Can Dogs Be Right- or Left-Pawed?


It’s funny when pets act like people, and many pet owners have true stories proving animals can feel the same emotions people do. Every dog owner knows that dogs are part of the family, and in the same way that every family member has their own unique traits, dogs have their own quirks, too. Similar to how humans are right- or left-handed, can dogs be right- or left-pawed, too? Pet expert Dr. Katy Nelson, a senior veterinarian at Chewy, weighs in.

Can dogs be right- or left-pawed?

It might come as a surprise, but dogs can be right-or-left pawed. In the same way that humans show “laterality,” researchers have found that dogs do the same. “Dogs’ brains are organized similarly to humans’, and paw preference relates to the dominant hemispheres of the brain. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa,” explains Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy. “Whereas only 10 percent of the human population is left-handed, dogs seem to be much more evenly split with paw preference.  They can also not have a paw preference leading researchers to label them ‘ambilateral.’” Here are 15 things you never knew about left-handed people.

How do researchers determine paw preference?

Proper scientific research is key to studying animal behavior. Thankfully, there have been studies conducted to figure out paw preference in dogs. “Researchers use various methods to determine paw preference. One is the ‘First-step test,’ where dogs are in a sitting position and when they rise, they use their dominant paw to start off walking,” says Nelson. “The other is the ‘Kong test,’ where researchers give the dog a Kong toy filled with yummy treats and they count the number of times the dog uses one paw or the other to paw at the Kong to get the treats out.” Looking to give your good boy a treat? Here are 11 simple homemade dog treats your dog will love.

However, there is some debate on whether dogs have dominant paws at all. “Some research has questioned whether dogs have dominant paws for all activities or are activity-related,” says Nelson. “One study showed dogs may use one paw for tasks, and the other paw for walking. So, this goes to show that research is ongoing and we are in the early stages of learning about our pets’ brains (and paws).” Here are just a few things your dog wishes you knew.

Do dogs generally have a dominant paw?

“Most dogs do have a dominant paw, but the split is closer to the middle than that of humans,” says Nelson. “In a 2013 study at Australia’s University of Adelaide, researchers concluded that 34 percent of dogs studied were left-pawed, 29 percent right-pawed, and 37 percent ambilateral.” Nelson adds that “many dogs are considered ambilateral, meaning they do not show a paw preference.” Left-handed people often learn to be ambidextrous or using both hands equally. Here are 15 additional things you never knew about left-handed people.

Does it matter if dogs prefer one paw over the other? 

In the human world, it’s hard to be left-handed in a right-handed world. In fact, many lefties used to be retrained to use their right hand. But how does paw preference affect dogs? “There is ongoing research determining whether being left or right paw dominant has any bearing on the pet’s personality. Some early research showed that of puppies in guide dog training, right-pawed dogs were more successful completing the training program than left-pawed dogs,” says Nelson.

There are many fascinating facts about ambidextrous people, and it turns out there’s a lot of interesting information about ambilateral dogs, too. “Other research showed that ambilateral dogs showed less aggressive tendencies and while left-pawed dogs showed more aggression. That research is still developing and one must take into account that there are many factors influencing aggressive behavior in dogs such as early socialization, environment, and breed.” Next, if you’re for more interesting dog facts, here are 30 fun facts about dogs you never knew.


  • Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM, Senior Veterinarian at Chewy
  • Psychology Today, Dogs With Left Paw Preferences May Be Different Emotionally, July 3, 2013.

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