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  • Is your dog a lefty?

    Steve-King

    In the human world, 90% of people are right handed and 10% left handed.

    But what about dogs? A 2006 study from the University of Manchester in England showed dogs were split around 50% left pawed and around 50% right pawed, with a statistically insignificant number being ambilateral (ambidextrous). So how do you tell if your dog is right or left pawed? 

    There are various tests used to tell whether a dog has a dominant paw:

    • If your dog “shakes hands” with you, which paw does it offer you first and most often?
    • Fill a toy (for example, a Kong) with something delicious and put it in the center of the dog’s visual field. Which paw does it use to touch the toy first? Which paw does the dog use to hold the toy?
    • Put something sticky (such as peanut butter) on a dog’s nose. Which paw does the dog use to remove it?
    • Place a treat or a piece of cheese under a sofa, just beyond a dog’s reach. Which paw does it use to try and get it out?
    • Put a treat under a bowl. Which paw does the dog use to move the bowl?

    So what is the significance of being left or right pawed?

    As with humans, the left hemisphere of a dog’s brain tends to control the right side of the body and vice-versa. So how does this translate into action or response? The left hemisphere is activated when the brain is processing positive experiences associated with emotions such as happiness, affection and excitement, as well as anything familiar. The right hemisphere takes precedence when processing sadness, fear, other negative emotions and novel things. So, for example, dogs that are left pawed may show an inclination to be more aggressive towards strangers whereas right pawed dogs are more inclined to be less aroused and calmer when faced with novel stimuli or strangers. One practical application of these findings, when used with other assessment factors, is in the area of evaluating puppies who are being trained for work as guide dogs. All else being equal, right pawed dogs tend to show temperamental attributes consistent with becoming a guide dog.

    Moreover, in 2006, N.J. Branson and L.J. Rogers demonstrated that “dogs without a paw preference were more reactive to loud noises than dogs with a paw preference.” (Canis Familiaris. Journal of Comparative Psychology 120). This was followed up in 2009 by L.S. Batt and M.S. Batt (Journal of Veterinary Behavior 4) who concluded that “dogs with a paw preference were bolder and less cautious than dogs with weaker paw preferences. They were confident, less prone to arousal and anxiety, quicker to relax and become playful in new environments, and exhibited calmer responses to novel stimuli and strangers.”

    I remember filling out an extensive questionnaire from the breeder before Finn became part of our family in terms of attributes we were looking for in our dog. Maybe considering whether a puppy is right pawed, left pawed or having neither paw preference may be another factor to consider when you plan to get another dog. Food for thought anyway…