Why do dogs wag their tails? It’s for communication, not balance: Research

On the other hand, a team of researchers noted, many other ground animals with tails use them for stabilisation during running or jumping

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If a dog is happy, it wags its tail very fast.

Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Friedrich-Schiller-University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology put together a team of scientists that has found that has found dogs do not use their tails to help stabilize their movements as opposed to earlier research. Instead, the tails are used as a communications device, they explain in a paper.

Tracking Border Collies

For nearly a decade, researchers tracked several border collies fitted with a special suit that was filled with tracking beads. The team also harnessed the power of software to process missing marker data, allowing for smoothing splines that were placed over real data.

The research paper begins by mentioning the fact that members of Canidae are unique among mammalian carnivores. This is because they do not climb trees hence their tails are unrequired to help them in such an environment.


Comparison with other animals

The team further noted that many other ground animals with tails use them for stabilization during running or jumping. Giving examples, the paper noted that Cheetahs’ tails help them remain stable as the run very fast. Another point the researchers made was that dogs’ tails are smaller than those of tree-dwelling animals. They are also much less agile than those found on cats, which use them to maintain their balance.

Multiple border collies were fitted with suits that had sewn-in sensor beads allowing for recording on a computer, the movement of every part of the dog’s body when it ran, jumped or indulged in other activities. Additional software was employed for modelling or mapping. This helped the researchers make the virtual dogs do the same sorts of activities as the real-life dogs, also permitting the removal of the tails from the virtual dogs.

Used to convey feelings

This exercise showed that very little difference in the abilities of the virtual dogs. The researchers found that dogs did not need help from their tails for changing direction, balancing or for anything else. The team pointed out to earlier research that showed that dogs’ tails are used to display their mood and intentions.

For example, if a dog is happy, it wags its tail very fast. The paper notes that the tails of dogs living in modern times is used to convey their feelings —ability that is of extreme use to a pack animal.