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Handedness (Pawedness?) in Animals
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I'm confused.

Chris Chatham links to studies showing that chimpanzees don't exhibit a preference for one hand over the other, and makes the broad generalization that non-human animals don't show a preference. The post talks about work trying to link handedness to language development.

But hold on...just a couple of weeks ago I came across this answer by Cecil of The Straight Dope, who I tend to trust (which may or may not be a good idea):


Dear Cecil:

Our cat seems to be left-handed. Is that possible? Are animals right- or left-handed, as humans are? If so, how come, and what can be inferred from that about the meaning of life? --Pierre and Daniella, Montreal, Quebec, Canada


[snip]

Paw/claw/whatever preference is actually pretty common in the animal world, having turned up in most species tested, including parrots (mostly lefties) as well as rats, monkeys, and chimpanzees (50-50 right versus left). Why should there be a preference? One plausible guess is that it helps the animals learn faster. Professor Cole noticed that cats with a dominant paw figured out how to get the rabbit meat out of the tube faster than the ambidextrous cats. Presumably if you practice constantly with one paw, you become more skillful than if you squander your playing time on two.


Well, that answer made perfect sense to me. Corballis, the researcher mentioned in Chatham's post, points to work that suggests that chimps in captivity show handness, though very weakly, while wild chimps don't.

However, after only a little searching, I found this article that finds handedness in wild chimps while termite fishing.

I suppose I'll conclude that it's a matter of scientific debate, an open question. Although I'd intuitively lean toward believing that most animals exhibit handedness until definitive evidence comes along.

In the meantime, it might be fun to experiment with your pets. I'd think it'd be pretty easy to just observe cats, who clean themselves all the time, and code which paw they use and for how long. A few days of this should give a pretty good indication of whether they exhibit a preference.

With dogs, I'd probably try to experiment with ones that hadn't been taught to shake or otherwise been trained to exhibit a preference. While the dog is in a sitting position, I'd try either batting at them with my hand or waving some sort of stimulus, a toy perhaps, in front of their face. If they're sitting, they should be able to naturally lift one paw. I'd try to systematically find a difference.

I don't have a pet, so I'm relying on you guys out there. I'm expecting reports. Get to it.


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