The Wagging Tail

By Cole Hudson

Earlier this week it was reported, by scientists in the Current Biology journal, that “seeing asymmetric tail wagging produces different emotional responses in dogs”. It was put forth that dogs may be sensitive towards certain tail movements, which correlate with either the left or right side of the body.

The scientists showed dogs video of fellow canines wagging their tails. The wagging was always a biased movement to one side of the body. They monitored the dogs cardiac activity and general behaviour. What they found was quite surprising. When the dogs watching the video observed a dog wagging it’s tail predominantly on the left, their cardiac activity increased and they exhibited signs of anxious behaviour, versus a right sided tail wag.

This response supports a hypothesis that there is a link between brain asymmetry and social behaviour in dogs. Are they communicating with their tails? Just how sensitive are dogs to these tail movements? Studies like this are slowly paving the way for increasing our understanding of the canine species.

We know that body language in humans can be attributed to about 80% of our communication. So it really isn’t a far stretch to believe that dogs may do the same. The findings are quite clear that there is indeed a clear response from the dogs, as shown in the diagram from the study.

Speaking to BBC, Prof Georgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist from the University of Trento, said: “It is very well known in humans that the left and right side of the brain are differently involved in stimuli that invokes positive or negative emotions.”

He added, “Here we attempted to look at it in other species.”

As research in this field continues, what else will we find? Dogs and humans have long worked together and increasing our understanding of them will always have a positive impact.

So the next time you are out with your dog, and you are cross paths with another, keep an eye out for which way the tails wag. Watch how your dog reacts and you may just learn something new about your furry friend.