Did You Know? (No.1)

Dog chasing ball

breakthrough™ brings you a series of interesting facts about pets that you may not know about


We have known for decades that there are differences in the personalities of right-handed people and left-handed people, which is a reflection of laterality in the brain, or a division of labour if you like. It so happens that our brains are wired up contralaterally, meaning that the right side controls the left side of the body and vice-versa.

Right-Handers (left side of brain)
Logical, analytical, unemotional, happy, optimistic.
Processes information about time, words and numbers.
Crucial side for scientists, engineers
Processes spoken language.
Left-Handers (right side of brain)
Illogical, intuitive, creative, emotional, anxious, pessimistic.
Processes information about spaces places, faces and objects.
Crucial side for artists, designers.
Processes body language.
Recent research has shown that dogs brains are also lateralised and that right-pawed dogs also differ in some personality traits when compared with left-pawed dogs.
Dog waiting to play with a tennis ball
Right-pawed (left side of brain)
Relaxed, happy, optimistic.
Narrowly focussed on a single task, not easily distracted.
Controls routine approach behaviours.
Left-pawed (right side of brain)
Nervous, anxious, pessimistic.
Broadly focussed and easily distracted.
Controls unexpected avoidance responses.

Is your dog right- or left-pawed?

How can you find out if your dog is a South-paw? Easy! Give her a stuffed Kong and see which paw she uses to hold the Kong while she licks out the contents. Studies using the Kong test have shown that the number of right-pawed dogs is about the same as the number of left-pawed dogs (this differs from humans where about 70% of us are right-handed and 30% left-handed). Many dogs are also ambidextrous, that is they use both paws without a preference. For dogs that show a right- or left-paw preference, there is also variation in the strength of that preference, these dogs are partially ambidextrous.

Laterality in dogs has been used to assess their suitability as working dogs like search-and-rescue and guide dogs for the blind. These studies have shown that right-pawed dogs are more successful in training programs than left-pawed dogs. The strength of paw-preference also predicts success in these programs in that dogs that have a strong paw-preference fare better than those that are strongly or partially ambidextrous.

Dr Robert Falconer-Taylor BVetMed, DipCABT, MRCVS
Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE)

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