The Loh Down On Science

You'll enjoy knowing what dogs' tail wags mean

Is your dog right-tailed or left-tailed?  

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

It depends on who he’s wagging it at!

Brain asymmetry affects animal behavior, just like in humans.  Researchers from two Italian universities studied dogs and their wagging tails.  Turns out, when approached by someone familiar—like their owner—dogs consistently wagged their tails to their right. When they saw an unfamiliar dog, tails wagged left. 

The researchers concluded that tail direction indicates activity in the opposite brain hemisphere.  Left-brain, right wag?  Everything’s cool.  Right-brain, left wag? —Look out, Timmy!  Danger!

But do dogs also recognize these signals when they see them?

To find out, the researchers showed 43 dogs of different breeds a video.  When they saw a tail wagging right, dogs were relaxed.  When the tail wagged left, pups got anxious—hearts raced.  No wagging?  Dogs were anxious—but not as much.

The researchers say this shows that dogs rely on social cues, like tail action, to assess a strange dog’s state of mind, or a possible threat.

When you don’t have time to sniff a behind.  Although that helps too. 

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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