Nowadays, any article covering the connection between dogs and humans is sure to contain a sentence like this one from The New York Times: “dogs read our gestures, like pointing, more flexibly than any other animal.”
This little phenomenon—dog attention to our gestures—deserves much more than a passing sentence. How dogs respond to our gestures has attracted considerable attention from research groups around the globe because it seems to be one of the core, underlying features of our relationship with dogs. Pointing has received so much attention that research groups studying dog social cognition could easily be renamed “Pointing Centers.”
Think about it: humans communicate with particular gestures, and in return, dogs can attend to and respond to these gestures. Dear goodness it must be a match made in heaven! But this is really just the beginning of the story.
In ‘What’s the Point?’ my article in this summer’s issue of The Bark magazine, I review (1) why we care how dogs attend to this gesture, (2) what causes dogs to attend to this gesture (the nature/nurture questions), and (3) what does it mean to be a dog who understands pointing (it doesn’t necessarily mean for them what it means for us).
While of course I recommend you pick up a copy of the current Bark — which includes great pieces on fear-aggression (Nicholas Dodman), training scent-detection dogs (Cat Warren), complicated pit bulls (Bronwen Dickey), whether our dogs make us more appealing (Karen London), and more — my article, 'What’s the Point' is available online here for all.