Re: the recent 'Tail Wagging' paper
As the recognised scientific advisor to 'Blogville' (the well known international community of dog bloggers), I, wire-haired fox terrier Bouncing Bertie Boffin, wish to respond to the paper by Siniscalchi et al, (on the topic of interpretation of tail wagging in my 'conspecifics') with some general comments and a report on my own related studies.
In case you doubt my credentials as a researcher, I would refer you to this page on my blog, which contains links to my many past pronouncements on a wide range of scientific subjects.
My latest investigations were prompted by a degree of cynicism regarding the basic assumption in the Siniscalchi paper, namely, that there is an asymmetry in tail wags of us dogs, with a bias to the right when we are happy, and to the left when anxious and apprehensive.
So, using the power of the internet, I 'crowd-sourced' my own dataset by asking my dog blogging colleagues to supply me with results of their own tail wagging experiments. Note that my investigation, which includes data from the UK, the USA, Canada, France, Australia and Switzerland, turned out to be considerably more wide ranging that Dr Siniscalchi's study, limited as it was, I understand, to dogs resident in Italy.
The experimental method and the raw data collected can be found in my previous post 'On tail wagging and the scientific method'.
My findings are shown in the following graph.
So to summarise: in a study population n=21, not a single dog, of any age, breed, gender or geographic location, exhibited the predicted rightwards bias to their tail wag on being offered a treat.
Now far be it for me to question the good intentions of the Dr Siniscalchi and his colleagues. I have no doubt that they approached this topic aiming for the utmost scientific rigour. However, I would have to query whether any of those tasked by your esteemed journal with peer reviewing this research were at all familiar with dog behaviour. Surely, they should have realised that a simplistic classification of a dog's tail wag as either leftward, rightward or symmetrical is a woefully inadequate system, ignoring, for example, the following types of 'wag' (all either mentioned by my study population or practiced by myself): the propellor, the random thrash, the coffee table clearer, the vertical shake, the 'vibrator', the whole body twist, the tail tucked under, etc. etc.
My owner, herself a scientist of sorts, has warned me that human researchers can be a touchy lot, and not all have a sense of humour…. To reassure any delicate egos that my only concern is the furtherance of high quality experimental science, I, along with my dog blogging colleagues, would like to put ourselves at the disposal of Dr Siniscalchi's group for any follow-up studies they have in mind. In exchange for travel expenses to Italy, comfortable accommodation, a plentiful supply of treats for us dogs and wine for our humans*, we shall I'm sure be happy to wag our tails for as long and in whatsoever direction as is required for the expansion of knowledge…
Yours most sincerely,
Bouncing Bertie Boffin.
*I am indebted to my friend Wyatt for this excellent suggestion.