Paws for thought: Is your dog a righty or a lefty?


Gacey Meza, an animal care attendant with Los Angeles County Animal Care Control, performs a right-pawed-or-left-pawed test with a cat named Ni Hao. (DAMIAN DOVARGANES/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
October 10, 2012

Is your dog right-pawed?

What does it mean if your cat leads with his left?

If it never even occurred to you that animals might have a dominant side, you’re not alone.

Dr. Nick Dodman, who studies animal behavior at Tufts University in Massachusetts, put it this way: “Wow, I thought that was something unique to people, and how weird to think the dog could be” left- or right-pawed.

Researchers are studying such things as right-brain and left-brain connections, genetics and sexual orientation that may one day change the way dogs and cats are bred, raised, trained and used, said Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a member of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.


One way to test a dog or cat is to put peanut butter on its nose and see which paw it uses to wipe it off. (DAMIAN DOVARGANES/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A 1991 study at Ataturk University in Turkey showed that 50 percent of cats were right-pawed, 40 percent were left-pawed and 10 percent showed no preference.

A 2006 study from the University of Manchester in England showed dogs were split half and half.

As for humans, about 90 percent of humans are right-handed and 10 percent are left-handed.

Test your pet

So, would you like to see if your dog or cat is left-pawed? Here are a few simple tests you can use to determine your pet’s preference. Doing them 100 times (over several days) should give you an answer, Schwartz said.

●If your dog “shakes hands” with you, which paw does it offer you first and most often?

●Fill a toy with something delicious and put it in the center of the dog’s visual field. Which paw does it use to touch the toy first? Which paw does the dog use to hold the toy?

●Put something sticky (such as peanut butter) on a dog or cat’s nose. Which paw does the animal use to remove it?


This Chihuahua got frustrated during his paw-preference test, which had a treat hidden under a bowl. (DAMIAN DOVARGANES/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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

●Dangle a toy over your cat’s head. Which paw does it lift to bat it?

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

There are, of course, other things that can affect the results. For example, a pet with an injury might use its non-dominant paw.

It makes no difference

Luckily, the well-being of dogs and cats doesn’t depend on preference.

Robin A.F. Olson, founder and president of Kitten Associates, a rescue organization, said her cats are always reaching for toys or treats with one paw or another.

Olson said she was born left-handed, but her mother didn’t want her growing up left-handed in a world of right-handed people. “She always handed things to me close to my right hand. She always put the crayons in my right hand.”

There won’t be any such lessons for her cats, she said. “I try not to be judgmental of my cats’ abilities or lack thereof. We will never worry about the anti-paw.”

— Sue Manning, Associated Press

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