‘Southpaw’ has been used to describe left-handed people, but could the term also be applied to pets?
James Cook University Townsville veterinary lecturer Janice Lloyd has some insight into the question.
Several of Dr Lloyd’s postgraduate students have been researching the handedness of animals, including horses and goats.
She said while only 10 per cent of humans were lefties, nearly 50 per cent of dogs favoured their left paw.
“They certainly have a preference for one side over another,” Dr Lloyd said.
“An animal that might prefer to use their left or right paw [or hoof], or a fish that prefers to swim in a right-hand direction,” Dr Lloyd said.
And wildlife? Research would suggest that all kangaroos appear to be left-pawed.
“Someone brought to my attention recently that all the sulphur crested cockatoos that are flying around are all left-footed,” she said.
“I’ve been observing the birds much more carefully since I learned that.”
Right-pawed puppies are twice as likely to complete guide dog training. (Supplied: Guide Dogs Australia)
What’s the difference between lefties and righties?
Handedness is a form of laterality, which is the preferential use of one side of the body over another.
For domestic pets it seldom makes a difference to their lives, but for race horses that are required to run around tracks in a specified direction, it can mean the difference between a winner and a wannabe.
Dr Lloyd said studies into guide dogs showed that right-pawed dogs tended to pass their training twice as often as left-pawed dogs.
“Another potential advantage of that is right-handed animals appear to have a more robust immune system than left-handed people and animals,” Dr Lloyd said.
“Handedness is believed to be hereditary, so … the research may end up having quite an impact on how we breed and train and raise animals for human use.”
‘That’s one to the right’. Janice Lloyd observes while Belinda Young tests Wilbur’s handedness by observing his dominant paw when given a treat or toy. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)
Temperament and southpaws
Next year one of Dr Lloyd’s students will start studying the paw preference of cats in shelters such as those run by the RSPCA.
Dr Lloyd said the temperament of animals did seem to be linked to their paw preference.
“Left-handed animals, including humans, are often believed to be more stress-prone than right-handed animals,” she said.
“We are just trying to find out, are more left-handed animals or more right-handed animals ending up in shelters?”
Next year Dr Lloyd will supervise a study into cats at the RSPCA to see if animals in shelters are more likely to be left-pawed. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)
Testing your pet’s paw preference
Dr Lloyd said simple tests could be done to determine your pet’s paw preference.
Animals will often reach for a treat or toy with their preferred paw, so watching which side they use, then repeating the test 50 times, can give you an indication.
A result of more than 32 instances out of 50 of using the same paw would suggest your pet does have a preference.
Noting which paw your pet uses to shake hands or to remove a sticky post-it note from their nose can also work.
“But if the dogs don’t like the post-it notes, then please don’t do it,” Dr Lloyd said.
Test your pet’s handedness. Repeat each test 50 times, a score of more than 32 on one side indicates a paw preference. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)