Is There Such a Thing as Dogs Having a Paw Preference?

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For the most part, humans prefer one hand over the other, with 90 percent of the world favoring their right one.

But can the same be said for dogs?

Research has shown that dogs do prefer one paw over the other for certain activities. There have been studies examining what paw was used for things like reaching for food, giving a paw, removing something off of them and what paw dogs use first when going up the stairs.

But all these studies were performed focusing on a single task, not multiple ones. Researcher Deborah Wells wanted to see if examining various task under one study would yield the same results: dogs prefer one paw over the other on a consistent basis.

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So, she, along with colleagues at Animal Behaviour Center, Queen’s University had 32 dogs perform four different tasks to look at paw preference. Grabbing for a Kong, taking tape off their nose, what foot they use first going up the stairs and the “give a paw” trick were all examined. The team recorded the task completed multiple times to ensure consistency.

The researchers found that paw preference wasn’t universal, but rather task-specific. So, a dog may give use her right paw first to go up stairs, but may use her left one for holding a Kong. (They also tested a subset six months later to see if the same paw was used for that particular task — which it was.)

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The findings may throw a wrench in answering questions around the connection between motor bias and the brain. It has been shown a dog that uses his left paw will have more activity on the right side of the brain and vice versa – and this can have behavioral implications. For instance, past researchers believed dogs who favored their right paw were more optimistic, while dogs that preferred their left paw were more pessimistic. This could have had implications on training, correcting behavior and improving a dog’s overall wellbeing. But this new finding – dogs don’t have just one paw preference – may mean researchers need to reevaluate.