The first ever study linking stress behaviour of pet dogs to brain specialisation has found that those without a paw preference are more likely to have noise phobia. As well as having ramifications for dog breeding, this supports the possibility that the hand people favour may indicate whether they are more prone to behavioural responses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Dr Nick Branson told delegates at the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Annual Conference that he has found a positive correlation between ambidextrous dogs and fear of some sounds. Dr Branson, who is a Veterinary Officer with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, performed the peer reviewed study as part of a PhD thesis he completed at the University of New England.
"Based on previous studies from other animal species, we hypothesised that left-pawed dogs might be more fearful of loud noises, but also considered that canines that are afraid of noise might have a weak or absent paw preference. To determine paw preference, we extensively studied the behaviour of dogs presented with a rubber tube full of sausage meat, and also, which paw dogs used while chewing on a bone," Dr Branson said.
"The results of the study were that while there was little reactivity shown by left and right-handed dogs to sounds of thunderstorm and fireworks, ambidextrous dogs showed extreme reactions. It seems that dogs that do not show brain specialization, and therefore, do not favour the use of one paw over the other, may be prone to experience intense emotional responses to a broad range of stimuli. Animals with lateralised functions may be able to transfer their attention away from a disturbing stimulus more successfully."
Dr Branson said that as well as helping to increase our understanding of human behavioural disorders, the research may help dog breeders in breeding better-adjusted animals.
"This research may also help to save time and money in the training of working dogs for sniffing and bomb detection work. Fear of noise is one of the most common reasons that dogs are rejected from explosive and sniffer dog detection programs, sometimes after years of training."