Did you know that a growing body of evidence suggests that male cats and dogs (and other species, too) tend to be “left-pawed” and females are more likely to be “right-pawed”. However, studies of neutered pets show no preference for using one paw over the other. Breed does not seem to predispose to pawedness in a study of Boxers, Pugs, Whippets and Greyhounds.
Another study in domestic cats found that cats sometimes appeared to be ambidextrous and used either paw. However, the more motivated the cat was to reach a treat, the more it tended to use a preferred paw. Lateralized function in cats depends upon the task and reward offered. What wouldn’t Garfield do for lasagna?
In humans, most “lefties” have a genetic basis; left-handedness definitely runs in families and it is likely that more than one gene is responsible and at least one gene responsible for left-handedness has been isolated so far.
Research in Australia concluded that dogs without any distinct paw preference could not be trained to the same level as those with a specific paw preference. This might also support the more consistent performance of intact male dogs for police and other paramilitary K-9 units (left-pawed).
An American study determined that ambidextrous pets (no bias for either paw when chewing on a bone or special chew toy) were at higher risk for behavior problems, separation anxiety and noise phobia. Ambidextrous dogs showed extreme reactivity to thunderstorm and fireworks compared to both left and right-pawed dogs. Future clarification may help to breed dogs that are more emotionally stable.
Here are some fun tests (some are mine and others were used in the studies described earlier) to determine paw preference:
Teach a dog to “shake”, record which paw is offered more often;
Place a treat or a toy under the sofa just out of a dog’s reach and see which paw he uses to try to reach for
Note which paw a cat uses to ‘trap’ a laser pointer light or swat at a dangling toy above the head;
Put a small piece of tape on a pet’s muzzle and see which paw she uses to remove the tape.
Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, MSc, Dip. ACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist and founder of www.CivilizedPet.com. If you need help with a misbehaving pet, please visit www.petbehavior.org.