The results are in: a dog owner’s handedness may, in fact, influence paw preference in their dog.
Testing paw preference in 62 dogs over the span of 10 days using a Paw Task (‘give paw’) and a Reach Task (retrieve an object from under a piece of furniture), produced incredible findings, which have been recently published in the March 2023 issue of the research journal, Animal Cognition.
Left-handed owners were significantly more likely to have a dog with a left paw bias, and right-handed owners were significantly more likely to have a dog with a right paw bias.
Whether or not a dog has a left paw bias or right paw bias is more than just an interesting topic of conversation over dinner. There are real-world applications where strong lateralization (a.k.a. paw preference) can be beneficial when it comes to compatibility and training.
Assistance Dog Work
A dog’s paw preference could potentially be used to assess the animal’s suitability for assistance work. For instance, there’s an association between a strong paw preference and the success of guide dog training (Batt et al. 2008; Tomkins et al. 2010). Of special note, there is a correlation between left paw laterality and increased performance in dogs when it comes to tasks involving moving forward, searching, and finding objects (Van Alphen et al. 2005).
With this in mind, guide dog organizations could potentially optimize a dog’s success during its training regimen by knowing a dog’s paw preference. A dog’s paw preference could also be used in pairing a guide dog with a left- or right-handed owner as needed.
A 2014 study showed that weak paw preference makes a dog more likely to be distracted in agility training (Siniscalchi et al. 2014).
For dog owners who compete in sports such as agility, flyball, obedience, and more, understanding a dog’s paw preference and helping to foster strong lateralization may increase success during training, as strong lateralization has shown to be beneficial in improving the efficiency of behaviors (Rogers et al. 2013).
How to Test Your Dog’s Paw Preference
There are two tasks you can test on your dog to determine their paw preference.
The first is called a ‘Paw Task.’ In this task, seat your dog in front of you. (Ensure that your dog is sitting down symmetrically to prevent motor bias through uneven weight distribution.) Stand in front of your dog with both hands behind your back. Then offer one hand to your dog, flat and palm upwards, keeping your arm central to your body. Repeat this process with your other hand. Take note of which paw your dog first lifts toward your hand each time. This task can be done twice a day. Over a period of a few days, randomly alternate which hand you present to your dog first. Afterward, take a look at your results to determine your dog’s paw preference.
The second task is called a ‘Reach Task.’ In this task, place a desired object (such as a toy) in an out-of-reach area that’s small enough to prevent your dog from retrieving the object with its mouth but large enough for the dog to retrieve the object with their paw (e.g. the underside of a low couch or chair). Step away from the furniture and allow your dog to interact with the object. Take note of the paw that’s first used by the dog to trieve the object. This task can be done once a day for a few days. Afterward, take a look at your results to determine your dog’s paw preference.
How Do People Choose Their Dominant Hand?
The question of why some people are left-handed and others are right-handed has fascinated scientists and laypeople alike for centuries. It is estimated that around 90% of the world’s population is right-handed, while the remaining 10% are left-handed or ambidextrous. But how do people choose their dominant hand? Is it genetic or learned? Let’s explore the current understanding of this phenomenon.
Research has shown that handedness does have a genetic component. Studies have found that if both parents are left-handed, there is a 26% chance that their child will also be left-handed. However, if only one parent is left-handed, the chance drops to 8%. If neither parent is left-handed, the chance of having a left-handed child drops to 4%.
Interestingly, scientists have identified a gene called LRRTM1 that may play a role in determining handedness. This gene has been linked to left-handedness in several studies, and it is thought to affect the development of the language areas of the brain. However, it is not the only gene involved in handedness, and researchers believe that multiple genes are likely to be involved.
Another theory for why people choose their dominant hand is related to brain lateralization. This refers to the fact that different functions of the brain are often associated with specific sides of the brain. For example, language processing is usually located in the left hemisphere of the brain, while spatial processing is often located in the right hemisphere.
Some researchers believe that the preference for one hand over the other may be related to the dominant hemisphere of the brain. In most people, the left hemisphere of the brain is dominant for language, and the right hemisphere is dominant for spatial processing. As a result, most people use their right hand for tasks that require fine motor skills and language, while the left hand is used for tasks that require strength and spatial processing.
While genetics and brain lateralization play a role in handedness, it is also influenced by learned behavior. In childhood, children often mimic the hand preference of their parents or peers. If a child grows up in a family of left-handers, they are more likely to become left-handed themselves.
However, there are also cases where a child may have a genetic predisposition for left-handedness but is forced to use their right hand due to cultural or societal pressure. For example, in some cultures, left-handedness is considered unlucky or even evil, and children may be forced to use their right hand.
In conclusion, the preference for one hand over the other is likely influenced by a combination of genetics, brain lateralization, and learned behavior. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, researchers continue to study this fascinating topic. Ultimately, whether someone is left-handed, right-handed, or ambidextrous, it is important to celebrate and support their unique abilities and talents.
Study featured in article: Does owner handedness influence paw preference in dogs?
Charlton, K., Frasnelli, E. Does owner handedness influence paw preference in dogs?. Anim Cogn 26, 425–433 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-022-01673-x