In 2007, Italian researchers concluded that a dog’s tail wagging indicates a wide range of emotions. They found that a wag to the left indicates negative emotions and a wag to the right indicates positive ones.
The same group of researchers has found that dogs understand how other dogs feel based on how they wag their tails.
In a new study released in the journal Current Biology, the researchers observed as dogs watched videos of other dogs wagging their tails. When the dogs watched a tail wag to the left, they displayed a higher heart rate and other signs of anxiety. When a tail went to the right, the dogs remained calm.
Both studies suggest that dogs, like humans, have asymmetrically organized brains.
Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trento and a co-author of the study said, “The emotions are associated presumably with activation of either the right or left side of brain.” Therefore, activation of the left-brain results in a wag to the right, and vice versa.
It is unlikely, however, that dogs wag their tails to communicate with each another.
“This is something that could be explained in quite a mechanistic way,” Dr. Vallortigara said. “It’s simply a byproduct of the asymmetry of the brain.”
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Source: The New York Times