By Nancy Cope
Have you ever wondered if your dog is right-pawed or left-pawed (i.e., a “southpaw”)? Most dogs exhibit a paw preference and dominantly use either their right or left paw, just like humans favor either their left or right hand.
What the studies say
According to the people who research such things, animals are similar to humans. The majority of animals are right-handers. A much smaller percentage are left-handers. And quite a few dogs are ambidextrous or they can use both paws equally.
In one study of 28 dogs, 57.1 percent preferred to use their right paw; 17.9 percent preferred to use their left paw, and 25 percent were ambidextrous.
There appears to be some suggestion that male dogs are a little more likely to be left-pawed than females.
Paw preference and behavior
Some researchers have speculated that there is a connection between paw preference and behavior. Findings from at least one study suggest that dogs that are ambidextrous are more likely to be reactive to noise from fireworks and thunderstorms.
This theory has been suggested as a way to screen them before training them for bomb sniffing, guide dog work, and other programs which have a high rate of failure. Animals that react to this kind of stimuli would not be good candidates for these programs if the theory is correct.
Testing your dog
You can test your own pooch and discover his paw preference in several ways:
* Put a treat under your sofa and see which paw he or she uses to try to reach it;
* Give your pet a bone and see which paw he uses to hold it when he chews on it;
* Put a piece of tape on your dog’s muzzle for a moment and see which paw he uses to try to remove it;
* See which paw your pooch normally uses when he steps forward;
* Put a Kong filled with treats in front of your pet and see which paw he uses to try to get the treats out.
These are all good ways to determine which paw your dog prefers to use. Have fun and see what you learn about your pet. And be sure to take care of your pup’s paws. After all, they put in a lot of miles.
Right brain and left brain
Other studies suggest that dogs have the same right brain-left brain reactions that humans do. Their left brain controls the right side of their body, while the right brain controls the left side of the body.
Studies have shown that they react by wagging their tails to the right when they are happy and they wag their tails to the left when they are apprehensive. (You can try this at home. Your dog should wag his tail to the right when he sees you but if he sees something that scares him, he should wag his tail to the left.) This is because with dogs (and humans) the left brain is associated with love, safety, and bonding. The right brain handles things like fear.
Does this explain why dogs or people are left or right-handed? Who knows? But it’s something else to ponder when you watch your dog.
Nancy Cope is the owner of four rescue dogs and Pampered Dog Gifts.