive human gestures, further confirming their ability to understand and respond to these cues.

Practical Applications

The knowledge of dogs’ ability to follow human pointing has practical applications in various fields, including dog training, service dog training, and animal-assisted therapy. 

Understanding how dogs interpret and respond to human cues can enhance the effectiveness of training programs and improve the overall welfare of these animals.


In conclusion, the answer to the question “Do dogs look at where you point?” is a resounding yes. Dogs possess a remarkable ability to understand and follow human pointing gestures, a skill that likely evolved over thousands of years of domestication and coexistence with humans. 

Their capacity for perspective-taking and social intelligence sets them apart as one of the most communicative and understanding species in the animal kingdom.

Next time you point at something, take a moment to appreciate the incredible cognitive connection you share with your canine companion. 

It is yet another reason to cherish the unique bond between humans and dogs—a bond built on trust, understanding, and unconditional love.