Sunday, 10 November 2013

Carry on wagging - a letter to the editor of Current Biology

Dear Sir,

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.


  1. We think you did a great job following up with this study and we are sure you will be offered an editorship soon. Lee and Phod

    V 12:1-2!

  3. WE totally TRUST your findings. You are the KING of Blogville Scientificality. WE have been known to refer to you as BERTIE the BRAIN... in a very RESPECTFUL way.
    Way to Go Bertie.... TAILS UP to YOU!

  4. Way to debunk that myth Congratulations Bertie. We have read enough of our Dad's stuff to know that you have the lingo and the attitude down pat. And who can doubt that you are THE most credentialed researcher?

    gus n teka

  5. A very well thought out and reasonable response to what was apparently a rather haphazard study. One is left to wonder if there is something unique with Italian doggies or if perhaps the good doctor's vision was skewed by consumption of fine Italian wine. In any case, momma has been giving my tail an inordinate amount of attention of late and I assure you that it has only served to make me constantly thing there is something untoward going on back there.


  6. We would be happy to participate in any necessary trips to Italy on behalf of dogs with docked tails. Anything for science.

    Bart, Ruby and Otto

  7. OMD Bertie you are the boffin of all boffins. We are happy to go to Italy with you and help in this very valuable research. Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly
    Bravo great letter my fine friend.

  8. OH Bertie, your letter was absolutely perfect! Can I hitch a way with you to Italy?

  9. Well, I'm glad that you've proved those Italians wrong Bertie, I think you are a much, much better Boffin than them!
    You know what, they should re-do their experiment with all of us from Blogville, I'd like to go to Italy actually!
    This is a very sophisticated and impressive letter, I'm sure not even the touchiest scientists would dare reply!
    Pippa :)

  10. What a brilliant letter! They can't ignore the pure science. I hope they take you up on your offer. Momma and I are happy to come to Italy to pawticipate.

  11. Bertie your letter is excellent. They would be fools not to make you head researcher and we would love to participate as we mentioned before there is a lack of representation from short tailed dogs

    urban hounds

  12. Why Bertie I would believe your research before Siniscalchi. Lee saw the article on tail waggin on Yahoo and read it to me. While she was reading my tail did the propeller move and Lee said he never even mention that most important move. They definitely need us to do research before printing their results.
    Thanks for setting them right. I'm in on the trip to Italy RIGHT!
    Sweet William The Scot

  13. Hari Om
    A rigorous and well thought out response Bertie boy!! Hooraa for the sturdy scientific approach. Plus plenty of mates to help you along! Hugs and wags, YAM-aunty xxx

  14. We just wanted to mention, we hope you don't mind but we have imentioned you in our post today and we did use your photo. Hopefully that is OK

    urban hounds

  15. Great job, Bertie! My parents have continued to observe my wags and they appear to be perfectly symmetrical.

    Could it be that the asymmetry reported in the study by Siniscalchi et al. is indeed due to the national origin of the dogs in the study population? I will endeavor to collect more data next time I see my Tuscan cousin Oz.