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Dogs Understand a Left-Sided Wag from a Right

Have you noticed that your dog's tail sometimes wags more to one side than the other? It might mean something! By Claudia Bensimoun


Although many of us may think that our dog's wagging tail merely reflects his happiness, there is far more to the wagging than initially thought. Recent studies demonstrate that dogs do recognize and respond differently when their fellow canine companions wag either to the right or to the left. These new findings (which demonstrate that our furry best friends, like humans, have asymmetrically organized brains, with both sides playing different roles) were first reported in the Cell Press Journal Current Biology on October 31, 2013.

New research by Dr. Giorgio Vallortigara of the Center of Mind/Brain Sciences of the University of Trento, Italy demonstrates that "the direction of the tail wagging does in fact matter, and it matters in a way that matches hemispheric activation," says Dr. Vallortigara of the University of Trento, Italy via Science Daily. "In other words, a dog looking to a dog wagging with a bias to the right side-and thus showing left-hemisphere activation as if it was experiencing some sort of positive/ approach response - would also produce relaxed responses," says Vallortigara. "In contrast, a dog looking to a dog wagging with a bias to the left side, thus showing right-hemisphere activation as if it was experiencing some sort of negative/withdrawal response, would also produce anxious and targeting responses as well as increased cardiac frequency. That is amazing, I think," adds Vallortigara.

This latest discovery follows earlier studies by the same Italian research team, which found that when dogs wag to the right they are happy and experience positive emotions. In contrast, when our furry best friends wag to the left they are experiencing negative emotions and are feeling anxious, aggressive, or depressed. This would possibly occur when seeing another dog. This biased tail wagging behavior demonstrates what was also happening inside the canine brain.

When monitoring the reactions of the dogs in the study, researchers monitored their reactions while showing them videos of other dogs that were either wagging to the left or to the right. They found that dogs do respond differently when other dogs either wag to the left or to the right.

Dr. Vallortigara and his team don't believe that the dogs are necessarily trying to communicate these emotions to other canines. Instead, he mentions that the bias of the tail wagging in our dogs is likely the automatic byproduct of differential activation of the left versus the right side of the brain. He also suggests that the bias in tail wagging and its response might not be find practical uses today, nonetheless pet parents, veterinarians, and most people that spend time around dogs may benefit by taking note of these tail wagging results.

"It could be that left/right directions of approach could be effectively used by vets during visits of the animals or that dummies could be used to exploit asymmetries of emotional responses," explains Vallortigara.

Links:

http://www.cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S0960982213011433

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance writer in West Palm Beach.

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