Do Dogs Have a Dominant Paw?

Find out which is a dog's dominant paw and how this can affect their temperament and behavior.

May 27, 2024By Donna Hobson
do dogs have dominant paw

Only 10% of the human population is left-handed, but have you ever wondered whether the same is true for your canine friend? Dogs do possess a dominant paw, though the split is far more even between right and left than it is for humans.

Discover how scientists (and you too) can determine the dominant paw of your canine, plus what it says about their temperament and personality.

Do Dogs Have a Dominant Paw?

dog paw and human hand
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Most human beings are right-handed, around one-tenth are left-handed, and an even smaller proportion are ambidextrous. However, when it comes to dogs, experts believe that the chance of being right or left pawed may be reasonably equal.

Like humans, every dog is unique, so we cannot say that all dogs are left-pawed or right-pawed; instead, it depends on the individual characteristics of your canine. And a high number of dogs are considered ambilateral, meaning that they tend to use both paws equally.

How Do Researchers Determine Paw Preference?

dog paws high five
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There are two main tests that determine your dog's paw preference- the Kong test and the first-stepping test.

The Kong test involves a cylindrical rubber dog toy known as a Kong that is full of food. In this test, scientists observe how many times a dog uses each paw to hold the toy as they attempt to retrieve the food. The American Kennel Club claims that Kong test results reveal an equal dispensation towards a dog being right or left pawed.

The first-stepping test is another method that allows researchers to deduce the dominant paw of a canine. As it sounds, this test involves the researchers observing which paw a dog leads with each time it begins to walk. In contrast to the equal split of the Kong test, the first stepping test demonstrates an inclination towards the right paw.

Researchers have conducted a number of other studies, too, in an attempt to define the dominant paw of a canine. One of these involved placing a set of food dishes at a 45-degree angle to their paw and allowing them to choose which they preferred. This test demonstrated an equal spread of results between dogs who selected a dish with their right paw and dogs who picked a dish with their left paw.

How Can I Determine Paw Preference in My Dog?

dog paw holding human hand
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If you want to determine the paw preference of your own pup, there are several methods you can employ.

For a scientific approach, try the Kong test or first-stepping test bearing in mind that you need to make at least 50 observations to get an accurate picture (the more observations you can make, the better).

But if you're not a fully-fledged researcher, you could take a more casual approach and play a set of games with your pup to determine their dominant paw.

For example, if you reach out your hand, which paw do they extend to meet it? If you hold a treat in your hand and extend your arm, which paw do they raise to touch you? Engaging in simple games and activities while paying attention to which paw your dog is more likely to increase can help you determine the dominant paw of your canine.

The beauty of this "research" is that your dog can have great fun doing it (especially if there are treats involved), and it's an excellent way for the two of you to bond.

Why Do Dogs Have a Paw Preference?

dog paws on beach
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The reasons why dogs have a paw preference are like the reasons why we humans do too. Like handedness in humans, this trait relates to the activity in each brain hemisphere.

The left side of our brain controls the right side of our body, while the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. As these hemispheres relate to different emotions such as behavior and personality, our propensity towards a specific hand can alter our personalities.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide conducted a study to see if there was a correlation between paw preference and personality using the Kong test and the Canine Behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire. While the results did not find any significant differences between left and right-pawed dogs, they did demonstrate less aggression in ambilateral dogs.

Another study showed that potential guide dogs have a higher success rate if they are right pawed. And many other personality traits could be influenced by their preference, such as socialization, temperament, and health.

How Does Paw Preference Help with Training?

dog holding up paw
Credit: Image by Klaus Hausmann on Pixabay

Testing your dog's paw preference can be a fun way to bond and interact with your dog, but beyond this, it can give you a greater insight into the life of your canine.

Establishing your canine's dominant paw means that you can cater your training to suit their preference. If you want to teach your dog to wave, give you a high five, or otherwise use its paws to perform a behavior, knowing their preference can be a big help.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.