Wagging Tail Reveals Dog’s Real Emotions


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Tail wagging to the left or to the right can help dogs 'understand' each others emotions (Photo credit: Mike Baird/Flickr)

Tail wagging to the left or to the right can help dogs ‘understand’ each others emotions. Photo by Mike Baird

Tail Wagging Research

This is not the first study to assess how dogs react to left or right side tail wagging of other canines, although previous results didn’t seem to match the predicted left- or right-side brain activation. Seemingly in contradiction with the present results, and rather surprisingly, a team of Canadian researchers observed in 2010 that dogs were more likely to approach a real size robot-dog when its tail was wagging to the left (mimicking a stressed dog), but avoided contact if the tail was wagging to the right (mimicking a happy dog). However, researchers were cautious about these results, as dogs may not have recognised the robo-dogs as real animals, confounding the results.

Prof Vallortigara is also aware of similar limitations within his own study. Experimental conditions used were unnatural for the animals, as dogs looked at videos instead of real animals, preventing any real interaction. “I would like to measure tail wagging and other behaviour in pairs of animals freely interacting,” he concluded, “but this is not easy to do from a technical point of view.

Dog Tail Wag: Important to Communication

What is very clear from these studies is that the way a dog wags its tail can provide a wealth of information when observing dogs. Researchers believe these findings could give owners, vets, and trainers a better insight into their animal’s state of mind. Vets and trainers could, for example, approach the dog from a preferred side according to the response they want to elicit. This also questions the practice of ‘docking’, or cutting off the majority of a dog’s tail, as it compromises the dog’s ability to communicate with others.

Further Reading

K. A. Artelle, L. K. Dumoulin, T. E. Reimchen. Behavioural responses of dogs to asymmetrical tail wagging of a robotic dog replica. (2011). Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition. Accessed November  3, 2013.

Lesley J. Rogers, Giorgio Vallortigara and Richard J. Andrew. Divided Brains: The Biology and Behaviour of Brain Asymmetries. (2013). Cambridge University Press. Accessed November 3, 2013.

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