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Can a dog be left or right handed?

This is an unusual question, to say the least, and it is far from absurd. Laterality does exist in our little four-legged friends, as well as in feathered ones and even in snakes, but it is not as pronounced as in humans. As for chimpanzees, they are ambidextrous. This left or right preponderance could have something to do with the animals' behavior. What exactly is laterality, what is it in dogs and how do we know if they are left or right handed?

Laterality in dogs


Laterality is the term used to designate the predominance of the right or left side of the body to act, listen, see, catch, etc.. It concerns the 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 cerebral functional asymmetry also called lateralization. This characteristic 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 may even depend on the type of task that the animal must perform. For the time being, studies are ongoing and scientific research in this area has not yet yielded all its secrets.

Nevertheless, it appears that in many species, especially in dogs, physiological and behavioral characteristics are related to lateralized behavior. For example, it can be stated that :
  • Whole male dogs (i.e., not neutered) have a propensity to be left-handed,
  • Female dogs are more likely to be right-handed.
However, at the moment, there is no scientific thesis that can explain this yet, but it suggests that laterality could also have a link with hormones. This does not mean that all unneutered males are left-handed and that all female dogs are right-handed!

How to know if your female dog is left or right-handed?


Just as we know if a baby is right or left handed by observing with which hand he grabs the object we present him, it is possible to know more about the laterality of your female dog. You just have to open your eye to see which paw :
  • He moves forward first when he starts a move or when he goes down the first step of a staircase,
  • He uses first to grab or push his favorite toy,
  • He uses to get rid of a post-it note that his master has put on the head or the muzzle of his dog for experimental purposes,
  • He reaches out to obey the command "Give the paw! ".
We can also look at which ear he stretches to perceive a sound.

It is also possible to carry out a small test by confronting your dog with an automatic kibble dispenser and see, for example, over 20, 40 or 50 exercises how many times the animal will use one or the other paw. All you have to do is apply a simple formula to determine the degree of lateralization (LI in the formula) of your little friend. Knowing that L represents the number of times the dog's left paw is used and that R is the right paw, the formula, which we owe to scientists, is the following:

LI = (R-L/R+L)x100

With this test, an owner can know if his dog has a strong or weak degree of lateralization (right or left).

Are right-handed dogs different from left-handed dogs?


Let's just say that the studies done on the subject - knowing that they are quite recent, still few and far between and need to be completed - have shown that, on average, right-handed dogs are less stressed than left-handed dogs, that they are easier to train or to educate, that they obtain better results at the end of a guide dog training course.

In addition, dogs that are less laterally oriented become anxious in unfamiliar surroundings and cannot sit or lie still. They are also more easily frightened by loud sounds than other dogs, whether they are right- or left-handed. In the current state of scientific knowledge on the subject, it seems that the more lateralized a dog is, the less likely it is to show signs of fear or anxiety.

These indications are very interesting, especially for people who want to select canines to become guide dogs. These animals must be perfectly balanced, reactive, and it is normal to choose dogs that are neither fearful, nor anxious, nor stressed.