Scientists suggest that dogs may wag their tails excessively because of their love for humans who have a good sense of rhythm.
Whether it is an elegant swish or a furious oscillation, tail wagging is ubiquitous among dogs. Now researchers have suggested it may have become commonplace during canine domestication because humans love its rhythm.
Humans are believed to have domesticated dogs anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 years ago. This has resulted in a strong connection between the two species, with approximately one-third of households in the UK owning a dog.
However, despite owners frequently using tail wagging as a way to understand their dog’s emotions, the development of this type of canine communication is still not fully understood.
Currently, specialists have proposed multiple hypotheses in hopes of motivating researchers to investigate the matter further.
Dr. Taylor Hersh, co-author of the article from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, stated that although we cannot use a time machine to go back to the start of the dog-human relationship, we can examine current dog behavior alongside human behavior to gain insight into the domestication process.
“Tail wagging is a highly noticeable and intriguing behavior to begin with.”
In the journal Biology Letters, Hersh and his team detail multiple studies that have investigated tail wagging in the past.
Researchers discovered that hand-reared dog puppies tend to wag their tails more frequently compared to hand-reared wolf puppies. They also observed that dogs wag to the right when experiencing something positive, like seeing their owners, and to the left when they want to retreat, such as in aggressive scenarios.
Despite this, there are still unresolved inquiries about why dogs wag their tails more frequently and in a wider range of situations compared to other types of canines.
According to the team, the domestication process may be a potential cause for tail wagging in dogs. Previous research has shown that other characteristics in dogs, such as tameness or docility, have a genetic connection to behaviors that humans have intentionally bred for. Hersh and colleagues suggest that this could also be true for tail wagging.
However, they propose that there may be an alternative reasoning.
Silvia Leonetti, the primary author of the article, proposed a fresh hypothesis which suggests that humans may have deliberately or subconsciously favored tail wagging as a desirable trait during the domestication of animals due to our inclination towards rhythmic stimuli.
The team is currently requesting further research on tail wagging to explore potential outcomes. Leonetti suggests using advanced and non-invasive methods to conduct experiments not only on individual dogs, but also on interactions between dogs and humans. This could provide more insight into the different interpretations of this behavior.
Although the article has received positive feedback from others, Dr. Juliane Bräuer from the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology suggested that the increased tail-wagging may have been specifically favored by humans for reasons other than its rhythmic quality.
According to Dr. Holly Root-Gutteridge, a canine researcher from the University of Lincoln, the act of tail wagging is a form of communication between individuals that dogs have learned to use with humans due to humans finding barking bothersome.
She stated that as a species, we are very visually-oriented and may find the rhythm appealing. It’s an intriguing idea that should be further examined, although she doubts that we are truly influenced by it to a significant degree.
Root-Gutteridge observed that wolves also wagged their tails and used it as a way to communicate socially, although there was not much information available about how it was used in their natural habitat.
I believe early humans interpreted tail wagging in wolves as a positive and easily recognizable signal, and thus adopted it as a form of communication, similar to how we use hand gestures.