Researchers reveal more about what wagging tails mean
NewsMonday 04 November 2013
Scientist have been able to shed some more light on how the movements of a dog’s tail are linked to its mood.
Earlier research had led to the revelation that happy dogs tend to wag their tails more to their right, while nervous dogs wag to their left, according to the BBC.
However, scientists have now said that fellow dogs are able to spot and respond to these subtle differences in wagging. Their study was published in the journal titled Current Biology.
Professor Georgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist from the University of Trento, has 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.
"Here we attempted to look at it in other species."
He also added that the right hand side of the dog’s brain was responsible for the left-handed movements and vice versa. This is the same in humans, and again, in dogs, the different hemispheres also played different roles in emotions.
The researchers monitored the animals as they watched films of other dogs, in order to find out more about how the dogs react to the lop-sided tail wags of other dogs.
In order to see how they reacted, the researchers measured the pets’ heart rates and analysed their behaviour.
Prof Vallortigara said: "We presented dogs with movies of dogs - either a naturalistic version or a silhouette to get rid of any other confounding issues, and we could doctor the movement of the tail and present the tail more to the left or right."
When the dogs saw an expressionless dog move its tail to the right, form the tail-wagging dog’s point of view, they stayed perfectly relaxed.
However, when they spotted a tail veer to the left hand side, their heart rates picked up and they looked anxious.
Even with these results, Prof Vallortigara has said that he didn’t think the dogs were intentionally communicating with each other through these movements.
He does, however, believe that the dogs have learned, through experience, what moves they should and shouldn’t feel worried about.
He said: "If you have several meetings with other dogs, and frequently their tail wagging one way is associated with a more friendly behaviour, and the right side is producing a less friendly behaviour, you respond on the basis of that experience."
The researchers say the findings could give owners, vets and trainers a better insight into their animal's emotions.