When your pup realizes that you’re home or gets to go to the park, do they bark like crazy, get the zoomies, or give you plenty of licks? No matter how your dog reacts, their tail is also probably wagging in every scenario– leading you to believe they’re just overjoyed.
But, recent research suggests that tail wagging in dogs isn’t solely a positive signal. In fact, it appears that a dog’s feelings could be closely linked to the direction of their tail wags.
A new review article examined over 100 studies concerning the reasons behind tail wagging among domestic dogs. This comprehensive review focused on four key areas: the mechanics of tail wagging, its developmental aspects, its purposes, and the evolution of this behavior.
According to Silvia Leonetti, the lead author of the review article, dogs primarily use their tails for communication as opposed to other purposes. Cats, on the other hand, use their tails for balance; meanwhile, horses use theirs to fend off flies.
However, one of the most intriguing discoveries from this study is that dogs generally wag their tails to the right in positive scenarios, such as seeing their owner or someone familiar. Conversely, pups tend to wag their tails to the left in circumstances that provoke a withdrawal response, like during aggressive situations or when encountering an unfamiliar dog.
Additionally, the research suggests that dogs might even be capable of interpreting these emotional signals from other pups.
“For example, dogs show more [behavioral] and physiological signs of stress when watching video silhouettes of left-biased wagging dogs compared to right-biased wagging dogs,” the review authors wrote.
Yet, the review also pointed out that the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in dogs did not show a direct correlation with the direction of their tail wagging. This suggests that environmental factors also play a significant role.
Taylor Hersh, the review’s co-author, detailed how one previous study examined shelter dogs and the way in which they wagged their tails both before and after receiving pets from humans.