Answering the Questions You Didn’t Think to Ask: Do Dogs Have a Paw Preference?

Several years ago our neighbor Leah recruited Pettigrew for her middle school science project. Given that treats were central to the study design, Pettigrew was all in.

On the agreed upon day, she came to our house and set up her experiment: a treat stashed under the sofa. She then observed which paw Pettigrew used to retrieve it. Much to Pettigrew’s delight, there were many trials and many treats to retrieve. The point was to determine whether dogs are left- or right-pawed.

Pettigrew was thrilled to discover this new repository for treats in our house and, with unfailing optimism, kept fishing under the sofa for the following week.

That’s how long it took before I moved the sofa and found out that there wasn’t close control of the study materials. A treat had been left behind, just out of reach!

I was reminded of this study when I recently made the acquaintance of a three-legged dog. The missing limb was virtually unobservable, as he had no trouble keeping up with his mate whether it was running around the house or jumping up to join us on the sofa and chairs.

The only time it came into play was when he urinated. Apparently he does a handstand, pawstand?, and spins around. I imagine my friend has invested in a long-enough leash to be out of reach of this canine sprinkler.

But why, I wondered, didn’t the dog just pee on the side without the leg. He could twist at the hips as if he were lifting a leg, while staying horizontal.

Unless, he was right-legged.

So, I watched Pettigrew. Did he too have a paw/leg preference?

IMG_1045
My husband censored this picture when I took it several years ago. But now, finally, it’s the perfect fit for this blog!

While, he favors his right-paw, my multi-talented pooch is ambidextrous: able to lift right- or left-rear leg depending on context.

Is there room enough to maneuver? Are there other factors that make right-leg lifting impractical? In that case, he smoothly switches sides with no seeming lack of balance or discomfort.

So which dog is the norm? The one who is so locked into one side that he does a pawstand or my ambidextrous guy?

Unfortunately, when I asked Leah to recall the results of her long-ago study, she shared that the results were inconclusive. What a letdown! However she did say there was literature on the subject. Who knew?!

This article in BARK is my favorite. Their conclusion, yes dogs usually have a paw preference, but some dogs don’t. Of course, they looked at things like tail wagging, reaching for treats, and head turns. Now you know.

4 thoughts on “Answering the Questions You Didn’t Think to Ask: Do Dogs Have a Paw Preference?

    1. It really is interesting once you start to pay attention to it! And, there is a surprising, at least to me, amount of literature on the subject relating paw preference to left/right-brain dominance and personality traits.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nicely summarized, thanks! Now I want to know what other traits travel with whether an animal has a paw preference.

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  2. It’s pretty interesting. I was surprised that so many people had asked this question and studied it. If you are curious, you can follow the link to the BARK article. Paw preference is apparently related to left-brain/right-brain dominance, which correlates to personality traits. They also profiled what a dog like Pettigrew, who can use both paws is like. It felt a bit like reading a horoscope: some things were ah ha moments and some things didn’t ring true. It was interesting their thesis that paw preference could help predict which dogs were best suited for being trained as service dogs.

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