By Carol Bogart
Bo, the world’s greatest Rottweiler, had already had his tail docked when I got him. He was a year and a half old. Had I gotten him as a puppy, I’d have requested that his tail be left intact.

Nonetheless, he never failed to vigorously wag his stump at first sight of my son or me. “I love you soooo much,” his stump was saying

My unscientific assessment of tail language is this:

• Tucked between the legs: “I’m afraid, please don’t hurt me.”

• Straight, body quivering, ears perked: “I see something! Look! I’m showing you where it is!”

• Slightly raised, nose to the ground: “I’m finding a place to poop.”

• Vigorous wagging: “You’re my favorite human in the whole wide world.”

• Wagging: “You seem alright. Want to be friends?”

• Tentative wags: “Come closer. After I sniff you, I’ll decide.”

• Rigid, ears are back, hackles raised: “Come closer. I want to bite you.”

And here’s news. It turns out there actually is some science to a wagging tail. A study reported in “Current Biology” says a tail that wags more to the right of the rump means the dog feels positive about a person or thing. More to the left .. the pooch feels negative.

Interestingly, all this may have applications for the animal known as human.

Scientists who’ve studied the phenomenon say it confirms a body of research which finds that the human brain is emotionally asymmetrical. The left hemisphere, they say, is associated with positive feelings like a sense of attachment and love, and feeling safe and calm. The right side: danger, fear, depression, fleeing.

In the dog experiment, researchers observed a bunch of dogs and how they reacted to their personal human; humans they didn’t know; a non-threatening cat, and a big dominant dog. The canine subjects wagged their tails right when they were attracted to something – such as the humans and even the benign cat, and to the left when they were afraid of the big strange dog. That’s how researchers concluded that the tail’s right-side muscles were positive, and those on the left, negative.

Parallel emotional asymmetry appears to also exist in the human brain, because research has found that muscles on the right side of the face tend to reflect happiness, while muscles on the left reflect unhappiness. It’s long been known that the right side of the body is controlled by the left side of the brain, and vice versa.

This asymmetrical brain thing shows up in other species, too, say researchers. For example: Chicks tend to use their right eye to watch for predators (fear and danger, left brain) and right eye to look for food (positive feeling, right brain). Even honeybees have a better learning curve if they use their right antennae!

How a body’s nerves connect to the brain may be a factor, too, because, according to neuroanatomist Arthur D. Craig at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, nerves that take messages to the brain from the skin, heart, lungs, liver and other internal organs are, themselves, asymmetrical. The left brain receives the nerve messages that tell humans and other animals: Slow down, relax, have a bite to eat, get some rest, he says. The right brain hears nerve messages that warn: Danger! Breathe faster, fight, run!

Researchers say all this appears to be hardwired from ancient times, allowing creatures of all kinds to better adapt to and survive changes in their environment.

Carol Bogart is blogs at . Contact her at

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