Did you know that your dog probably has a paw preference?
Just like humans, dogs can favour their right or left side. This preference can actually be a clue about your dog’s temperament, though it’s just one indicator of how your dog thinks.
How To Test Your Dog’s Paw Preference
You can’t give your dog a pencil to see which paw they’ll write with, so how can you tell if they’re a righty or a lefty? There are several activities that you can use to assess your dog’s paw preference.
- Ask your dog to shake or high five. Do they always use the same paw?
- Record some videos of your dog going down stairs or stepping out of their crate. Do they take their first step with the same paw every time?
- Watch your dog reach for a toy. Hide a treat or toy under a piece of furniture. Which paw do they use to reach for it?
- Check hair whorls. The “cowlick” or whorl of hair on your dog’s chest have been found to have a correlation with their paw preference.
Your dog may have different paw preferences for certain activities. They may show no particular preference at all. It is possible for a dog to be ambidextrous, so if there’s no reliable pattern, they’re probably just as happy to use either paw.
What’s Your Dog’s Paw-Sonality?
In humans, there has been research suggesting surprising, though minor, differences in people who are left-handed. Though they only make up 10 percent of the population, left-handed people have been found to have a slightly greater chance of becoming an alcoholic, earn a median of $1300 USD less than right-handed workers, and tend to have more social difficulties. Similarly, some research suggests that left-pawed dogs are different than right-pawed dogs too.
In a University of Adelaide study, some correlation was found between a dog’s paw preference and temperament. Left-pawed dogs were reported by their owners to have higher levels of aggression towards strangers. They scored almost twice as high as ambidextrous dogs and somewhat higher than right-pawed dogs.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the study group was small, consisting of 75 dogs, and the dog’s temperaments were owner-reported, so the findings may not be completely reliable.
A survey of 150 prospective guide dogs for the blind showed that right-pawed dogs were twice as likely to successfully graduate the program.
When it comes down to it, these small studies are fun to read, but they cannot be used to assess an individual dog’s personality or abilities. Each study uses different methods to show the dogs’ paw preferences.
Researchers do not truly understand what could cause the differences between dogs with differing paw preferences. Some say it’s due to the way emotions are experienced in each hemisphere of the brain. Others say it’s connected to genetic factors, or the way the puppy develops in the womb.
A dog’s skills and attitude towards strangers is more strongly connected to socialization, experiences and breed. Traditional guard dog breeds like the Chow Chow, German Shepherd and Rottweiler will typically bark first and ask questions later, however they can be friendly towards new people once they’ve settled down, especially if they have had plenty of positive experiences with a variety of different people during puppyhood socialization.
Managing Fearfulness Towards Strangers
While these paw preference tests are fun, you should always train the dog that is in front of you. Your left-pawed dog may love strangers, while your right-pawed dog may relentlessly bark at your guests. When your dog barks or growls at strangers, it can be scary, but it’s your dog’s only way of telling you that they are scared.
When your dog is out of control, it’s tempting to resort to quick fixes. Shock collars, citronella collars, shake cans and squirt bottles seem to instantly quell barking. However, these methods only startle the dog into being quiet without addressing the underlying problem.This is just like taking the batteries out of a smoke alarm. Without a way of warning seemingly scary people to stay away, a fearful dog may resort to biting “out of the blue.”
Your goal should be to help your dog learn to be comfortable around diverse groups of people. This is easiest while they are still a puppy. Expose them to people of different age groups, in different clothing and in new environments.
Changing your dog’s emotional reactions can be difficult and may take a long time. You may never be able to convince your dog to love strangers. Use baby gates or a crate to keep your dog away from guests until they’ve settled down, and let them approach at their own pace. Never force them to be around people, especially children. Remember that every animal might bite if they are scared.
Train With Your Dog’s Pawsonality In Mind
Fear and aggression-related issues should be handled with care. Not every protocol is suited for every dog. Professional, one-on-one, positive-reinforcement based training from Healthy Houndz allows you to learn more about your dog’s fears, how to manage them, and the best, safest ways to make progress towards your goals.