Dog tail wagging holds clues to brain set up

Puppy_Play-in-Snow_blogDogs’ tails may tell more of a tale than previously thought.

Think of a dog’s tail like its emotional barometer. Conventional thinking tells us that a wagging tail equals a happy dog. However, scientists have known for a while that tail wags can also indicate other, less positive feelings such as fear or insecurity, according to Psychology Today.

Tail signals are important for canine communication as well – dogs’ eyes track movement better than they do colors or details, hence the reason dogs’ tails may have lighter or darker tip or a bushy shape (the article has a great breakdown of what tail positions mean, along with differences by breed).

Now, new research published in Current Biology has deciphered even more of the tail-wagging language, if you will. Researchers at the University of Trento and the University of Bari in Italy have found that when dogs see another dog wag their tail to the left, it increases anxiety. However, when the tail is wagged to the right, the dogs stayed calm. The link between tail wagging and a range of emotions was first reported in 2007 – however, the new research shows that dogs pick up on the difference, according to The New York Times.

The studies suggest that, like their human companions, dogs have “asymmetrically organized brains” – that is, activation of the left side of the brain creates a wag to the right, while activation of the right side of the brain creates a wag to the left, the Times explains. The direction of the wagging could result from this asymmetry, which dogs learn throughout time, Dr. Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trento and author of the study told the Times.

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