It has been known for a long time that in humans each side of the brain is specialised to process information differently and therefore controls different categories of emotions and behaviours.
In general, the left hemisphere tends to be more active in non-stressful situations while the right hemisphere is more active in unpredictable situations and mediates escape behaviours.
A number of studies have investigated limb preferences in dogs, that is favouring the right or left front paw when engaged in a motor task such as removing the stuffing from a Kong toy, for example, Batt et al. (2009) and Rogers (2010). There is a correlation between ‘pawed-ness’ and personality, or behavioural traits in dogs.
Dogs that are right-pawed (i.e. favour using the left hemispheres of their brains) are less reactive, calmer and more inclined to approach in novel situations.
On the other hand, dogs that are left-pawed (i.e. favour using the right hemispheres of their brains) are more reactive, less calm and more inclined to avoid novel situations and perhaps even become fearful. In practical terms, this means that potentially, right-pawed would make better guide dogs and search and rescue dogs that left-pawed dogs.
The thing is that pawed-ness in dogs has been studied for the front paws only, no one has investigated whether or not dogs also show pawed-ness in their hind limbs… until now.
In a new study being published right now (Gough and McGuire, 2015), the researchers observed the urination behaviours of 264 dogs in 2 big rescue kennels. The study included 138 neutered males, 29 entire males, 71 neutered females and 26 entire females. In all, they recorded 2,062 urination postures over a period of about 18 months.
As expected male dogs cocked one leg to urinate much more often than females. Of the females that cocked a leg, they were predominantly senior dogs (8 years old or older). Of the males there was no significant difference between the incidence of a cocked leg between neutered and entire dogs. There was also no evidence that there was a left- or right-pawed preference, in fact most of the dogs that cocked a leg were “ambidextrous” when it came to having a pee. The determining factor seemed to be convenience, for example what side a handy post or bush was as dogs walked passed it.
The researchers did not collect any data on the temperaments of these dogs, nor did they test for paw preference using the front limbs in this study, which is a shame. What we can probably conclude here is that hind leg-cocking preferences in dogs is not an indicator of personality in the same way that fore limb preference appears to be.
© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor, 2015
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Batt, LS, Batt MS, Baguley JA, McGreevy PD. 2009. The relationships between motor lateralization, salivary cortisol concentrations and behavior in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4(6), 216-222.
Gough W, McGuire B. 2015. Urinary posture and motor laterality in dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) at two shelters. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. In Press.
Rogers LJ. 2010. Relevance of brain and behavioural lateralization to animal welfare. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 127(1), 1-11.