No one knows a dog better than his owner, and if you've long had a theory that Rover's a southpaw, you may be right. Finding out what paw your pup prefers doesn't make much difference in your pet's abilities and daily life, but can be fun for you.
Science has confirmed what some dedicated owners have long suspected: yes, dogs do have a dominant or preferred paw. A study at Queen's University Belfast found that female dogs tend to prefer their right paw, while male dogs prefer their left. After the dogs are spayed and neutered, some paw preference disappears. This suggests that hormones have some type of role in a dog's paw preference. Some dogs are "ambidextrous" to begin with and exhibit no paw preference.
For the modern house pet, having a preferred paw doesn't really offer advantages. For his wild ancestors, having a dominant side affected how he hunted and gathered food and evaded enemies. For other animals, such as racehorses, a preference can have consequences. Horses need to circle a track a certain way; for some who don't naturally want to run that way, this means lots of training to overcome the innate resistance.
Because "handedness" is also tied to which side of the brain is dominant, paw preference could someday prove to be important for some types of dogs, such as service animals, military dogs and therapy dogs. At present, scientists don't have enough concrete information about handedness and brain dominance to influence the breeding and selection of these animals, but that may change.
At-home tests let you draw your own conclusions about your pup's paw preference. Ask your dog to shake, then see which paw he offers up. Or dab some peanut butter on your dog's nose and see which paw he uses to get it off. Watch to see which paw he uses to scratch at the back door when he needs to pee, or to move a food bowl that has a treat beneath it. Try each test about 100 times over many days to get a conclusive answer.
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