A study that might give you ‘paws’: The talents of left-handed v. right-handed dogs

September 6 2021

In the human world, there’s a growing body of scholarship around “handedness”—and any possible link to superior talent, intellect, or athleticism. Are some of us more fated for success, solely based on which hand our five-year-old selves used to pick up a writing utensil?

Scientists have scoured nearly every corner of the brain for answers, but results are still relatively inconclusive—and so, Boston-based Embark, a canine genetic-testing company, decided to take a closer look at another species, Fast Company reports.

Are some dogs more destined to be superstars? What is that je ne sais quoi that drives a dog to become an excellent lifeguard, bomb sniffer, or search-and-rescue hero? Does it have anything to do with handedness (um, pawed-ness)? Seeking answers, researchers began by studying the talented canines of the dog Olympics: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

.A team from Embark corralled 105 dogs who participated in Westminster’s weekend of championships and ran them through a series of tests to determine paw dominance. Its chief barometer was the “step test,” which identifies which paw a dog first uses when starting to walk from a standing or sitting state, or to step over a strategically placed stick. (Other tests observed which direction a dog turns within a crate, or which paw it uses to wipe a piece of tape from its nose.)

Of the dogs, the team found a majority were right-pawed: 63%, or 29 out of 46 dogs who competed in the masters agility obstacle course, preferred their right paw; as well as 61%, or 36 out of 59 dogs, who competed in the flagship show.

But that doesn’t mean right-pawed dogs reign supreme. Embark’s results are actually in line with those of a recent study, which found that right-pawed dogs make up roughly 58% of the dog population overall—meaning their representation within Westminster’s dog Olympics is quite proportional. Just as with humans, more dogs favor the right side—and in terms of talent, there’s no clear winner between the tribes.

Embark’s results did point to potential differences in pawed-ness between breeds: After the dogs were sorted into Herding, Terrier, and Retriever categories, data showed that 36% of both herders and terriers were left-pawed, while a sizable 72% of retrievers were left-pawed. However, researchers caution that the pool of retrievers was the smallest of all the breeds (only 11 dogs total), meaning more data would be needed to verify this finding.

But overall, we’d call the inconclusiveness here comforting. In the end, in terms of talents and personalities, the old saw is true: Every dog has his day.

Research contact: FastCompany

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