Research shows that dogs wag their tails to please humans. The behaviour may have increased in domestic dogs precisely because people liked it so much.
Is there anything quite as cute as a happy dog wagging their tail? More than with any other creature, humans have shared a deep bond with dogs for thousands of years.
After being domesticated somewhere between 15,000 and 50,000 years ago, this bond has steadily grown, and it is now estimated that approximately a third of UK households include a dog.
Owners have long said that there is a two-way relationship going on between pups and their humans, but experts have recently come closer to proving it.
The rhythm of tail-wagging – we can’t get enough of it!
First reported in The Guardian, it is thought that tail-wagging may have developed partly because humans find this behaviour attractive. Why? Possibly because we enjoy the rhythm so much.
Dr Holly Root-Gutteridge, dog researcher (dream job, anyone?) at the University of Lincoln, hypothesises, “We’re a highly visual species and may appreciate the rhythm”.
In her view, tail-wagging developed as a social signal between the two species partly because humans found it attractive, especially when compared to other more irritating behaviours, such as barking.
Experts think that more attractive behaviours were selected and encouraged by humans during the process of domestication.
“We may not be able to take a time machine back to the beginning of the dog-human relationship”, says Dr Taylor Hersh from Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands in the ‘Biology Letters’ journal article.
“But we can look at dog behaviour today in tandem with human behaviour to try and understand what that domestication process looked like”, she continued.
A social signal – dogs wag their tails to please humans
Hersh and her colleagues pointed toward various studies that looked at tail wagging and found a marked difference in how often hand-reared puppies wag their tails when compared to hand-reared wolf pups.
But why is this? Well, it seems that it has quite a lot to do with humans. The research suggests that many traits were developed in dogs during the process of domestication and that tail wagging was one of these.
“We put forth a new hypothesis”, said Silvia Leonetti, one of the authors of the article, “that humans consciously or unconsciously selected for tail wagging during the domestication process because we are very attracted to rhythmic stimuli”.
Humans and their pups – deciphering feelings and thoughts
Dog owners spend a great deal of time trying to decipher how our four-legged friends are feeling, and it is thought that our ancestors did the same.
Dr Root-Gutteridge points out that tail-wagging is also seen in wolves, and she suspects that early humans saw tail-wagging as a “positive, easy to read sign in wolves, and developed it the way we talk with our hands – as a communicative gesture that we can easily understand”.
Whatever the reason for the behaviour, it’s just one in a long list of lovable behaviours our four-legged friends engage in, as if we needed another reason to love them!
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