Dominant Paws: Is Your Dog a Righty or Lefty?

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If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re right-handed. According to WorldAtlas, only 10 percent of the human population are lefties. But have you ever wondered if dogs have dominant paws like humans have dominant hands? And are dogs right- or left-handed, on average? Find out how pet researchers — and you too! — can determine whether a dog is a righty or lefty.

Understanding Paw Preference

Like humans, all dogs are different, so there’s no definitive answer to the question as to whether or not a dog is left or right-pawed Another reason why it’s hard to nail down statistics is that dogs aren’t formally tested for dominant paws. However, many experts believe that dogs have a more equal chance than humans of being either righties or lefties. And while many dogs have dominant paws, many also have no preference between their right and left paws.

How Researchers Determine Paw Preference

Two of the most popular ways to determine a dog’s paw preference is through the Kong test and the first-stepping test, both of which have been used in scientific studies. Here’s how they work.

The Kong Test

In a Kong test, a dog is given a rubber, cylindrical dog toy called a Kong, which is filled with food. You then watch the dog to see how many times they use each paw to hold the toy while trying to get the food out. According to the American Kennel Club, Kong tests tend to show that dogs are equally likely to be left-pawed, right-pawed and to have no preference.

The First-Stepping Test

You can also determine a dog’s paw preference through the first-stepping test. With this test, you watch to see which paw a dog puts down first as they prepare to walk. This indicates which paw they prefer. According to the author of a study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, the first-stepping test shows more significant paw preferences than the Kong test. This particular first-stepping test revealed a strong preference among dogs for the right paw.

What About My Dog?

If you’d like to know which paw your own pup prefers, try an at-home experiment. You can either use one of the scientist-approved tests or create a new one your pet might like more. For example, when you ask your dog to give you their paw, do they always extend the same one? What happens if you hide a treat in your hand? Does your dog extend the same paw to touch the hand that’s holding the treat? Games like this can help you determine if your pet has a paw preference.

Keep in mind that if you want accurate results, you’ll have to perform a paw preference test over an extended period of time. Both the Kong test and the first-stepping test require 50 observations for accurate data.

Whether you decide to take a serious, scientific approach or not, your dog is sure to love participating in a paw preference test — especially if it involves food!


Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital (OVSH) has been serving the Portland and Beaverton area community since 1979. Dr. Robert T. Franklin (Internal medicine) welcomes referrals from veterinarians all over the Pacific Northwest. Our goal is to help your pet regain health and live a long and happy life.

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