Is Your Dog a Lefty?
Have you ever wondered if dogs have a paw preference?
The vast majority of humans favor one hand over the other. Is that just a human thing or do dogs have a similar preference?
What the Research Says
It seems to depend on the dog. Dogs are pretty evenly divided between dogs that are right-pawed, dogs that are left-pawed, and dogs that have no preference at all. Quite a contrast to the human population, which most estimates put at nearly 90 percent right-handed, about 10 percent left-handed, and only 1 percent being fully ambidextrous.
How can I tell if my dog has a paw preference?
There are a few easy tests you can do to see if your dog has a paw preference. One is to teach him to “shake.” Does he hold one paw out more often than the other?
You can also give him a toy with food in it. Which paw does he use to hold the toy? Or, hide a toy under a cushion or a piece of furniture and see which paw he uses to try to get the toy.
You should try these tests multiple times to get a good sense of your dog’s paw preference. If you don’t notice a distinct pattern, it’s a good indication your dog is neither right- nor left-pawed.
There is also a theory that male dogs tend to be left-pawed, that female dogs tend to be right-pawed, and that “fixed” dogs have no tendency either way. Breed doesn’t seem to make any difference.
Does it matter?
Aside from satisfying your curiosity, does it matter if your dog has a paw preference? For starters, it can help you know your dog better. If you keep trying to get your dog to shake his right paw, and he invariably gives you his left paw, then reward him and shake his left paw. It can be just as hard for him to use his non-dominant paw as it is for you to use your non-dominant hand.
There is some evidence that left-pawed dogs may be more aggressive, particularly toward people they don’t know, than right-pawed dogs. This seemed to be supported by the fact that many dogs that wash out as guide dogs do so because of aggression—and the majority of these dogs are left-pawed. But so many other factors lead to aggression it’s unlikely paw preference is the only cause.
Another tendency was dogs that had a strong paw preference (whether it was right or left) weren’t as “cautious” as dogs that were ambivalent about paw choice. Dogs with a dominant paw are more confident, not as prone to anxiety, and adapt more quickly to new situations.
It doesn’t really matter if your dog is right-pawed, left-pawed, or has no paw preference. What matters is that you pay attention to your dog. If he is strongly right-pawed, respect that preference and don’t try to change him. “Pawedness”, or a lack thereof, is as much a part of your dog as any other physical or emotional trait: just love him for the dog that he is and shake his paw—whichever one he offers.