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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dog Tail-Wagging: Left Is Bad, Right Is Good, Say Researchers

This is truly fascinating: Researchers from the University of Trieste in Italy have determined that dogs, which wag their tails to express both happiness and displeasure, wag their tails asymmetrically in a consistent manner to demonstrate whether their feelings are positive or negative. The New York Times reports:

When dogs feel fundamentally positive about something or someone, their tails wag more to the right side of their rumps. When they have negative feelings, their tail wagging is biased to the left. ...

Research has shown that in most animals, including birds, fish and frogs, the left brain specializes in behaviors involving what the scientists call approach and energy enrichment. In humans, that means the left brain is associated with positive feelings, like love, a sense of attachment, a feeling of safety and calm. It is also associated with physiological markers, like a slow heart rate.

At a fundamental level, the right brain specializes in behaviors involving withdrawal and energy expenditure. In humans, these behaviors, like fleeing, are associated with feelings like fear and depression. Physiological signals include a rapid heart rate and the shutdown of the digestive system. ...

When the dogs saw their owners, their tails all wagged vigorously with a bias to the right side of their bodies, Dr. Vallortigara said. Their tails wagged moderately, again more to the right, when faced with an unfamiliar human. Looking at the cat, a four-year-old male whose owners volunteered him for the experiment, the dogs’ tails again wagged more to the right but in a lower amplitude.

When the dogs looked at an aggressive, unfamiliar dog — a large Belgian shepherd Malinois — their tails all wagged with a bias to the left side of their bodies.

[Link]

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know this sounds silly, but as a lefty, I had to wonder if dogs are afflicted with the same dominant lobe function of the brain as humans. They say that lefties are more artistic, better with spacial perception, while righties demonstrate natural strengths in logic and problem solving. It begs the question, do dogs come in righties and lefties? And if so, how does this affect your conclusions?

GraemeM said...

Which left? The dos left or my left as he licks my face to say hello.

Jeremiah McNichols said...

@graemem: The dog's left.

Jen said...

I've noticed that when a dog is really happy they wag their tails in circles instead of left-right. No joke.

Jeremiah McNichols said...

@Jen: I see. How large is your sample set? One dog, or many?

Forest said...

I was raised in a family that raised different breeds of dogs. So I've been around at least 100 dogs, and it does seem, that when the dogs were at their happiest, the circle wag as more predominant.