- About 31 to 53 percent of dogs are left-pawed, but the factors influencing this are not well understood.
- Left-pawedness in dogs may be influenced by left-handedness in their human owners.
- A new study investigated left-pawedness in dogs and left-handedness in their owners.
Understanding left-pawedness in dogs
Overall, about 90 percent of people are right-handed and 10 percent are left-handed (Ocklenburg, 2022). Interestingly, humans are not the only species that can be left-handed. Indeed, left-handedness (or better: left-pawedness) is much more common in many animal species than it is in humans. For example, it has been shown that about 36 percent to 46 percent of cats and 31 percent to 53 percent of dogs are left-pawed (Ocklenburg and colleagues, 2019). Scientists have tried to understand why some dogs are left-pawed and others are right-pawed. Since dogs are a domesticated species and learn many behaviors from their owners, one idea could be that left-pawedness in dogs may be influenced by left-handedness in their owners.
A new study on the influence of dog owner handedness and which paw dogs prefer
A new study, now published in the scientific journal Animal Cognition (Charlton and Frasnelli, 2023), has investigated this idea. In the study, which was authored by scientists Kimberley Charlton and Elisa Frasnelli from the University of Lincoln in the UK and the University of Trento in Italy, the handedness of dog owners, as well as the pawedness of their dogs were assessed. Overall, 60 owners and their dogs (40 pedigree dogs and 20 mixed-breed dogs) participated in the study; 50 of the owners were right-handed and 10 were left-handed. The scientists used two different tasks to determine pawedness in the 60 tested dogs: The paw test and the reach test.
- In the paw test, the owners had to put one hand behind their back and offer their other hand to their dog. It was then recorded whether the dog lifted the left or the right paw first.
- In the reach test, the owner placed a desired object (such as food or a dog toy) in an area that was out of reach for the dog. The area had to be so small that the dog could not retrieve the object with their mouth but large enough so the dog could reach the object with their paw. It was then recorded whether the dog used the left or the right paw to retrieve the object.
Left-handed dog owners are more likely to have left-pawed dogs than right-handed dog owners
The scientists found a striking effect: In the reach task, the left-handedness of the owner predicted the left-pawedness of the dog. While dogs of right-handed owners showed an overall preference to use the right paw to reach an object, dogs of left-handed owners showed an overall preference to use the left paw to reach an object. This effect was not affected by the sex, age, or neuter status of the dog. Similar results were also obtained for the paw test when the owner presented the left hand, but not the right hand.
These results clearly show that the handedness of the human owner affects which paw their dogs use. This suggests that dogs may learn to preferentially use one paw to better interact with their owner. The scientists suggested that paw preference may be an important factor when matching assistance dogs to their future owners and that dogs that have matching pawedness with their owners may have higher success as assistance dogs.
Charlton K, Frasnelli E. (2023). Does owner handedness influence paw preference in dogs? Anim Cogn, 26, 425-433.
Ocklenburg S (2022). Linkshändigkeit und Hirnasymmetrien. Eine Einführung. Berlin: Springer.
Ocklenburg S, Isparta S, Peterburs J, Papadatou-Pastou M. (2019). Paw preferences in cats and dogs: Meta-analysis. Laterality, 24, 647-677.