Have you ever wondered: is my dog right-handed or left-handed? If so, maybe then you thought that this was nonsense since until proven guilty, dogs don't write with a pen and don't eat with cutlery!
But in reality, it is a completely legitimate question which interests scientists. The good news is that you can easily tell if your dog is right-handed or left-handed through simple tests at home!
Can dogs really be right-handed or left-handed?
In short, the answer is yes! When it comes to behaviour and laterality, it is quite simply the fact of preferring one side of the body to the other. One side will be faster, more reactive and stronger to perform certain daily tasks, such as grabbing or moving an object.
In humans, the feet and hands indicate whether one is right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous, and when it comes to laterality in dogs, it is the paws that are concerned. The eyes and ears, being paired organs, are also subject to differences.
The predominance of the right or left side of the animal comes from the cerebral hemispheres. The term lateralisation refers to the difference between the two hemispheres of the brain in terms of their involvement in mental and bodily functions. All vertebrates are affected by lateralisation, including dogs and cats.
Laterality in dogs
Laterality is the term used to denote the predominance of the right or left of the body to act, listen, see, catch, etc. It concerns paired organs (eyes, ears), the extremities of the limbs (hands and feet in humans), the paws, etc. It is therefore either sensory or motor. It is linked to the cerebral hemispheres which function differently from each other, and it is supported by the functional cerebral asymmetry also known as lateralisation. This is a characteristic that is not only found in dogs, but in all vertebrates.
It should be noted, however, that certain cognitive, sensory and motor experiences are likely to interfere, and laterality in dogs can sometimes even depend on the type of task the animal has to perform.
For now, studies are continuing and scientific research in this area has not yet revealed all of its secrets. Regardless, it appears that in multiple species, especially in dogs, physiological and behavioural characteristics are related to lateralised behaviours. So, for example, we can say that: Unneutered male dogs are more likely to be left-handed and female dogs right-handed. However, for the moment, there is no scientific thesis that can yet explain it, but this suggests that laterality could also be linked to hormones.
However, it should not be deduced from this that all unneutered males are left-handed and that all females are right-handed!
How can you tell if a dog is left or right-handed? Take the test
For starters, it helps to know that:
- Female dogs are usually right-handed
- Unneutered male dogs are often left handed
Of course, it depends on each individual, and if you're interested to know whether your dog is right-handed or left-handed, you'll have to check it out for yourself!
There are several ways to find out if your pooch prefers its left or right paw for its daily movements. To learn more about the laterality of your dog you just have to open your eyes to see which paw:
- Goes first when your dog starts moving or when he goes down the first step of stairs.
- Your dog uses first to grab or push his favourite toy.
- Your pooch uses to remove something off his head or body. You could put something light on your dog’s head or nose (like a fruit peel or a piece of paper), watch closely which paw he removes the object with.
- Your dog gives first when you ask him “Give Paw”. However, this is not the most reliable test. Why ? Because, quite simply, your dog may have learned to extend one paw to you rather than the other depending on your preference, even if you are not aware of it!
In any case, we recommend that you do several tests and note the number of times your animal prefers his right or left paw, to get an idea of the extent of your dog's laterality.
Are right-handed dogs different from left-handed dogs?
Let us say that the studies carried out on the subject - knowing that they are fairly recent- have shown that, on average, right-handed dogs are less stressed than left-handed dogs, they are easier to train, and they obtain better results at the end of a guide dog course.
In addition, dogs with rather low lateralisation are anxious in an unfamiliar environment and cannot sit or lie down there quietly. They are also more easily frightened by loud sounds than other dogs, whether they are right-handed or left-handed. In the current state of scientific knowledge on the subject, it seems that the more a dog has a high degree of lateralisation, the less likely it is going to show signs of fear or anxiety. These indications are very interesting in particular for people who wish to make a selection of canines intended to become guide dogs. These animals must be perfectly balanced, responsive, and it is normal to choose dogs that are neither fearful, nor anxious, nor stressed.
Because as in humans, the degree of laterality in dogs is specific to each individual: thus, some may have a clear preference for the left side, and use it almost all the time, while others will alternate more with the side law.