What a tail wag tells

Researchers uncover clues to nonverbal communication in the canine world
Feb 04, 2010
By dvm360.com staff

Does your practice have hard-to-read clients? You know the ones: You can't tell if they're genuinely pleased to be hearing about neutering or just laughing nervously. In another instance of clients and pets behaving similarly, it turns out that dogs may also give off confusing signals. Canine tail wagging, generally considered to be a gesture of approachability, may mean just the opposite, according to a new study.

The study, which appears in the journal Laterality, concludes that the side of the body on which a dog wags its tail telegraphs specific and important information. Researchers from Canada's University of Victoria recently observed how more than 500 dogs regarded a robotic dog placed in a public park. When the motorized dog wagged its tail to the left, approaching animals appeared confident and at ease. When the mechanical tail wag was to the right, monitored dogs were more hesitant and anxious.

Researchers pointed out that the practice of tail docking may, therefore, inhibit crucial canine communication.