Thursday, May 27, 2010
By Ruthie Bently
I never considered that my dog might favor one foot over the other until I noticed it firsthand. Just as humans have a dominant hand and are either right or left-handed, so do our pets. Dogs have a dominant foot, either right or left. I first became interested one day watching Skye climb the attic stairs; she always began (led) with her left foot. This made me wonder if she favored one foot over the other, so I watched her and found out that she did. When we are outside playing and I toss her ball, she goes racing up to it and hits it with her left foot first to get it to spin. When she is investigating something in the yard and wants to turn it over, she uses her left foot.
That made me curious as to how many other dogs are right or left-pawed, what the percentage of right over left might be, and if there were there any ambidextrous dogs. According to one report I read from 2001, dogs are about 80% right footed and 20% left footed. According to a study conducted by psychologists of Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, female dogs are right-footed and males are left-footed until they are spayed or neutered. Then the report says the differences disappear and it further suggests that hormones play a part in whether a dog is right or left-footed. That theory goes out the window with Skye. She is spayed and she is definitely a left-footed dog.
Using one paw in favor of the other is called lateralization, and until recently most scientists thought our animals were ambidextrous. Now they are finding that we are not the only species on the planet to favor one hand (or paw) over the other. It is believed that favoring one foot over the other improves an animal’s chances to find a mate, forage for food or escape predators. Do our left-footed companions suffer from the same stigmas as left-handed people used to? Not according to the faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. They say left-pawed dogs are favored for training as guide and police dogs.
So how do you discover if your dog is right or left-pawed? Here is a test to help you find out. You need a tube and several dog treats. The tube can be made of either cardboard or plastic; I used the tube from a roll of gift wrap. It should be wide enough for your dog to reach into with their paw but not their head. I tried this test and used CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ which worked great. Put the treat in the end of the tube and hold the tube out to your dog, making sure they can see the treat. Encourage them to get the treat. Do this test three times with three treats. If your dog is afraid of the tube, try setting the treat about six inches in from the edge of a piece of furniture within your pet’s reach, and watch what happens. Which paw does your pet use to reach for the treat?
If your dog uses their right paw most of the time, they are probably right-footed. If your dog uses their left paw most of the time, they are left-footed. If they don’t seem to have a preference and use both paws to reach the treat, they are probably ambidextrous. I am sure there will be more research into this subject in the future. It is also thought that the research done so far will further dog training and the appropriate age to train a dog (as it refers to being right or left-footed), as well as improving the bond between people and their dogs.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently