Why do dogs wag their tails? Scientists reveal complicated answer


It’s easy to assume that a dog is overwhelmed with joy if it squirms, it’s behind back and forth. What better symbol of happiness than a dog wagging its tail?

However, science suggests that reducing a dog’s tail wagging to a mere sign of happiness is an oversimplification of the way dogs use their tails to express very complex emotions.

People transmit body language through facial gestures and eye movements. Dogs use other parts of the body, such as the ears and tail, to express how they are feeling. Certain positions, directions, and the speed of tail movement can provide clues to a dog’s state of mind and intentions.

In this article, Reverse analyzes the surprising science behind dog bustle to help pet owners analyze the complex psychology behind their puppy’s daily behavior.

How do dogs communicate with their tails?

According to a 2018 report By veterinary researchers at the University of Bari, dogs lower their tails in an attempt to reduce the appearance of their size and avoid conflict with other dogs during stressful encounters.

Meanwhile, in a 2007 to study published in the journal Current biology, the researchers found that the direction of the dog’s tail movement can reflect a dog’s emotional state. The researchers measured the direction of movement – left or right – in response to emotional stimuli, such as seeing their owner, a cat, dog, or an unknown person.

The direction of a dog’s tail movement can suggest what he is feeling. Getty

“In dogs, movements to the left and to the right are controlled by brain mechanisms on the other side. Giorgio Vallortigara, co-author of the study and director of the Animal Brain Cognition Group at the University of Trento, recounts Reverse.

If a dog is moving its tail to the right, it is due to activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, and vice versa if the dog is moving its tail to the left.

Vallortigara’s research suggests that dogs wag their tails more to the right when they see a familiar individual, such as their owner. This tail movement to the right could signal a positive desire to approach the individual.

Conversely, dogs wag their tails to the left when they see – and possibly pull back – an unfamiliar individual, such as an aggressive dog.

Tail wagging is such a strong indication of emotional intention that dogs will respond positively or negatively to another dog’s tail swing, according to a 2013 follow-up. to study by Vallortigara and his colleagues.

“When you watch another dog movie that shows a tail wagging mostly to the right, [the dogs] seemed more relaxed than the other way around, ”says Vallortigara.

Do dogs choose to wag their tails?

Dogs can wag their tails for a number of complex emotional reasons, and it’s not always because they are happy.Getty

Do dogs consciously wag their tails in response to an event, or is it more of a subconscious emotional response to their situation?

“I very much doubt it is conscious,” says Vallortigara.

Instead, Vallortigara says wagging the dog’s tail should be seen as an unconscious expression of bias in the structure of the dog’s brain.

Do dogs only wag their tails when they are happy?

Dogs often wag their tails to express a state of energetic enthusiasm. In a 2018 study, the researchers found, “Dogs wag their tails freely from side to side to communicate their friendship or excitability.

This association between tail wagging and positive canine social behavior has been proven in other research.

Sometimes dogs wag their tails in response to an exploit. Getty Images

In a 2013 to study, the dogs showed their enthusiasm by wagging their tails in response to their exploits. The researchers write that these results suggest that “tail wagging may be a useful indicator of positive affective states in dogs.”

During this time, a study from 1989 published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior found that dogs wagged their tails more after a period of limited social contact. This may explain why dogs wag their tails so much after their owner’s been away for a long time.

Either way, dogs wag their tails for a number of reasons – to convey anxiety, alertness, or other emotions. Some studies even suggest that tail wagging may match a dog’s personality, although more research is still needed to be sure.

How to recognize the mood of a dog by its tail?

You can tell a lot about a dog’s mood by paying attention not only to the wiggling, but also to the specific position of its tail. A lowered tail tucked between the legs means something very different from a tail lifted high in the air.

Wagging the tail is its own emotional language. Certain positions, directions and the speed of the tail can give clues to a dog’s state of mind.Giphy

To truly understand your dog’s behavior, you need to know the emotional significance behind certain tail positions, according to the University of Bari 2018. report.

  • Tail down: A lowered tail or a tail tucked between the legs indicates submission, fear and anxiety. The dog’s goal is to appear smaller in the face of threats such as new dogs or people.
  • A tail held high: Displays a dog’s confidence or intention to positively approach another dog or human.
  • A rigid vertical tail: This reflects anxiety or a potential threat.
  • A tail wagging from side to side: Indicates friendliness and excitability.

The speed of stirring can also make a difference. VCA veterinary hospital describe the meaning behind certain speeds in more detail:

  • Quick stir: A faster commotion indicates excitement, such as a dog waving to its owner upon returning from work.
  • Very fast wag: It can always be a sign of excitement, but if the dog is also holding its tail vertically while wagging its tail quickly, you should be wary as the dog can be aggressive.
  • Slight agitation: A more hesitant, gentler stir can indicate insecurity, such as a dog meeting a new canine friend for the first time.

Different breeds of dogs and wagging tail

Golden retrievers often swing their tails side to side when walking. Different breeds of dogs can have different resting positions for their tails, so be extra careful.Getty

Most dogs use their tails to convey emotions, but some dogs start with the tail in different resting positions.

The Blue Cross, a charity that helps pets in the UK, writes that golden retrievers “Have large, expressive tails that tend to wander side to side” while greyhounds tend to curl their tails against their bellies. According to VCA Animal Hospital, beagles tend to hold their tails upright.

Other dog breeds do not have most or all of their tails, also known as cut tails. Some common dog breeds with cut tails include:

  • French and English Bulldogs
  • welsh corgis
  • Boston terrier

It can be more difficult for these dogs to communicate, so watch out for other body language cues, such as the position of their ears or auditory cues like barking and whining.

If you want to get close to your puppy, pay close attention to the wagging of his tail. You might be surprised at all the hidden clues you can spot.

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