Posted Date: July 23, 2014
Paw preference and handler location may affect canine mental performance on the agility course. By Claudia Bensimoun
How can you tell if your dog is going to be talented in agility? Scientists at the University of Bari in Italy are suggesting that you just may try asking your canine companion for his paw. A dog's paw preference has been linked with his learning ability, focus and performance during agility trials. If your pooch favors one paw over the other, he'll fare better at many learning and performance tasks.
Stacy Bols and Krusher. Photo courtesy of Melissa Sheehan, True Colors Photography.
So Which Paw Is It?
Recent research by Dr. Marcello Siniscalchi from the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari, Italy, showed how canine paw preference affects agility performance. The results were published in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition.
In this study, 19 dogs were offered a stuffed toy that was filled with food. This occurred once a month over a period of 10 months. Dr. Siniscalchi tested to see whether these dogs used a certain paw when they gripped the toy.
During these trials, each dog's owner filled out a questionnaire about how easily their dog was distracted and the dog's speed during relatively easy agility combinations. The dog's temperament was also tested and measured throughout the procedure by the owner in the questionnaire.
Tests demonstrated that dogs that prefer using one paw over the other outperformed agility canines that showed no preference. The dogs that were ambidextrous (using both paws equally) did not do as well in agility testing as dog that preferred to use one paw over the other. It didn't matter whether the dog preferred the left or the right paw - just having a preference made a dog more likely to excel in agility.
Where Are You?
Dr. Siniscalchi and colleagues also found that where the dog owner stood on an agility course relative to the dog had an important effect on performance. During tests, researchers found that dogs took longer and made more mistakes at agility trials when their owners stood on the left-hand side of their field of vision. The researchers suggest that this is because it activates the opposite (right) side of a dog's brain, which is involved with emotional responses. So by standing on the left of the dog, you may provide a distraction. Testing specifically involved weave poles, jumps, and the A-frame. Weave pole mistakes and slower performances were more pronounced than the errors and slowness of performance on the other tested obstacles. "The most relevant findings was that agility-trained dogs displayed longer latencies to complete the obstacles with the owner located in their left visual hemifield, compared to the right. Interestingly, the results showed that this phenomenon was significantly linked to both dogs' trainability and the strength of paw preference," says Dr. Siniscalchi via Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition.
Dr.Marcello Siniscalchi. Department of Veterinary Medicine. University of Bari, Italy.
Editor's note: Of course, there are many factors that contribute to a dog's agility performance. Paw preference and right brain activity are not the most important factors in choosing an agility partner.
Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance writer in West Palm Beach.