Skip to main content

View Diary: Overnight News Digest Nov 3 (35 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  PS. There are woozles... (9+ / 0-)

    And here's the woozle newzle  

    The Dog's Tail Tale: Do They Know What Others are Feeling?

    A dog's tail is a fascinating piece of work. Past research showed that when dogs wag their tail to the right (activation of the left side of the brain), for example when they see their "owner", it's an indication of a positive emotion associated with approach, and when they wag their tail to the left (right brain activation), for example when they see an image of a dominant unfamiliar dog, it's an indication of a negative emotion associated with withdrawal. Details about this study are available in this essay called "Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli". I've previously written about the evolution and significance of asymmetric brains, called lateralization, in a previous essay titled "Divided Brains: Fascinating Facts about Brain Asymmetries".

    Another question that needed to be studied is what do dogs seeing a dog wag his or her tail make of the situation? Do they know that a dog wagging their tail to the right is feeling good and a dog wagging their tail to the left is feeling a negative emotion? Some of the same researchers have recently discovered that they do (the abstract for this study titled "Seeing Left- or Right-Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different Emotional Responses in Dogs" can be seen here). A recent essay by Douglas Quenqua in the New York Times called "A Dog’s Tail Wag Can Say a Lot" noted, "When watching a tail wag to the left [of a silhouette of a dog projected on a screen], the dogs showed signs of anxiety, like a higher heart rate. When the tail went in the opposite direction, they remained calm." The authors of this study concluded, "The finding that dogs are sensitive to the asymmetric tail expressions of other dogs supports the hypothesis of a link between brain asymmetry and social behavior and may prove useful to canine animal welfare theory and practice."

    So, what do the dogs really know? One of the researchers, Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trento in Italy, is quoted in the New York Times essay as saying, "it is unlikely that dogs are wagging their tails to communicate with one another. The mechanistic explanation is that "'It’s simply a byproduct of the asymmetry of the brain,' and dogs learn to recognize the pattern over time."

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site