Spoken language has always been the priority of humans. Indeed, there is no animal that is capable of conveying a cohesive idea with the help of its vocal apparatus – or, at least, this is what most people think. However, when it comes to defining the difference between people’s and animals’ minds, it is abstract thinking, not language, that draws the line between people and animals.
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Language, or, to be more exact, the mean to convey their emotions, is obviously an important skill of animals in general and dogs in particular, the recent research published in Guardian (Sample, 2013, October 31) and titled Seeing left- or right-asymmetric tail wagging produces different emotional responses in dogs (Siniscalchi, Lusito, Vallortigara & Quaranta, 2013) says.
The research hypothesis is based on the fact that tail wagging is symmetrical in dogs for the most part; therefore, when the wagging becomes asymmetrical, it evokes particular emotional responses in dogs, from curiosity to aggression.
The researchers, therefore, link the mechanism of asymmetric tail wagging with brain activity and asymmetry, therefore, making a supposition that asymmetric tail wagging has a particular effect on social behavior among dogs. The research results have shown that the initial hypothesis of the researchers was, in fact, absolutely correct.
Indeed, the correlation between the static, the right wagging and the left wagging stimulus and the reaction of the dogs towards the given stimuli was obvious, the right wagging being deciphered as a positive signal, while the left one obviously triggered a negative reaction (Siniscalchi, Lusito, Vallortigara & Quaranta, 2013, 2282).
The positive aspects of the given research design and methodology are quite obvious. The fact that the experiment was conducted in real life, with a control group of dogs, a life-size dog model, a simultaneous observation of the dogs’ reaction and the immediate transcription of the results, is very fascinating.
It was important that the results of a research in animal behavior should be based on a real experiment and provide the researchers with an opportunity to make their notes real-time while the experiment is taking place.
The downsides of the given research design are also very clear. Though clearly being trained, the participants of the experiment are, nevertheless, dogs, and, therefore, are very hard to control, convince or reason with. Therefore, the research results might turn out rather rough and, thus, will need further testing.
It could be argued that dogs are relatively easy to control and command; however, the changes in the dogs’ mood are very hard to track down, as well as the factors inflicting these changes. Thus, in some cases, the results of the research may have been shaped by outside factors.
The follow-up study known as Investigating dogs’ emotional responses to tail-wagging behaviours of other dogs (Siniscalchi, Lusito, Vallortigara & Quaranta, 2013a), though not yet published, is going to tackle the issue regarding the way in which dogs respond to other dogs expressing emotions, i.e., wagging their tails.
Therefore, the researchers are going to push the envelope by deciphering the sign language of communication among animals. Moreover, the study is clearly going to define the ways in which dogs emote when communicating to each other.
The given research, therefore, may possibly lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the animal communication and will, probably, help figure out whether language truly is unique to humans only.
Sample, I. (2013, October 31). Dogs communicate different feelings with right or leftward tail wagging. Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/31/dogs-communicate-feelings-tail-wagging
Siniscalchi, M., Lusito, R., Vallortigara, G. & Quaranta, A. (2013). Seeing left- or right-asymmetric tail wagging produces different emotional responses in dogs. Current Biology 23(22), 2279–2282.
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Siniscalchi, M., Lusito, R., Vallortigara, G. & Quaranta, A. (2013a). Investigating dogs’ emotional responses to tail-wagging behaviours of other dogs. Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association, 173(19), 478.