Have you ever been so happy you couldn’t contain yourself? Maybe you cheered and jumped up and down, maybe you hugged your significant other, maybe you even cried tears of joy, but there’s one thing you most definitely did not do—wag your tail. So how did dogs take a body part originally used to keep him or her balanced while jumping and running and turn it into a communication tool?
What Scientists Already Knew
In case you didn’t know (we didn’t!) it’s accepted fact among scientists that the direction a dog wags his tail in indicates an emotion. If a dog wags their tail to the right of their rear it generally indicates positive feelings, while if the tail wags to the left, it can indicate negative emotions like fear, insecurity or stress.
Giorgio Vallortigara, with the University of Trento in Italy decided to see if dogs could interpret each other’s tail wagging communications. They suited up 43 dogs with harnesses fitted with technology to measure their heart rate. Then each dog was faced with another dog wagging his tail to either the right or left. Researchers found the onlooking dog’s heart rate increased when the approaching dog wagged his tail to the left (indicating a negative emotion) but not when he wagged his tail to the right.
What To Look For
- Speed: A vigorous wag to the right indicates a dog is happy to see the approaching person or dog. A slow wag to the left signals someone unfamiliar is approaching
- Position: You know all about this one—your dog will hold his tail up high to display confidence. It the dog stands tall with their tail wagging back and forth they’re trying to impress you. A dog with his tail straight out behind him feels threatened, while a pooch who tucks his tail between his legs is scared. A totally relaxed tail and limbs indicated a totally relaxed pup.
- Consider This: To properly read the meaning of the position of a dog’s tail, be sure to consider the average position that dog would normally hold their tail. Where a dog naturally carries his or her tail varies among breeds.
We knew the basics about tail wagging and position, but we didn’t know swishing the tail to the right or left indicated positive or negative emotions. What other little behaviors does your pooch do that tell you what’s on his or her mind? Let us know in the comments!