Dogs communicate a lot through their tails, whether it be through furious I’m-so-freakin-happy-to-see-you wagging or the I’m-scared-shitless tail between the legs. But a new study from Italy shows that canines also recognize and respond to wagging in surprising ways, including whether the wagging happens on the left side or right side of a fellow dog.
Earlier, the same research team discovered that dogs wag to the right when they’re happy, like seeing their owners, and to the left when they’re feeling stressed or anxious (like seeing a dog they’re hesitant about). Their prior study showed that left-brain activation produced a wag to the right, while right-brain activation produced a wag to the left — a consequence of left/right asymmetric functionality in the brain. Which wasn’t a complete surprise to the researchers; asymmetries in behavior are widespread in the animal kingdom.
By the observations got the researchers thinking: Are dogs on the receiving end of tail wagging able to decipher and respond to these cues? They performed an experiment to find out.
The mood wags the dog — and vice versa
While closely monitoring their reactions, the researchers showed dogs videos of other dogs with either left- or right- asymmetric tail wagging. They observed that, when dogs saw another dog wagging to the left, their heart rates picked up and they looked anxious. But when the wagging happened on the other side, they stayed perfectly relaxed.