Here’s Why Dogs Wag Their Tail

Arriving home to a warmly wagging tail is a delightful experience for pet owners, yet the scientific community is still solving the mystery behind the precise reasons behind this common doggy behavior.

In a recent publication in Biology Letters, researchers present various theories, encouraging their peers to explore and test these hypotheses to gain a deeper understanding of dogs’ endearing tail-wagging habits.

Contrary to the common belief that a wagging tail equals a happy dog, canine cognition expert Emily Bray from the University of Arizona underscores the complexity of this behavior.

One theory, the “domestication syndrome,” speculates that humans inadvertently selected for tail-wagging during the domestication of dogs, associating it with favorable traits like tameness and friendliness. It proposes that tail-wagging might be a byproduct of the targeted development of other desirable characteristics.

Another hypothesis, termed the “domesticated rhythmic wagging,” suggests that humans may have consciously or unconsciously favored rhythmic tail-wagging during domestication due to their attraction to rhythmic stimuli.

However, not all experts agree with these theories. Animal cognition researcher Holly Root-Gutteridge expresses skepticism about the rhythmic beats of a dog’s tail playing a significant role in human responses.

Black labrador returning dummy in water with wagging tail –Kirsty Cussens/Shutterstock

The paper consolidates findings from over 100 studies, revealing that dogs predominantly use tail-wagging as a form of communication, unlike other animals that deploy their tails for swimming, fly prevention, or propulsion.

Dogs exhibit varied tail-wagging patterns to convey different messages. For instance, a rightward wag may signal curiosity and a desire to approach, while a leftward wag could indicate uncertainty. Low tail wagging, with the tail pinned against the back legs, is linked to insecurity and submission.

Wagging Tail GIFs | Tenor

One intriguing aspect highlighted in the study is dogs’ ability to perceive asymmetries in other dogs’ tail movements.

The researchers identify gaps in the existing literature, emphasizing the need for more systematic studies. They propose analyzing videos, exposing dogs to diverse stimuli, and employing neuroimaging techniques to gain insights into how dogs consciously control their tails.

Understanding tail-wagging may not only have implications for animal welfare, such as the impact of tail docking on communication, but also offers insights into human evolution. The domestication of dogs by humans provides a unique window into the past, allowing researchers to explore the imprint of early human behavior through the lens of modern canine behavior.

Original article

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