To the Left or to the Right? Does Your Dog’s Tail Wagging Direction Matter?

by Gayla on December 27, 2013

Donated by Christy Davidson The direction your dog wags its tail may be more important than you think. Researchers have found that tail wagging direction elicits different emotional responses from other dogs. Understanding these responses can go a long way in helping owners keep their dogs calm in the vet’s office or avoid a dangerous situation when meeting other dogs for the first time.

The Difference Between Left and Right Wagging

In a recent study, researchers gathered 43 dogs of varying breeds to monitor their response to different tail-wagging directions. Each dog was equipped with a vest that monitored his or her heart rate and measured their stress levels. Videos of other dogs were shown to each participant. The dogs in the videos were wagging their tail either to the left or the right. The end results were fascinating and provide insight into how dogs communicate with one another on an emotional level.

Dogs that watched the left tail-wagging video became anxious and their heart rates sky rocketed. On the other hand, dogs that watched the right tail-wagging video remained calm and relaxed. In fact, some of them approached the screen as if the other dog were a friendly companion.

This is not exactly a new revelation. In 2007, scientists discovered that tail wagging direction had an impact on how a dog was feeling. As you may have guessed, a left tail wag meant that the dog was feeling anxious. A right tail wag meant he was feeling relaxed and happy. What this new study does shed light on, however, is the fact that other dogs understand these signals as well.

Is Tail Wagging a Form of Communication for Dogs?

Researchers are not entirely convinced that these responses are a method of communication, or a secret language, for dogs. Rather, they believe that it is an automatic response that doesn’t need any thought.

This automatic response may be rooted in the hemispheres of the canine brain. In other words, when a dog sees another dog wagging its tail to the left, the right hemisphere of the brain activates and elicits an anxious or fearful response. On the other hand, seeing a dog wag its tail to the right would activate the left side of the brain and elicit a positive and relaxed response.

What does all of this mean for dog owners? For starters, it provides a little insight into what your dog is feeling and how they are reacting to the environment around them. When meeting other dogs for the first time, dog owners can immediately determine whether or not their canine companion feels comfortable with their new friend. Researchers also believe that this new information can help with the development of new strategies to keep dogs calm when visiting the vet’s office.

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