First-stepping Test as a measure of motor laterality in dogs (Canis familiaris)

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Motor laterality in potential guide dogs (n = 113) was determined using two methods: the Kong™ Test (the current benchmark test) and our innovation, a First-stepping Test. Kong™ studies record paw use during foraging from a rubber cylinder. However, motivation to feed varies markedly among dogs and breeds, and the test comprises 50 observations which for a single dog can take up to 4 hours to collect. The First-stepping Test bypasses hunger, and simply records the first foot advanced after standing with both forelegs level. In contrast to the Kong™ Test, it allows 50 observations to be gathered in 20 minutes. The findings of the current study indicate that lateralized behavior in the domestic dog is strongly task-dependent. The First-stepping Test revealed more significant paw preferences (PPs) than the Kong™ Test (76.1% vs. 52.2%). A significant right population bias (P = 0.036) was revealed using this novel test, whereas there was no bias in the direction of laterality observed using the Kong™ Test (P = 0.30). Instead, there was a significant population bias for the category of ambidextrous PP using the Kong™ (P = 0.005). Strength of laterality (regardless of direction) was significantly high in the First-stepping Test (P < 0.001), but only weak PPs were observed for the Kong™ Test (P = 0.65). Measures of laterality from the First-stepping Test were not influenced by dog factors, whereas age, breed, and sex of the dog were significantly associated with several laterality measures during the Kong™ Test. The occurrence of using both paws simultaneously to either hold the Kong™, or to step-off by means of jumping, was associated with a decrease in lateral strength for both tests. The First-stepping Test was repeatable, and the intraobserver (κ = 0.988) and interobserver (κ = 0.975) reliabilities were high. It offers a simple, quick and, when compared with the Kong™ Test, a more discriminative method of determining PP that is less influenced by dog factors.