A phonetic generalisation regarding the [z]- and [s]-sound (plural form)

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PINERO

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Norway, Iceland
I don't know if this is the correct forum to ask this, but I'll give it a try..
It has to do with the phonetic pronounciation of words.
Here are two examples:
The word "dogs" is pronounced with a [z]-sound at the end.
The word "cats" is pronounced with a [s]-sound at the end.

Now, my question is this; The choice between the [z] or [s] is determined by a simple phonetic generalisation. All the sounds immediately preceding [z] have one property that differs them from the sounds immediately preceding [s]. What is this property?

I know this is a tough nut, but I have an assignment about this due tomorrow and I'm really stuck. Any help would be fantastic.
 
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