Have you ever noticed that the tail on your dog wag in one direction? Well, apparently wagging to the left or to the right conveys different meanings!
A recent study by Italian researchers published in Current Biology, titled Seeing Left or Right – Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different Emotional Responses in Dogs, showed that dogs, like humans, have asymmetrically organized brains, with the left and right sides playing different roles. A dog feeling a positive emotion, such as when seeing its owner, would process that in the left side of its brain, producing a tail wag to its right. Conversely, a dog feeling a negative emotion, such as seeing an unfriendly dog, would process that in the brain’s right side, producing a left-side wag.
For their study, the researchers gatherered 43 pet dogs of various breeds. The animals were outfitted with vests that monitored their heart rate, and they were shown videos of other dogs wagging their tails either to the left or to the right.
The dogs that watched left-side tail wagging behaved more anxiously and their heart rate increased, the researchers noted, while the dogs that watched another dog wag their tail to the right stayed calm; they even began to approach the dog on the screen, suggesting they saw the right-side wagging as a signal of friendship.
But right-left tail wags may not be a form of secret dog language. The researchers think the direction of tail wagging — and other dogs’ responses to it — might arise from automatic responses rooted in the different hemispheres of the canine brain. Just as the left and right sides of the brain in humans are thought to control different emotions and behaviours, the direction of wagging might match hemispheric activation.
The researchers hope these responses might help improve dog welfare, and perhaps even help develop new strategies to keep them calm at the vet’s office.