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Use Point Training to Communicate with Your Puppy

Point training, which involves directing your puppy with the point of your finger, enables you to be in constant communication with your puppy. Hand signals also quickly increase your puppy’s visual awareness and dependency on you. Your finger can be a helpful training tool for your puppy — and it’s one that you don’t have to shell out any money for!

Have you noticed how much your puppy looks to you for guidance? Young puppies check in throughout the day for some simple directional cues. If you ignore this opportunity to give her direction, your puppy may grow up thinking that you need help with everyday decisions.

Point training your puppy makes the difference between raising a puppy who feels included in day-to-day activities and one who feels ignored. Pointing quickly enhances a puppy’s understanding of all directions, from “Sit” to “Come” to “Go say hello.” It even helps shy puppies overcome inhibition and helps aggressive puppies get in check.

To teach your puppy point training, you have to follow three phases in order to achieve your end result. The first two phases use food as an incentive, and the third works to wean the puppy off treat dependence. The whole process takes ten days to two weeks.

Phase A: Instant gratification

In Phase A you introduce the point signal to your puppy. Though your long-term goal is for your puppy to follow your signals without needing food rewards, this first step rewards her instantly every step of the way. Follow these steps:

  1. Place or line up ten treats on a high table.

  2. Tuck one treat into the palm of your hand.

  3. Hold your pointed index finger 1 inch from your puppy’s nose.

  4. Use either a clicker or marker word (such as “Yes”) to highlight the moment your puppy alerts to the point of your finger. Flip your hand around to reveal the snack.

  5. Repeat this simple exercise until all the treats are gone.

    [Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake]
    Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake

After you get through the first ten treats, vary the format just slightly. Hold your hand farther away from your puppy’s nose and have her touch your finger twice before relinquishing the treat. Signal your puppy into a “Sit” or “Down” position, treating her the moment she moves into position.

Keep the lessons short and snappy, practicing one to four times each day for five to ten minutes.

Phase B: Delayed gratification

Follow the steps as in Phase A, but instead of holding the treats in your hand, place them in your pocket or leave them on the shelf. Your puppy will experience an obvious delay in the time it takes you to reach the treat, which in turn will pique her curiosity and awareness of your presence. Vary the duration of this pause to increase her focus. The big lesson for your puppy here is patience.

Begin the same way as in Step 1 of Phase A. Then hold a treat in front of you and vary the position. Begin to use your pointer finger to direct your puppy’s position by, for example, pointing above her head for sit, to her bed to encourage her to lie down, and to your feet when you’re encouraging her to come to you.

Phase C: Gradually phasing out treats

Indiscriminately phase out rewarding each point, and integrate pointing into your daily direction. Going upstairs? Point the way. Releasing your puppy to greet someone? Pointing a “Go say hello” at your puppy’s eye level will further discourage jumping. Sending your puppy to her crate or bed? Keep on pointing. Each time your puppy cooperates, praise her cheerfully.

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