How do you tell if your dog is left or right pawed? Essential Tips

Here are seven fun ways you can tell if your pup is left or right pawed

Fill your Kong with a scrummy stuffing and give it to your dog. Watch them and count how many times they use each paw or both, to hold the toy whilst they lick the filling out. Did they use their left or right paw more? or no preference?

When your dog is about to walk, see which leg they lift to take the first step. According to a study in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour this test (known as the first-stepping test) showed that most dogs lead with their right paw. Does yours?

Put a bowl of the same food either side of your dog at about a 45-degree angle and let your dog choose. Which did they choose first? The left or right.

Make a fuss of your dog and watch which side and how high they wag their tail. Is it higher to the left or right? This may indicate a ‘handedness’.

Run up a flight of stairs and watch your dog from the top. Like humans, your dog will use their stronger leg to pull themselves up. They will also take the steps with their preferred paw.

Throw a ball for your dog and send them to retrieve it. Just before they get there, call them back and see which side they turn to. Repeat this (but let them fetch the ball a few times in between). Do they always turn to the same side?

Most dogs turn around several times when they get in their bed. Does your dog turn to the right, or left more each night?

You’ll need to repeat these tests (at least 50 times if you’re being scientific about it) to see if your dog has a favoured paw.

Whilst there is no definitive way to determine whether your dog is left or right pawed it might be useful to see if they have a preference to help with training. If you’re teaching your dog a ‘high five’ or a ‘shake paw’ it would make sense to use their dominant paw first before transferring the skill to the other paw.

Over one half of dogs are ambilateral (that’s like being ambidextrous as a human), meaning they are equally comfortable using either paw. So don’t be surprised if your dog shows no real preference.

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Its funny when pets act like people, and many pet owners have true stories proving animals can feel the same emotions people do. Every dog owner knows that dogs are part of the family, and in the same way that every family member has their own unique traits, dogs have their own quirks, too. Similar to how humans are right- or left-handed, can dogs be right- or left-pawed, too? Pet expert Dr. Katy Nelson, a senior veterinarian at Chewy, weighs in.

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Is your dog left or right pawed? Do this test to find out

The short answer is: yes they do! Like humans, many animals tend to use one side of the body more than the other. This innate handedness (or footedness) is called behavioral or motor laterality.

The term laterality also refers to the primary use of the left or right hemispheres of the brain. The two halves of the animal brain are not exactly alike, and each hemisphere differs in function and anatomy. In general terms, the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side.

Laterality is an ancient inherited characteristic and is widespread in the animal kingdom, in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Many competing theories (neurological, biological, genetic, ecological, social, and environmental) have been proposed to explain how the phenomenon developed, but it remains largely a mystery.

There is some evidence to suggest that dogs and cats can be right- or left-pawed, although the ratio seems to be more evenly split than in humans, and it is unclear whether there are sex differences.

If you’re a pet owner, you can do an experiment for yourself. Which paw does your cat or dog lead with when reaching out for something, or to tap open a pet door?

To test your pet dog, you can place a treat-filled Kong toy directly in front of your dog and see which paw he or she uses to hold it to get the food out. A dog may use either paw or both paws.

To test your pet cat, you can set a “food puzzle” by putting a treat inside a glass jar and watching to see which paw your cat uses. Don’t forget to repeat it lots of times and take notes to see whether the effect is real or just random chance!

In humans, the left hemisphere is mainly associated with analytical processes and language, and the right hemisphere with orientation, awareness, and musical abilities, although this dichotomy is simplistic at best.

Is there evidence of lateralized brain function in non-human animals, too? A team of Italian researchers think so. They found that dogs wag their tails to the right when they see something they want to approach, and to the left when confronted with something they would rather avoid. This suggests that, just as for people, the right and left halves of the brain do different jobs in controlling emotions.

Laterality is also connected to the direction in which hair grows (so-called stuctural laterality), or even to the senses (sensory laterality). Many animals use their left eye and left ear (indicating right brain activation) more often than the right ones when investigating objects that are potentially frightening. However, asymmetries in olfactory processing (nostril use) are less well-understood.

The left or right bias in sensory laterality is separate from that of motor laterality (or handedness). However, some researchers think that side preference is linked to the direction of hair whorls (“cowlicks”), which can grow in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. More right-handed people have a clockwise hair pattern, although it is unclear if this is true of other animals.

The direction of hair growth and handedness are also related to temperament. Left-handed people might be more vulnerable to stress, as are left-pawed dogs and many other animals. In general, many animals, including humans, that have a clockwise hair whorl are less stress-prone than those with anti-clockwise hair growth. The position of the hair whorl also matters; cattle and horses with hair whorls directly above the eyes are more typically difficult to handle than those with whorls lower down on the face.

Elsewhere in the animal kingdom, snails also have a form of laterality, despite having a very different nervous system to vertebrates like us. Their shells spiral in either a “right-handed” or “left-handed” direction — a form of physical asymmetry called “chirality.” This chirality is inherited — snails can only mate with matching snails.

Chirality is even seen in plants, depending on the asymmetry of their leaves and the direction in which they grow.

As an aside, left-handedness has been discriminated against in many cultures for centuries. The Latin word sinistra originally meant “left,” but its English descendant “sinister” has taken on meanings of evil or malevolence. The word “right,” meanwhile, connotes correctness, suitability, and propriety. Many everyday objects, from scissors to notebooks to can-openers, are designed for right-handed people, and the Latin word for right, dexter, has given us the modern word “dextrous.”

One adaptive advantage of lateralization is that individuals can perform two tasks at the same time if those tasks are governed by opposite brain hemispheres. Another advantage might be resistance to disease — hand preference in animals is associated with differences in immune function, with right-handed animals mounting a better immune response.

Does it matter if your cat, dog, horse, or cow favors one paw (or hoof) over another? Determining laterality — or which side of the brain dominates the other — could change the way domestic animals are bred, raised, trained, and used, including predicting which puppies will make the best service dogs, and which racehorses will race better on left- or right-curving tracks.

And even if your dog or cat never clutches a pen, or uses one limb more than the other, just be grateful that they haven’t yet developed opposable thumbs!