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Is your pet right-pawed or left-pawed?

Original Publication Date: March 3, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

On average, nine out of 10 people favor their right hand for tasks like writing and throwing. The majority of the rest prefer their left hand.

Less than 1 percent of the world's population is truly ambidextrous.

Animals including dogs and cats also favor one paw over the other, but south-paws occur in much higher numbers.

Researchers at the Ataturk University in Turkey found 50 percent of domestic cats studied were right-pawed, 10 percent were ambidextrous, and the remaining 40 percent favored their left paw.

Investigators at the University of Manchester in England found paw preference in dogs to be more evenly split with about 50 percent left-pawed, 50 percent right-pawed and a statistically insignificant number ambidextrous.

Interestingly, female dogs and cats are typically right paw dominant, while their male counterparts tend to be left paw dominant.

There is a reason for the interest about paw preference in animals. Canine and humans who favor the right paw or hand have more active left hemispheres of their brain, which is active when processing positive experiences associated with happiness, affection, excitement or the familiar.

The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body including left paw and hand muscles and takes precedence when processing sadness, fear, other negative emotions or novel things.

Paw preferences indicate the dogs' differential use of the left and right hemispheres of their brains and are, therefore, a window into their emotions.

Research shows being right-pawed is associated with lower arousal and calmer responses to novel stimuli and strangers. Other studies, including one by Luke Schneider of the University of Adelaide, report that dogs with a left paw preference show high levels of aggression toward strangers. L.M. Tomkins and colleague documented higher success rates of right-pawed than left-pawed dogs in training programs. Continued research may help trainers and breeders make better decisions to improve their programs.

You can test your own pet to determine if he is a righty or a lefty. Test you dog by filling a Kong toy with peanut butter. Which paw does he use to hold it still while he licks at the food? Give him a bone and see which paw holds it while he chews. Both dogs and cats can be tested by putting a treat under the edge of a couch or bookshelf. One paw will be preferred to try to retrieve the goody. Dogs and cats will also show a paw preference to remove a bit of peanut butter dabbed on top of their noses, and cats will use the dominant paw to bat at a toy with feather attached. The tests must be repeated several times (not all at one sitting) to get an accurate assessment of which paw your pet prefers.

Brain lateralization, handedness and paw preference research is expanding our knowledge relating emotion and behavior.


Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at HolisticTouchTherapy.com.