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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


10 October 2012

Size matters. ‘Specially when it comes to your tail

Hello hello Mia!

I'll come back to "cute" next week, but I want to stick with the topic you brought up.

As you mentioned, tail docking and ear cropping regulations differ across the globe. Both practices are common here in the States, but the American Veterinary Medical Association, “encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.”

Even so, docking and cropping are often seen as normal parts of dog pedigree and sometimes built into breed standards:
AKC Boxer Breed Standard: "The tail is set high, docked, and carried upward. An undocked tail should be severely penalized." When it comes to Boxers' ears, they "are customarily cropped, cut rather long and tapering, and raised when alert."
Some might not even notice that this dog was not born this way, that the tail has been docked.

Hello tail!
"But who cares about tails?" some might ask. You mention that "Tails are major communication tools for dogs," but some might wonder, Where's the proof?
The Bark

My latest article in Bark Magazine directly relates to this topic. The article's called, Skin Deep: Looks Do Play A Role In Intraspecies Communication, and you can view the article here. I know it sounds like a face cream advertisement, but it's not. It's about dogs. I promise.

The premise is, "Looks aren’t everything, but they do play a role in communication." Here's an excerpt from the article about tails:

"When researchers went to explore how dogs respond to other dogs’ tails, they pulled out the big guns: a model robot dog resembling a Labrador Retriever. Apart from its tail, the 'dog' was motionless. 

The researchers found that when the robot dog had a long wagging tail, it was approached more than when it had a long still tail, which as you probably assumed, suggests that the tail conveys emotional state, and that wagging is more inviting than not wagging. When it came to short tails, the story changed. There was no difference between how the robot dog with a short/still and a short/wagging tail was approached. It appears that the longer tails were most effective at conveying emotional information, and since short tails are hard to read, they might not be read at all."

Left (short tail); Right (long tail). Leaver, & Reimchen. Behavioural responses of Canis familiaris to different tail lengths of a remotely-controlled life-size dog replica
Tails help dogs assess one another's emotional states and contribute to overall behavioral expression. Tails are not unnecessary add-ons like our appendix.

(For more details about this study, Con Slobodchikoff wrote a longer summary on his Dog Behavior Blog, and the post is accurately titled, Size Of Tail Messes Up Dog Language).

For any skeptics you might know, I too was surprised that a stuffed, robotic dog could offer insights into dog-dog communication. But stuffed animals and robots, particularly those covered in fur, are used in dog behavior research every now and again, and they seem to have good results. 

While tails are not the beginning and end of dog-dog communication, they certainly do contribute to the whole package.

And how is the Sciencerewired conference? I think you are on your way there now. Updates updates!!
Bye for now! 

References / further reading:

ASPCA Canine Body Language

Hecht, J. Skin Deep: Looks Do Play A Role In Intraspecies Communication, The Bark , September/October 2012.
Slobodchikoff, C. Size Of Tail Messes Up Dog Language. Dog Behavior Blog. January 6, 2011 

Kubinyi, E., Miklósi, Á., Kaplan, F., Gácsi, M., Topál, J. & Csányi, V. (2004). Social behaviour of dogs encountering AIBO, an animal-like robot in a neutral and in a feeding situation, Behavioural Processes, 65 (3) 239. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2003.10.003

Leaver, & Reimchen, (2008). Behavioural responses of Canis familiaris to different tail lengths of a remotely-controlled life-size dog replica, Behaviour, 145 (3) 390. DOI: 10.1163/156853908783402894

© Julie Hecht 2012
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1 comment:

  1. Ya this is absolutely true that size matters of the dog tail...

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