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Dogs wag their tails to the right for people they love

A new study led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing has found that dogs tend to wag their tails to the right when they are in the proximity of people they are familiar with. According to the experts, this phenomenon is caused by the fact that the left side of the brain, which controls the right side of the body, is the place where positive emotions – such as those triggered by meeting a beloved person – are processed.

By using a 3D motion tracking system, the scientists studied how ten beagles wagged their tails when they were with humans for one five-minutes session per day over a period of three days. In total, the researchers analyzed more than 21,000 wagging bouts, including the distance and speed with which their tails moved. The results revealed that, as the dogs get to know a person, they start wagging their tails more frequently to the right and less frequently to the left.

“The switch to right-sided wagging suggests the dogs are perceiving the stranger in a more positive light given the passage of time,” said Deborah Wells, an expert in dog behavior at Queen’s University Belfast, who was not involved in the study.

“Positive and negative emotional states have been associated with left- and right-sided activation of the prefrontal cortex in humans,” explained study senior author Yong Zhang, a professor of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the Chinese University of Sciences. 

“We speculate that tail wagging toward the left might be accompanied by right brain activation, while tail wagging toward the right side may be accompanied by left brain activation in the prefrontal cortex.”

According to the study authors, these findings reveal the sophisticated features and organization of dogs’ tail-wagging behavior during interactions with humans, providing a useful paradigm for analyzing dogs’ social behaviors and their underlying neural mechanisms.

The study is published in the journal iScience.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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