Left-handed or right-handed: find out which leg your dog prefers

You may have never wondered if your dog is left-handed or right-handed. You may not even have thought that left-handed dogs exist. But the reality is that, as in humans, dogs can also develop one hemisphere or another of the brain more. The left-hander will not only affect the ability or frequency of use of one or the other leg. As the researcher Cat Warren’s studies show, it will also have implications for the character of the animal.

Are there left-handed dogs?

If they exist. If not, obviously, we would not be talking about them now. And, as a curiosity, the percentage of left-handed dogs is much higher than that of humans. While among us only 10% of the male population and 13% of the female population is left-handed, in dogs it reaches half of the canids.

The main scientific studies have been carried out in England. Evolutionary biologists and experts in animal psychology, Fay Porritt (Defense Science and Technology Laboratory DSTL), Christine Caldwell (University of Stirling) and Matthew Cobb (University of Manchester) presented in 2006 their study ‘Dog paw preference shows lability and sex differences ‘. In it, they established the existence of left-handedness among dogs, by carrying out three tests.

Normalization and naturalness of left-handed dogs

In the tests, they studied the use preferences of each paw in domestic dogs. Finally, they did not observe any trend in the preference of use of the right or left paw that could be generalized to the entire population. However, this result does not deny the existence of left-handed dogs. Quite the contrary: it concludes that 50% of dogs are left-handed, and 50% right-handed. They were also able to show that the number of ambidextrous dogs was so small that it did not reach 1% of the animals studied.

They found that male dogs tend to use their left paws, while females use their right. However, when the test performed consisted of the animals giving the leg, the majority of the males did it with the right. That is, left-handed dogs tended to use the right in those activities that required prior learning, but not in those movements that they perform mechanically or instinctively.

The study also presented information on possible problems in left-handed animals. No problems were detected due to having one or the other dominant leg. However, in ambidextrous dogs the trend changed: they presented behavior problems , separation anxiety and noise phobia among other symptoms.

It could be proven that, when the dog has been neutered or spayed at an early age, the animal ceases to have an innate preference for one or the other leg. This led researchers to believe that hormones are closely linked to use preference.

They were also able to verify that when the animal has arthritis or suffers an injury to its limbs, it tends to change its use preference from one leg to another. Although this is obviously due to external factors and comfort for the dog.

Propensity to violence?

And although the study from the University of Manchester concluded that there were no psychic changes in the animals, another from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior offers different data. After their investigation, they assured that in left-handed dogs there was a certain propensity to show aggressiveness when they were with strangers  than right- handed dogs . This behavior is controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with the most negative emotions of the dog.

How to know if our dog is left-handed?

Dogs, like humans, have a dominant hemisphere in the brain, although in their case it only dominates some tasks. Nowadays, there are ways to know if your dog is left-handed or not. Cat Warren has collected in his work ‘What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World’ the recommendations of the specialist Lisa Tomkins to recognize the left hand in our pets.

Tests to determine if your dog is right-handed or left-handed

While we cannot talk to the dogs , we must use some techniques to discover our animal’s left-handedness. The first thing to do is observe your dog . Trying to figure out which is the first leg he uses to start walking. You can also check how you get off a step or bench.

When you give him a large bone or a toy, check which leg is on top to hold it.

The third test requires creating a little discomfort in the dog. Stick some masking tape on its snout and, again, see which leg it tries to remove it with.

Put a treat or toy that your dog likes under a clear plastic jar. The first leg he uses will be giving you a clue as to whether or not he is left-handed.

If you have taught your dog to paw, observe which is the first one he always paws. Although remember that this is a learned practice, so it is not 100% reliable.

Find a low spot where it can’t get its snout and put some food in. He will probably use both legs to try to reach it, but with one he will be more adept than the other.

Yes, there are left-handed dogs

All the recent studies show that left-handed dogs exist, but you don’t have to worry if yours is. As in humans, the left-hander has no psychological, emotional or physical involvement.

And although the Journal of Veterinary Behavior concludes that there is somewhat more propensity for violence against strangers in left-handed dogs, this is not completely verified, so it cannot be generalized.

Left-handed animals can live their lives without any complications and without risks to their health. Contrary to what happens with humans, in the case of left-handed dogs these account for 50% of the animal population. We are, therefore, before a natural and normalized phenomenon.


Divyesh Patel