Paw preference won’t make a dog or cat walk, talk or wink like a human. You won’t even get a high-five or a fist pump out of it, said Dr Nick Dodman, director of the Animal Behaviour Clinic in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
There’s the curiosity factor though, he said. ‘‘Wow, I thought that was something unique to people, and how weird to think the dog could be left or rightpawed.’’
Vets and owners agree that pets, including horses, have right and left preferences.
Researchers are studying things like right brain-left brain connections, genetics and sexual orientation that may one day change the way dogs and cats are bred, raised, trained and used, said Dr Stefanie Schwartz of the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, California, a member of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Some horses have to be ambidextrous, said Dr Sharon CrowellDavis, a behaviour and anatomy professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia.
A 1991 study at Ataturk University in Turkey showed 50 per cent of cats were rightpawed, 40 per cent were left-pawed and 10 per cent were ambidextrous. That study might be out of date, Dr Schwartz said, but it did provide per centages.
A 2006 study from the University of Manchester in England showed dogs were split half-and-half.
About 90 per cent of humans are righthanded and 10 per cent are left-handed.
Laterality – the textbook term meaning one side of the brain is dominant over the other – may some day help breeders predict which puppies will make the best military, service and therapy dogs, Dr Schwartz said, and that could be lifesaving.
But for now, here are a few simple tests you can do to determine your pet’s preference, she said. Doing it 100 times (over several days) should give you an answer, she said.
If you teach a dog to shake, which paw does it offer you first and most often?
Fill a toy with something delicious and put it in the centre of the dog’s visual field. Which paw does it use to touch the toy first? Which paw does the dog use to hold the toy?
Place a treat or a piece of cheese under a sofa, just beyond a dog or cat’s reach. Which paw does it use to try to get it out?
Dangle a toy over a cat’s head. Which paw does it lift to bat it?
Put a treat under a bowl. Which paw does the cat or dog use to move it?
When a dog wants to be let in the back door, which paw does it ‘‘knock’’ with?
Luckily, the wellbeing of dogs and cats doesn’t depend on preference.
The same cannot be said for horses, Dr Crowell-Davis said.
In United States racing, horses only have to lean left because all races are run counterclockwise on tracks, but in some competitions and in some other countries, horses have to race and canter both ways. ‘‘They have to be able to circle right and left. If not, they can trip,’’ Dr Crowell-Davis said.
PAW PERFORMANCE: What paw does your animal prefer?