A Husky puppy gives his mom a high-five.

Do Dogs Have Dominant Paws?

Just 10% of the world’s population signs their name with their left hand. So, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re a righty like me.

Research suggests that right- and left-handedness have implications far beyond the page. Studies have identified differences in the brains of right-handed, left-handed, and ambidextrous individuals, affecting how they process information, organize thoughts, and regulate their emotions.

The majority of dog owners are presumably right-handed, but what about their dogs? Some research suggests that dogs have dominant paws and that lefties aren’t outnumbered in the canine community to quite the same degree as they are among humans.

Can Dogs Be Right- or Left-Handed?

Yes. Veterinarians have conducted research into the question and findings suggest that dogs can favor one paw over the other. Precise percentages are unknown, but experts believe that left-pawed and right-pawed pups coexist in comparable numbers. Dogs also appear much more likely than humans to employ both sets of digits equally. While the term ambidextrous is used to describe people who are neither right- nor left-handed, dogs are ambilateral in these instances.

As with humans, some studies have pointed to differences between dogs who prefer one side of their body to the other. Some research suggests that ambilateral dogs show less aggression toward unfamiliar people, while another found right-pawed dogs did better in training to become guide dogs.

Determining a Dog’s Dominant Paw

Researchers typically employ one or both of the following tests to determine whether a dog is ambilateral or has a dominant paw.

The Kong Test

This experiment involves filling a Kong or similar hollow toy with food and observing a canine test subject as they eat the toy’s contents. Specifically, researchers watch to determine which paw a dog is most likely to use for steadying the toy while they eat. An ambilateral dog will most frequently steady the toy with both paws at once or make use of both paws equally. Observers need at least 50 instances of steadying before they can make their official determination.

The First-Stepping Test

In this experiment, researchers watch to see which of their front paws a dog will use to take the first step from a level surface. As with the Kong Test, it’s important that observers replicate the experiment 50 times to officially make a ruling related to a dog’s dominant paw. Some canine researchers prefer the First-stepping Test to the alternative because a dog’s hunger cannot affect the result.

Does Your Dog Have a Dominant Paw?

You can determine whether your dog is right-pawed, left-pawed, or ambilateral at home by trying out either of the preferred experiments. Alternatively, you can simply try offering a treat and making note of which paw your dog leads with when approaching you. Whichever method you try, just make sure to repeat the experiment 50 times or more.