We always say that dogs are a man’s best friend because they are very good at comforting us and reading our emotions. Well now, research has found ways for us to reciprocate our pets by teaching us how to read their emotions. Even Though dogs have their own way of communication, humans can still interpret them through their body language. As much as we can interpret other people’s thoughts by simply looking at facial expressions and bodily gestures, we can also interpret a dog’s feelings through their tails.
Tail interpretation is not an exact science but through many observations and investigations accompanied by other emotional manifestations such as barking and stance, it will be easy to understand how dogs actually react to certain things or situations.
Tail wags and inclination: what does it signify?
While a raised dog’s tail could mean that you’ve got his attention and it signals alertness, it is erroneous to conclude that when a dog’s tail is wagging, he does so because he likes you. Again, it is not an exact science. Tail wagging could mean a lot of different things depending on the situation. Tail wags are often interpreted by the span the wagging reaches and the length of the raised tail. For instance, slight tail wags reaching only a small span of area signifies a light hello or an acknowledgment of your presence while an energetic tail wags covering a wider area shows that the dog is really happy to see you and ready for some fun. However, if the tail is wagging at high speed in short whips, almost like it’s vibrating, this could mean that a dog is in a fight-or-flight response mode meaning that something is threatening the dog.
Tail wagging and the brain
New studies show that a dog’s emotions can also be interpreted through the direction where the tail swings or leans towards. A study by a neuroscientist from a university in Italy, Dr. Giorgio Vallortigara found that we can see which side of the dog’s brain is activated in their interactions through the direction of the tail. If you’re trying to read how a dog reacts to you or to certain stimuli through their tail wagging, it is important to note that the majority of the brain activation happens in the opposite direction of the tail wag. So, if the wagging or the tail is leaning to the right, the activation is in the left brain.
What does this tell us? Well, as in humans and most other animals, our brains are compartmentalized to perform specific functions or emotional states. In the case of dogs, the left brain functions as the happy, calm brain. So, the dog is in a more approachable behavior when the tail is pointed to the right. Also, the left hemisphere is associated with keeping focus, attention, and memory therefore the dog’s tail is more likely to wag in the right direction when he or she is faced with a familiar face or engaged in a familiar activity.
On the other hand, the right brain is adapted for emergency situations, it is quick to react especially to novel and threatening stimulus. The right brain is also responsible for producing intense emotions and is implicated in emotional memory which could manifest as fear and anxiety. Hence, it is likely that when the right hemisphere of the brain is activated, or when the tail is pointed to the left, there is a physiological increase in heart rate and signs of hyperactivity. In short, the right tail wag indicates a stressful response.
Of course, the tail wagging should be taken in with other physical indicators that the dog might show to truly understand its feelings. Luckily, more and more studies are striving to give us the knowledge in understanding animal behavior and this will allow us to take leaps especially in the field of training. Through this, we would be able to anticipate our dog’s needs and react appropriately to their own emotions.