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New research questions “Pawedness” in dogs

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I am right handed. Utensils, pens, pencils and of course my toothbrush are operated by my right hand. Like roughly 90% of people, my left hand is just not suitable on its own.

Dogs endowed with paws rather than hands also seem to prefer one paw to the other. In dogs, paw laterality – or paw preference – is not examined with forks or pencils, but with more dog-friendly motor tasks. Studies have asked which paw dogs they use to reach for food or which paw they use to remove something like a blanket from their bodies. The researchers even checked which paw dogs lift up to go down a step first, and which paw they “give” when asked to “give” the paw. Previously, it was believed that dogs like us have a “hand” preference.


But Deborah Wells, a longtime researcher on laterality, wondered if something was missing. Paw preference studies usually only use one Test to examine paw preference. As a result, it is unclear whether “dogs have consistent paw preferences” or whether (ha!) On the other hand, whether the paw preference could instead be task-specific. Perhaps a dog consistently grabs food with its right paw, but is more likely to raise its left front paw to go down a step.

Wells and colleagues at Queen’s University’s Animal Behavior Center in Belfast took the next natural step (ha, again!). They tested 32 dogs on four different paw preference tests to see if dog paw preference was consistent across all tests. To check preferences over time, a subset was tested 6 months later. This research was recently published in Behavioral processes.



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