Nav: Home

Dogs know a left-sided wag from a right

October 31, 2013

You might think a wagging tail is a wagging tail, but for dogs there is more to it than that. Dogs recognize and respond differently when their fellow canines wag to the right than they do when they wag to the left. The findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 31 show that dogs, like humans, have asymmetrically organized brains, with the left and right sides playing different roles.

The discovery follows earlier work by the same Italian research team, which found that dogs wag to the right when they feel positive emotions (upon seeing their owners, for instance) and to the left when they feel negative emotions (upon seeing an unfriendly dog, for example). That biased tail-wagging behavior reflects what is happening in the dogs' brains. Left-brain activation produces a wag to the right, and right-brain activation produces a wag to the left.

But does that tail-wagging difference mean something to other dogs? Yes it does, the new study shows.

While monitoring their reactions, the researchers showed dogs videos of other dogs with either left- or right-asymmetric tail wagging. When dogs saw another dog wagging to the left, their heart rates picked up and they began to look anxious. When dogs saw another dog wagging to the right, they stayed perfectly relaxed.

"The direction of tail wagging does in fact matter, and it matters in a way that matches hemispheric activation," says Giorgio Vallortigara of the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences of the University of Trento. "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. In contrast, a dog looking to a dog wagging with a bias to the left--and 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."

Vallortigara doesn't think that the dogs are necessarily intending to communicate those emotions to other dogs. Rather, he says, the bias in tail wagging is likely the automatic byproduct of differential activation of the left versus the right side of the brain. But that's not to say that the bias in wagging and its response might not find practical uses; veterinarians and dog owners might do well to take note.

"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," Vallortigara says.
-end-
Current Biology, Siniscalchi et al.: "Seeing left or right asymmetric tail wagging produces different emotional responses in dogs."

Cell Press

Related Dogs Articles:

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.
Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.
Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.
Hidden danger from pet dogs in Africa
Researchers at the Universities of Abuja and Nigeria, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, have detected a potentially human-infective microbe in pet dogs in Nigeria.
How humans have shaped dogs' brains
Dog brain structure varies across breeds and is correlated with specific behaviors, according to new research published in JNeurosci.
Parasitic worms infect dogs, humans
A human infective nematode found in remote northern areas of Australia has been identified in canine carriers for the first time.
Better prognosticating for dogs with mammary tumors
For dogs with mammary tumors, deciding a course of treatment can depend on a variety of factors, some of which may seem to contradict one another.
Dogs mirror owner's stress
The levels of stress in dogs and their owners follow each other, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden.
Sleepovers reduce stress in shelter dogs
Foster care provides valuable information about dog behavior that can help homeless dogs living in shelters find forever homes.
Dogs know when they don't know
In a new study, researchers have shown that dogs possess some 'metacognitive' abilities -- specifically, they are aware of when they do not have enough information to solve a problem and will actively seek more information.
More Dogs News and Dogs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.