So, you think everything is fine when a dog wags its tail?

Here is a compilation of what some people think is going on in a dog’s mind when they wag their tails.

Tail Wagging Direction Holds Meaning
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
“March 27, 2007 — Going right or left makes a big difference for tail wagging dogs, Italian researchers have discovered.
Tails wag to the right when dogs are happy and see something they want to approach, and to the left when they are frightened and confronted with something they want to run away from, claim the researchers.

According to Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trieste, Angelo Quaranta and Marcello Siniscalchi of Bari University, these “striking asymmetries in the control of tail movements” are another example of how the right and left halves of the brain control different emotions. They published their findings in a recent issue of the journal, Current Biology.

The researchers tested 30 family pet dogs — 15 males and 15 females with an age range of one to six years — in a large rectangular wooden box covered with black plastic to prevent dogs from seeing outside.

Vallortigara and colleagues filmed each dog’s response to four different visual stimuli: the dog’s owner, an unknown person, a dominant, unfamiliar dog and a cat.

“When faced with their owner, dogs exhibited a striking right-sided bias in the amplitudes of tail wagging,” the researchers wrote.

Tails kept wagging to the right when dogs were shown an unfamiliar person and the cat. The human stranger elicited less wagging than the owner, and the cat — a four-year-old European male placed in a small metal cage — the least wagging of all.

But when shown a large, unfamiliar and intimidating four-year-old male Belgian shepherd malinois — also kept in a cage — the tails leaned consistently leftwards.

Dogs also wagged their tails to the left when they were on their own, suggesting that they like company.
“This work shows that even a single medial appendage can show lateralization and so reflect which side of the brain is active at the time. Also, it provides an excellent way of assessing the reactions of dogs to people, other animals and even different environments,” neuroscientist Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, told Discovery News.

However, it is unlikely that people can benefit from this discovery when approaching a dog.

Dogs tend to move about constantly, making the right-left bias often so subtle it can only be spotted with video analysis.”

“Our study provides direct evidence that also in a non-human species the anterior regions of the left and right hemispheres are specialized for approach and withdrawal processes,” Vallortigara told Discovery News.

Previous studies in humans have shown the same dichotomic partition. While the brain’s left hemisphere (which controls the right side of the body) is associated with a sunny disposition, the right hemisphere is associated with negative emotions and retreat.

“The fact that the same partition is found in animals suggests that brain asymmetry is quite ancient,” Vallortigara said.”

“A thinker on dogs who I respect quite a bit, (although once again lacks a model for what’s going on inside the dog’s mind), is Desmond Morris. For our current purposes I call on his book Dogwatching wherein he writes at length on the phenomenon of tail-wagging. He states: “The only emotional condition that all tail-waggers share is a state of conflict. This is true of almost all back-and-forth movements in animal communication. When an animal is in conflict it feels pulled in two different directions at the same time. It wants to advance and retreat simultaneously. Since each urge cancels the other out, the animal stays where it is, but in a state of conflict. Essentially the animal wants to stay and wants to go away. The urge to go away is simple–it is caused by fear. The urge to stay is more complex.”

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

“Another revealing attribute of a wagging tail is its tenseness. A stiff tail wag is generally not a good sign. The more relaxed a tail is while it is wagging, the more likely it is that the tail wag shows friendliness. A flexible, fluid motion in the tail looks friendly, and has a very different appearance and meaning than a rigid tail.”
Canine’s tail tells a tale
Story / Discussion
The London Zoo | Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2008 11:00 pm | (0) Comment

“Beware, I bite!
This is what the dog wants to say if the tail is held high and only the tip is wagging. The dog may be growling and the ears are erect. When the dog bares its teeth, it is time to run as the dog is definitely aggressive. A wagging tail is not a definite sign that the dog is friendly. Many people are bitten by the dog as they misinterpret the wagging tail.”

“A dog which keeps its tail high in the air while wagging it may be aggressive. Many large dogs wag their tails in this fashion to indicate that they are dominant. If a dog is holding its tail up and waving only the tip, you should approach with care, watching for other signs like the position of the ears or growling. If a dog has its tail between its legs, however, it indicates submission. Frightened or nervous dogs may wag their tails stiffly between their legs. Approach this type of dog cautiously as well, since dogs can bite or snap out of fright.
When a dog holds its tail straight out, rather than up or down, it is a sign of interest and curiosity. The majority of dogs wagging their tails in this position are friendly and interested in what is going on around them, and they do not pose a threat. Studies have also suggested that dogs who favor the right when wagging have a positive response to the stimulus they are experiencing, while dogs who bear left are having a negative response.”

“Raised tail and slow and rhythmic movement: The dog is on guard.”

Even Patricia McConnel just wrote a blog on tail wagging – check it out 🙂

What do you think? Have you seen examples of what these people are talking about?

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