Monday, October 7, 2013

Canine lefties - side dominance in dogs

Is your dog a southpaw?  When he shakes hands, which paw does he use? 

Whereas only ten to twelve percent of people are lefties, in dogs (and many other non-human mammals), left and right predominance is about fifty/fifty.  The discrepancy isn't clearly understood.  Handedness is connected to the opposite side of the brain.

Because right-handedness is connected to the left hemisphere of the brain, where language is processed, it's possible that in humans, the only species that uses language*, evolution favored right side dominance.

* (I'm using the word language in the scholarly sense of the word - language is a system of arbitrary signs, patterns and sounds that communicate feelings and thoughts. Humans are the only species that use language. This is not to say that other communication systems are any less complicated, rather, they are different.)

"I'm a lefty"
Studies show that in people, lefties are more affected by fear and anxiety than righties, suggesting that the right side of the brain is more involved in these emotions.. Left handed people are more temperamental, too, and studies show they are quicker to react in a negative manner. Scientists at Australia's University of Adelaide  discovered similarities in canine southpaws. Left-sided dogs are more likely to react with negative behaviors when they are frightened or anxious, including aggression, than their right-pawed counterparts.

Dr. Barkman's favorite southpaw, Frazier, contradicts the
scientific findings. He is confident, friendly, and especially gentle. 

Keep in mind that fear is the emotion; aggression is the behavioral response.  In both humans and dogs, it's likely that age, gender, personal history, health and genetic factors contribute to how we respond. Just because a dog is a lefty doesn't mean she will bite.  But it might mean she isn't suited for guide work.  The Australian guide dog school uses left-sided dominance tests to exclude dogs from their training program. They believe that lefties are less likely to be able to maintain the rigors of the work because they are more prone to fear and anxiety.  You can see them testing their dogs in this video.

To figure out if your pooch is a southpaw, put some treats in a Kong toy and see which foot he uses to move it around. Or put a bone under the couch.  Does he use one paw more than the other in his effort to retrieve the goody?

He's a rightie.

She's a leftie.
To read more:

Psychologist and author Stanley Coren, in an article in Psychology Today,  writes, "Tail wagging movements of a dog are biased to the right or left depending upon whether they view a situation as being positive or negative."

13 Facts about (human) lefties

Schneider,  L.A., Delfabbro, P.H., & Burns, N.R. (2013) Temperament and lateralization in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (3), 124-134. 

"How do you do?"

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