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Occasionally the manner a dog wags its tail indicates more than you may have thought. But other dogs understand it.
Developing on its 2007 study that dogs wag to their right whenever experiencing positive emotions and to their left whenever feeling negative, a team of Italian scientists is revealing that other dogs cue in to the tail-wagging signals.
The scientists, whose research was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, revealed that dogs, such as humans, have asymmetrically structured brains, with the left and right sides actively playing distinct functions. A dog experiencing a positive emotion, like when seeing its owner, would process that in the left side of its brain, making a tail wag to its right. On the other hand, a dog feeling a negative emotion, like seeing an unfriendly dog, would process that in the brain’s right side, making a left-side wag.
The scientists monitored the response of dogs watching videos of other dogs with either left- or right-asymmetric tail wagging. Whenever the dogs noticed another dog wagging to the left, their heart rates picked up and they started to look restless. Whenever dogs saw another dog wagging to the right, they continued to be calm.
Therefore, a dog wagging with a right-side tendency — suggesting a positive/approach response taking place in the left side of its brain — would produce calm responses in other dogs viewing that. And a dog wagging with a tendency to the left — suggesting a negative response and triggering the right hemisphere of the brain — would as well produce an anxious reaction in a dog seeing the tail wagging, stated researcher Giorgio Vallortigara. The neuroscience professor directs the University of Trento’s Center for Mind/Brain Sciences.
Dogs “do not intend to communicate anything with such an asymmetric tail wagging,” said Vallortigara, who holds a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience. “It is simply something that happens. The interesting thing is that such an asymmetric tail wagging seems, however, to have meaning for a dog looking at tail wagging of another” dog.
“Again, it is unlikely that this involves any explicit understanding by the observer dog.”
Bias in wagging and its reaction may find practical uses amongst veterinarians, dog owners and dog trainers, he added.
“I can imagine they can be exploited, for instance by selecting a direction of approach to dogs during veterinary visits or in general when approaching a novel dog” or “making use of asymmetrical tail wagging” during agility or obedience teaching.