What’s in a Wag? The Science Behind Dogs Tail Waging

The body, ears and eyes movements are some of the things any dog will use to communicate indicating their feelings. However, tail wagging is one of the most visible ways our canine friends are believed to use to clue fellow furry peers and people how they feel. Without a doubt the tail of a dog is a critical feature of its body. While many things can be said about dog tail wags, there’s a science and psychology behind it.

Different direction of a tail wag means something

A study in the Current Biology Journal indicated the brain of a dog controls a dog’s tail wag. Essentially, the dog wags the tail towards the right in a show of happiness, confidence and positivity about something. The right side of the body is controlled by the left brain, whose specialty is controlling energy enrichment and approach behaviors. In a study in the University of Trento, a dog watching another dog wagging its tail towards the right made him to relax as ears seemed to hang down, lips loosened even as the eyes blinked rather slowly.

On the flipside as a dog wags the tail towards the left there’s a feeling of bolting away, fear or being scared. The left wagging of the tail is controlled by the right side of the brain, which in turn controls energy expenditure and withdrawal feelings. On the University of Trento experiment, the tail of a dog wagging towards the left made the heart rate of the canine to increase as the hair seemed to stand on end. As a result, the dog looked away and had paws raised up indicative of stress.

When a dog sees its owner after sometime the tail wags rather vigorously towards the right but a human who’s unfamiliar to them only make them wag the tail moderately but to the right.  Even the sight of a cat makes a dog to wag the tail in restrained movements and slowly while an aggressive and foreign canine influences the dog to wag the tail heavily towards the left side.

Learned and innate

The wagging of the tail by a dog is learned and innate. It means that once a dog has learned some body signals such as wagging the tail towards any side or none at all perhaps to remain safe or keep others happy, the canine will probably repeat the signal as much as possible. In the classic Pavlov’s dog story, it’s told that every time Pavlov would ring the bell his dog would start salivating. In essence the dog simply salivated without thinking, an innate behavior that was stimulus controlled, in this case by Pavlov’s bell.

Scientists believe tail wagging changes is dependent on a stimulus, something capable of happening really fast. For instance, the movements have been found to give extra meaning to dog tail wags. An increase in speed simply shows the dog is excited with the breath that goes with a tail wag revealing the emotional state of the dog. Whether it’s negative or positive it’s independent of the excitement level.

Clearly, dogs use different sets of information all the time to interact with other dogs and to respond to humans and other things in their environment. The tail is critical as a signal in all these.

Next time you approach any dog you might want to pay a little attention to the tail wagging and whether it’s to the left or right. A left tail wag and you probably should be careful.