Do All Dogs Point? (Is It Natural or Trained Behavior?)

Dogs have a variety of innate behaviors that showcase their incredible skills and instincts. One such behavior is pointing, which is typically observed in hunting breeds but can also be seen in other dogs.

The act of pointing occurs when a dog becomes motionless with its snout directed towards an object or prey, often accompanied by a raised paw. This behavior has a deep-rooted history and serves as a vital aspect of some dogs’ natural abilities.

While pointing is largely recognized in hunting and bird dog breeds, it’s fascinating to consider whether all dogs possess this instinct. The presence of pointing behavior in non-hunting breeds raises questions about the adaptability of this trait and whether it can be taught or strengthened through training.

By delving into the history and functions of pointing in dogs, we can better understand the origins of this captivating behavior and its significance in canine-human partnerships.

History of dog pointing behavior

Origin of pointing

The act of pointing in dogs can be traced back to their ancestor’s natural hunting instincts. When a dog “points,” it freezes its body, often lifting one front paw, and aims its nose at a specific spot to draw attention to something and notify its owner of where to look. This behavior has been observed in wild canines like wolves, where they would point out prey to their pack members.

Pointing development through breeding

Over the years, selective breeding has played a significant role in enhancing the pointing behavior, especially in hunting dogs. European hunters began breeding dogs with a heightened ability to sniff out birds and “freeze” in a pointing position. This pointing behavior allowed hunters to locate where to throw their nets or aim their firearms during a hunt.

As a result of this breeding process, various dog breeds have been specifically developed to excel at pointing. Examples of such breeds include the English Pointer, German Shorthaired Pointer, and the Weimaraner, among others.

While pointing is more prominent in hunting breeds, it is not limited to them. Non-hunting breeds can also exhibit pointing behaviors for various reasons, as it helps dogs work in tandem as a team with their handlers. It is essential to understand that pointing is an innate behavior in dogs that can be trained and developed further to create a stronger bond between the dog and its owner.

How dogs point: The mechanics

Body language

Dogs have a unique way of communicating, and one of these ways is through pointing. When a dog points, it typically stands motionless, with its nose thrust forward at the strongest scent, while lifting one front foot bent upwards and tail directed towards the sky. This body language indicates that the dog has detected something of interest, such as a nearby animal or prey. Though not all breeds are equally prone to pointing behavior, certain breeds, like Retrievers and Spaniels, are more likely to develop it due to their hunting instincts.

Use of scent

Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell, which plays a significant role in their ability to point. Their powerful olfactory system allows them to detect even the slightest scents, enabling them to locate prey or other objects of interest. When a dog picks up a strong scent, it will often focus intently on the source of the smell and exhibit the characteristic pointing stance. This ability to pick up and respond to scents is what makes dogs such excellent hunters, particularly when it comes to tracking and locating game.

In conclusion, dogs use a combination of their natural body language and keen sense of smell to effectively point at objects or animals of interest. Breeds with a strong hunting background are more likely to display this behavior, though it is not limited to these specific breeds alone.

Dog breeds known for pointing

When discussing dog breeds and their behaviors, one might wonder if all dogs point, and which breeds are known for this behavior. While many dogs can exhibit pointing behavior, certain breeds are more likely to display this characteristic.

Sporting breeds

The most notable pointer dog breeds are sporting breeds, as they have been specifically bred to help hunters locate game birds. Some popular sporting breeds known for their pointing abilities include the English Pointer, Weimaraner, Brittany, German Shorthaired Pointer, and the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. These breeds have a strong hunting instinct and are able to locate and point to the direction of their target, usually game birds, with their bodies and muzzle. They remain motionless in this position until their handler approaches the prey.

  • English Pointer: Known for its keen hunting instincts and elegant posture, the English Pointer is the epitome of a pointer dog. It is efficient in pointing upland game birds and does so with grace and precision.
  • Weimaraner: These striking gray dogs are excellent pointers, as they combine their exceptional speed and tracking skills to find game birds.
  • Brittany: Originally considered a spaniel, the Brittany is actually a pointing breed. It is a versatile hunting dog that can locate and point to birds in various terrain.
A brown and white short haired pointer holding point in a field of stubble

Non-sporting breeds

Although pointing is most commonly associated with sporting breeds, some non-sporting breeds may also exhibit this behavior. This is typically due to their high prey drive, which can cause them to instinctively point at birds, squirrels, or rabbits. However, it should be noted that this behavior is not as refined or purposeful as it is in sporting breeds.

For example, some terriers may exhibit pointing behavior when they sense the presence of potential prey – like rodents or small animals. Similarly, certain herding breeds like the Border Collie may display pointing tendencies when stalking or herding livestock.

It’s important to remember that not all dogs point, and those that do may have different reasons or natural instincts behind their behavior. Whether sporting or non-sporting, the ability and inclination to point varies among breeds and individual dogs.

Training your dog to point

Positive reinforcement

Training your dog to point starts with positive reinforcement. When your dog naturally shows a pointing stance, such as freezing their body and aiming their nose at a particular spot, make sure to reward them immediately with praise or treats. This will help your dog associate the pointing behavior with positive outcomes, making it more likely for the dog to repeat the action in the future. Remember that dogs can be trained to point, especially if they have a natural inclination to do so.

Consistency and patience

Consistency is key when teaching your dog to point on command. Always use the same command, such as “point” or “mark,” followed by rewarding the desired behavior. Be patient and persistent, as it might take some time for your dog to consistently perform the pointing act on command.

It’s essential to keep in mind that not every dog breed is likely to point, so you may need extra patience when dealing with a non-hunting breed. However, these breeds can also learn the behavior if you’re consistent in your training.

Training sessions should be short and frequent, as dogs can become tired and bored with long training periods. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes per session is usually sufficient.

To help your dog develop a strong pointing behavior, you can also practice by using a check rope as suggested by Gun Dog’s article. Attach the check rope to your dog’s collar, run it down their back, and then take a half hitch around their flank, leaving the remainder to drag behind. Use the “whoa” command while pulling the check rope, enforcing the pointing stance and then releasing your dog to continue their “hunt.”

Remember that training a dog to point takes time and dedication, so be prepared to invest both effort and patience into the process. With consistent positive reinforcement and perseverance, your dog will eventually learn to point on command, making you a successful and proud dog trainer.

Applications of pointing in modern dog activities

Pointing is a natural instinct in many dog breeds, and it has various applications in modern dog activities.


In hunting, pointing dogs play a crucial role in identifying and “pointing” out the prey for hunters. These breeds, such as the Gordon Setter and Vizsla, are trained to freeze in place and lift a paw when they detect the scent of the target animal, indicating its location to the hunter. These dogs have exceptional scent-tracking abilities and can locate prey from a significant distance.

Dog sports

Pointing is also a valuable skill in dog sports, such as field trials and retriever competitions, where dogs are assessed based on their pointing abilities and teamwork with their handlers. These events often include flushing and retrieving exercises, and a well-trained pointing dog can quickly locate, point, and retrieve the target object, showcasing their agility, speed, and accuracy.

Search and rescue

In search and rescue missions, the pointing instinct of certain dog breeds can be incredibly helpful in locating missing persons, detecting disaster survivors, or finding illegal substances. These dogs rely on their acute scent-tracking skills to locate their target, often following a trail of scent invisible to human observers. When the dog has identified the target’s location, they will “point” to it, allowing the search team to focus their efforts and significantly increase the chances of a successful outcome.

Frequently asked questions

Why do dogs lift a paw?

Dogs lift a paw, also known as pointing, to draw attention to a particular spot and notify their handler of what they’ve found. This behavior is most commonly seen in hunting dogs, where they assist their handlers in locating game. When a dog points, it will freeze its body and aim its nose at a specific location, often lifting one front paw in the process.

Is pointing genetic?

Pointing is indeed a genetic trait, more commonly found in certain dog breeds, particularly in sporting and hunting breeds. However, some non-hunting breeds may also display this behavior occasionally, but it might not be as pronounced or frequent as in hunting breeds

What breeds are pointers?

Some well-known breeds that are specifically known for their pointing abilities include the Pointer, English Setter, German Shorthaired Pointer, and Vizsla. These breeds have a strong instinct for pointing and have been selectively bred over generations for their hunting and pointing skills.

Can any dog point?

While pointing is a natural instinct in some breeds, other dogs can also be trained to point. Training a dog to point on command may be a simple process if the dog has a natural inclination for it. However, it could be more challenging for dogs that do not have a natural tendency to point. Building a foundation of other commands and using positive reinforcement is crucial in teaching a dog to point.

Do hounds point?

Some hounds, such as the American English Coonhound, can exhibit pointing behavior, but it’s not as common as in breeds specifically known as pointers. Hounds are primarily bred for their ability to track scents, and their primary focus tends to be on following their nose rather than pointing at the prey.

Do terriers point?

Terriers are not typically known for pointing behavior, as these breeds had been developed for different tasks such as hunting rodents and vermin. However, individual terriers may occasionally display pointing behavior depending on their personality or training, but it is not a common characteristic in terriers as a group.

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