Sunday, 13 May 2012

Catalyst: Left Paw Right Paw - ABC TV Science

Pawedness in Dogs - is your dog a left-paw or a right-paw? And if so, what does it mean? 

Not only would being a leftie shape your dog's personality, it has a massive influence on whether a puppy will pass or fail Guide Dog School. Recent research by Guide Dogs NSW has indicated that dogs who are right-pawed more likely to graduate Guide Dog School than south paws!

It's all to do with what's called brain lateralisation. That's where different hemispheres of the brain do different jobs. So the right brain is largely in charge of the fight-flight response - fear, anxiety. Whereas the left brain is largely in charge of jobs like eating. And because the nerves cross over, right-pawed means left brain biased, whereas left-pawed means right brain biased. 

Decades of research in other species shows that right-handed animals tend to be more bold and inquisitive, while left-handed animals tend to be more fearful and cautious. So perhaps it's not surprising the more anxious lefties did worse.

Basically Guide Dogs are trained to work on the left side of their handler, and the vision in their right eye is often partially obscured. So I think that may have influenced the left-biased dogs in being more successful.

However, one of the best guides to Guide Dog success, believe it or not, it's about which direction dog’s hair whorls in... Pioneering work in cattle found that the position and direction of the hair whorl had a large bearing on how anxious or bold cattle were. 

No-one is sure exactly why, but it's something to do with skin and brain development in the embryo, and it's independent of paw preference. And it turned out that counter-clockwise dogs were twice as likely to graduate as the clockwise. Which astonished NSW’s Guide Dog School... 

catalyst_s13_ep03_LeftPaw-3_small.jpgSo the perfect candidate for Guide Dog School should in theory be right-pawed, left-eyed with an anti-clockwise whorl... 

View this intriguing video by ABC Catalyst Team:
Left Paw Right Paw


  1. where is a dog's hair whorl? I found a couple on my pup's tail bones which mirror one another, so one in each direction. I found some weaker whorls on her chest area that seem to all go counter clockwise. But this article seems to point to some specific whorl- where is it?

    1. Below the neck, in the middle of the chest, you'll see the left side hair pattern clash with the hair on the right side. This is the chest whorl. In dogs with short hair, it's easier to see which direction it's growing.

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