Our understanding of lateralization has potential to improve our dogs’ quality of life, our relationships with them and even our success in training them. We may be able to reduce stress by approaching dogs from their right side in exams, during greetings or in any stressful situations. We can quickly see how dogs react emotionally to a variety of stimuli by attending to which way they turn, and we can observe the asymmetry in their tail wags to ascertain their emotional state. It’s possible that we can even minimize the development of noise phobias by placing dogs whose lateralization suggests vulnerability in quieter homes. We can minimize the substantial investment of time and money spent on training guide dogs by training only those dogs who have the greatest chance of completing the program.
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Love and understanding compound one another with our dogs, and lateralization is a case in point. A dear dog friend of mine is strongly right-pawed; it was pitiful to watch him attempt to learn to give a left high-five, or use his left paw to hold his Kong when he briefly had a bandage on his right paw. I used to find how hard it was for him to do anything with his left paw somewhat comical. Now I understand that this trait is part of the package that makes him the unflappable, happy, don’t-care-about-the-power-tools-running-all-day-during-the-kitchen-remodel, playful and exploratory, nothing-fazes-him kind of dog I love so much. I’m honored and overjoyed that when he greets me, his tail wags are as one-sided to the right as the rest of him.
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Batt, L.S. and M.S. Batt et al. 2009. The relationships between motor lateralization, salivary cortisol concentrations and behavior in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 4: 216-222.
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Siniscalchi, M., A. Quaranta A. and L.J.Rogers. 2008. Hemispheric specialization in dogs for processing different acoustic stimuli. PloSONE 3: e3349, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003349.
Siniscalchi M., R. Sasso R., et al. 2010. Dogs turn left to emotional stimuli. Behavioural Brain Research 208: 516-521.
Siniscalchi M. and R. Sasso, et al. 2011. Sniffing with the right nostril: lateralization of response to odour stimuli by dogs. Animal Behaviour 82: 399-404.
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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.