Just like humans can be either left-handed, right-handed or ambidextrous, dogs have similar attributes. Well, left-pawed, right-pawed or ambi-pawed, that is! Humans measure their dexterity by which hand they use most for normal tasks like writing, holding their utensils to eat, or throwing a ball. Dogs are measured by which paw they use for motor tasks, meaning tasks that involved them using their muscles.
Is Your Dog a Righty or a Lefty?
Have you ever noticed that when you ask your dog to shake or “give paw” they start by handing you the same paw? How about when they are about to walk up a flight of stairs and start with a certain paw first? Unlike humans though, dogs can change their paw preference for different tasks. However, they will consistently use the same paw for the same task over time.
Paw Preference Study
Deborah Wells and her colleagues at the Animal Behaviour Center, Queen’s University in Belfast did a study where they tested 32 pet dogs with 4 different tasks involving the use of their paws. In addition to the initial test, she tested them 6 months later to make sure nothing had changed. The first test she conducted was called the Kong Ball Test. This test was performed to see which paw a dog used to stabilize a Kong toy that was filled with treats. The second test was called the Tape Test where a small piece of tape was placed on the dog’s noses and the team studied which paw they used to try to remove the tape. The third was the Lift Paw Test where the dogs were asked to shake or give paw, and they noted which paw the dog lifted first. The last test was the First-Step Test where they assessed which paw the dog used when walking down a step. Wells and her team noticed that dogs showed a consistent paw preference that is actually specific to the task. This meant that a dog could use different paws for different tests, but when repeating the same test they would revert back to using the same paw.
The choice of which paw a dog will use is controlled by the hemispheres of their brains. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls of the left. Various behaviorists suggested that a dog’s temperament and behavior could potentially be correlated to which paw they preferred using. Some studies, like the one titled “Temperament and lateralization in domestic dogs” have gone so far as to say that dogs that are ambilateral (use their right and left paws equally) exhibit less aggression towards strangers. On the other hand, left-pawed dogs showed the most stranger aggression. However, other than aggression towards strangers, there were no other temperament behaviors that could be related to paw preference.
What paw does your dog use the most for their activities? Pay close attention the next time you give your dog a toy to play with, and see which paw they use to hold their toy in place. Is this the same or different paw than they use to take their first step up or downstairs? Share what you find with us by tagging us in a picture of their best "shake" on Instagram!