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Tag: language

Tell-tail signs: How to read your dog’s wag

wag

I’ve got to admit I’ve never paid much attention to which way Ace’s tail is wagging — mostly to the right, or mostly to the left.

More often, it just seems to go back and forth, one side to the other, which is kind of the definition of wag.

But researchers in Italy, who first reported that the prominent direction of the wag signifies whether a dog is experiencing positive or negative feelings, now say other dogs are aware of this subtle distinction, and apparently have been for some time, indicating they — dogs — are much more on top of things than researchers.

Researchers at the University of Trento, in a new study, had dogs watch videos of other dogs wagging their tails. They found, according to a study reported in the journal Current Biology, that dogs watching another dog whose tail is wagging left  showed signs of anxiety, including a higher heart rate. When watching a tail wag right, they remained calm.

When watching “Two Broke Girls” the dogs asked if they might please leave the room. (Not really.)

Returning to seriousness, the Italian researchers first reported in 2007 that dogs convey a wide array of emotions through the tail wag — not just happiness. A wag to the left indicates negative emotions; a wag to the right indicates positive ones. The directions are as seen when standing behind a dog.

In the earlier study, 30 dogs were placed, one at a time, in a large box surrounded with black plastic to prevent any visual stimulus (except maybe to dogs who find black plastic stimulating). The dogs were then shown a stimulus for 60 seconds  — a dominant Belgian Malinois, a cat in a cage, their owners, and a strange human, by which we only mean one they hadn’t met.

A system for measuring the tail movements of each dog was established — far too complex to go into here. Suffice to say, as the scientists put it:

wagchart“Tail wagging scores associated with the different stimuli were analyzed from video-recordings. Positions of the tail were scored every 10 seconds by superimposition on the computer screen of a cursor on the long axis of the body: the maximum extents of the particular tail wag occurring at each 10 second interval was recorded. Using single frames from video recording two angles were identified with respect to the maximum excursion of the tail to the right and to the left side of the dog’s body. Tail wagging angles were obtained with reference to the axes formed by the midline of the dog’s pelvis – the segment extending lengthwise through the dog’s hips, drawn from the largest points as seen from above and the axes perpendicular to it.”

When faced with their owner, dogs exhibited a “striking right-sided bias in the amplitudes of tail wagging.”  Less robust right-sided wags were observed also when the dogs were shown unfamiliar humans. When faced with a cat, dogs showed very reduced tail wagging, but still a slight bias favoring the right side. Seeing a dominant unfamiliar dog led the dogs in the study to wag more to the left.

The first study reported: “How far asymmetric tail-wagging responses are associated with postural asymmetry in preparation to the stimuli is difficult to say.” (You can say that again)  “It is likely that control of the flexure of the vertebral column is the same for the tail as well as the rest of the column, but the method we used for scoring tail-wagging responses and the panels flanking the body of the animal in the test-cage minimized any effect of asymmetric posture associated with spine bending.”

I’ve got to wonder which way the dogs’ tails wagged — or if they tucked them between their legs — when they were listening to the scientists talk.

The researchers stop short of saying wagging tails are a mode of communication between dogs.

“This is something that could be explained in quite a mechanistic way,” said Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist and an author of both studies. “It’s simply a byproduct of the asymmetry of the brain.” Dogs, he explains, have asymmetrically organized brains, like humans (or at least most of them): ”The emotions are associated presumably with activation of either the right or left side of brain,” he said. “Left-brain activation produces a wag to the right, and vice versa.”

But it would seem to me that if one dog is moving his tail, and another is drawing conclusions from that motion, as the scientists say is the case, that’s communication — perhaps even a clearer form thereof than that to which the scientists are prone.

(Photo: Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari)

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Confusing signage is everywhere, but one notices it more when they are in a new place, and when they’re relying on those signs for guidance.

As in, is it OK to walk my dog here?

We found this one – at a park in Saugerties, New York – particularly baffling.

It could, and probably does, mean swimming, dogs and littering are all prohitited. Then again, it could mean there is no swimming, and dogs are allowed.

Then again it could mean swimming dogs are not allowed. Or, one final interpretation, it could mean swimming dogs are allowed, but they shouldn’t litter while they are doing so.

We went with the first interpretation, and moved on.

Highway Haiku: “On Proper English Yousage”

 

“On Proper English Yousage”

The English language

Takes abuses — south and north

From ya’lls to youses

Retired professor and wife killed by dogs

A former University of Georgia professor and his wife found dead along the highway Saturday morning were apparently killed by a pack of dogs, according to the state medical examiner.

Lothar Karl Schweder, 77, who had taught German at the university, and his wife, Sherry Schweder, 65, who worked at the university’s main library, were found on a road where they often walked their own dogs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The couple were found by visiting Jehovah’s Witness members.

After an autopsy Monday morning, Oglethorpe County Coroner James Mathews told the University of Georgia student newspaper, The Red & Black, that a dog attack was to blame.

“It was the results of a brutal dog attack,” Mathews said. “Without being graphic there were bites from head to toe… There are a lot of weird circumstances with this one. I’ve been coroner for 28 years, and this is one of the weirdest cases I’ve investigated.”

The state Bureau of Investigation responded to a call about the bodies around 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

Oglethorpe County animal control officials were out Monday looking for the dogs in the area, along Highway 77, near Highway 78.

Bark 3: “Bowlingual” gadget translates barks

bowlingualSo, if there’s no deep meaning behind barks (not that we buy that study), how do you explain this?

Japanese toymaker Takara Tomy is coming out with a new “Bowlingual” gadget that can translate dog barks into the human language, AFP reports.

The new model analyzes six emotions, including joy, sadness and frustration, and speaks phrases such as “Play with me!” — an improvement on the original which just showed them on a screen.

The original version of the toy, which has a handset and a microphone attached to a dog collar, won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2002. The awards, a parody of the Nobel Prizes, celebrate achievements that make people laugh and think.

The new Bowlingual Voice, priced at about $212, will be launched in Japan next month, Yamada said.

Initially, it will be only available in Japanese. The original non-speaking version is also available in English and Korean.

Marley & You

(Today, ohmidog! kicks off a new feature, a monthly column on dog training and behavior, written by Lauren Bond and Carolyn Stromer of B-More Charming School for Dogs. To keep up with their reports, click on the Behave! tab on the right side rail.)

I’m sure that by now just about every dog person has seen the movie “Marley and Me.” We laughed, we cried, then we cried some more.

Some experienced dog owners, and trainers like ourselves, have even offered our two cents about Marley’s upbringing, saying that his owners were irresponsible, that if we owned a dog like that we would most certainly have put him in his place. We wouldn’t have allowed our couch to be eaten, or our drapes to be torn down, or our gold necklace to go in one end of the dog and come out of the other.

But the truth is we have all been there.

We’ve all been first-time dog owners, overwhelmed, unsure where to turn. Some of us, even by our third or fourth dog, remain that way.

Why won’t he get off of the furniture? Why do my shoes, hairbrush, wallet, cell phone, (insert object of choice here) always wind up in his mouth? Why can’t I come home, just once, to the trash can being upright, untouched, with all of the trash still inside? How come my “NO’S!” and “STOP ITS!” only lead to a game of catch-me-if-you-can? Is it really too much to ask of man’s best friend that he just be calm, listen to what I tell him and lay quietly at my feet waiting for further instructions?

To be completely honest … yes, it is.

Think back to the day you brought your first puppy home. He didn’t come with an instruction manual. Maybe, at best, the shelter gave you a brochure, or some information on his vaccine record and what kind of food and toys he liked. But there was nothing on how to influence his behavior, no foolproof tips for getting him to stop jumping all over guests when they walk through the front door. Or teaching him to walk nicely on leash. Or keeping him from chewing up your new Blackberry.

You might have tried staying one step ahead by reading up on dog behavior before you brought him home. There’s a ton of conventional wisdom out there, books galore, dog magazines and an entire Animal Network. How could you go wrong?

Easily.

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