Cack-handed ca­nines?

South Waikato News - - NEWS/OPINION -

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 That study might be out of date, Dr Schwartz said, but it did pro­vide per cen­t­ages.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?

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