How to Tell if Your Pet is Right Pawed or Left Pawed

By Julia Williams

Statistically, about 90% of humans are right-handed and 10% are left-handed. Very few people are naturally ambidextrous, i.e., adept at using both hands.  Last year, I was not able to use my right hand for a few weeks and discovered just how difficult it can be to use your non-dominant hand. Simple everyday tasks like brushing my teeth and cutting up vegetables became almost an exercise in futility. They could be done, but not easily.

So when I read recently that studies suggest dogs and cats also have a “dominant paw” (or paw preference) for certain tasks, I was intrigued. The research indicated that the left paw/right paw division is more evenly distributed than with humans – a dog’s paw preference was split fifty-fifty while cats were 50% right-pawed, 40% left-pawed and 10% ambidextrous.

Moreover, there’s even a DIY test developed by Dr. Stefanie Schwartz of the Veterinary Neurology Center in California, which you can do yourself to determine if your pet is right or left pawed! The catch is that you have to repeat the test 100 times. For me personally, this means that although I am curious about the paw preferences of my three cats, I’ve not taken the time to test any of them. Maybe someday when I don’t have to do things like work, eat and sleep, I will. Oh, and I’d also need to have a great deal more patience, which I’d surely need to test three willful felines who typically won’t do anything I ask them to. However, if you really want to figure out the paw preference of your own dog or cat, read on.

How to Determine If Your Pet is a Rightie or a Leftie

● Fill a treat-dispensing toy with something tasty (like CANIDAE Pure treats!) and put it in the center of your pet’s visual field. Which paw does he use to touch the toy first? Which paw does he use to hold the toy or try to get the treats out?

● Put something sticky on your pet’s nose. Which paw does he use to remove it?

● Place a treat under a sofa, just beyond your dog or cat’s reach. Which paw does your pet use to try and get it out?

● When you teach a dog to shake, which paw does it offer you first, and most often?

● Which paw does your cat use to bat a dangled toy?

● Put a treat under a bowl. Which paw does your dog or cat use to move it?

● When a dog wants in from outdoors, which paw does he “knock” with?

According to Dr. Schwartz, there are some things that might alter the test results, such as: when a pet has arthritis or an injury in a shoulder or leg, it could use the other to compensate. Also, when a cat really wants something, tests show that the feline uses her dominant paw, but when it’s just “fooling around” it may use either or both paws.

Are Leftie Dogs More Aggressive?

Researchers in Australia wanted to see if there were differences in the emotional responses of right and left pawed dogs, so they conducted a study using 73 pet dogs as their subjects. While the study didn’t find major differences between left and right pawed dogs for most emotional behaviors, the results were different regarding aggressive responses dogs are apt to make toward unfamiliar people.

According to the study, left pawed dogs were more likely to show such stranger-directed aggression. This is interesting given that studies of humans suggest left-handed people are more likely to react with negative emotions and sometimes aggression than right-handed people.

In the end, our pets probably do not care whether they are right pawed, left pawed or ambidextrous. It certainly doesn’t seem to have any effect on their quality of life. Still, one day I just might put my cats to the test – if nothing more than to satisfy idle curiosity. What about you?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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