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It seems (first link) that the information conveyed by a dog's wagging tail is chirally differentiated - that is to say, a wag to the left means something different from a wag to the right.
Specifically, if Fido's tail is moving mostly to his left, then he's more anxious than happy. (The report doesn't
say whether there's a minority of left-handed dogs who wag anxiously to the right).
Now, back in 1967, Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape, pp.102-3) postulated that laughter is a combination of expressions of anxiety with those of relief - and experience tends to confirm this as a useful theory.
Meanwhile, even further back, Max Eastman observed that "Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails".
Clearly, then, a laughing dog is one whose tail moves through many degrees of arc on *both* sides of a tangent to its spine at some point near its pelvis.
A hardware device looped around the tail might cause some discomfort, so an array of cameras with image-analysis software would provide the most humane way to gather the basic data.
The metric would be defined at any given point in time in relation to the previous two inflection points on a notional graph of the movement of the dog's tail. At any given inflection point, a tangent to the tail at a given distance from the dog's pelvis will be at a certain angle to the tangent to its spine mentioned above. The metric would have the value of the smaller of those two angles, unless the tail were actually at rest, in which case the value of the metric would be zero.
The usefulness of this metric, which I have not yet named, will be most apparent to those stand-up comedians who specialize in making dogs laugh. I read a while ago that the turnover of the North American pet products industry is the same size as the entire GDP of the state of South Australia, so, if such comedians do not *yet* exist it is, surely, only a matter of time.
right - happy, left - bothered [pertinax, Dec 07 2013]
||I'm familiar with Eastman but only aware of Morris. I spend
a lot of times with dogs on a professional basis, know quite
a bit about communicating with them, and frequently help
owners get in better touch with their dogs' needs and
desires. All of my experience with tailspeak (I hate that
term) is related to the elevation, angle, and degree of curl.
I've never spotted any trends relating to left- or right-tailed
dominance, but now I'm going to start looking for it. [+] for
possible new insight.
||Also, while dogs do seem to 'laugh' with their tails, they
also laugh with their mouths: the lips retract, the chops
turn up, and the laugh comes out as an exaggerated
exhalation, a rough panting or 'chuffing' sound. Not all dogs
do this, just those with a sense of humor.
||Do you attach any particular meaning to circular
wagging, [Alterother]? I ask because my daughter is
curious, and not out of any desire to set off any Dr
Seuss-ish riff about chiral spiral fractal dactyls, nor
any such nonsense as that.
||// Do you attach any particular meaning to circular
||As it happens, I do; a circular wag is what I call an 'honest'
wag because it usually comes from a dog who has lost track
of what his tail is doing (or doesn't care). Tail pitch varies
with breed, but generally a wide, flailing circular wag with
tail raised and tip curling upward indicates unbridled idiot
joy (this is usually when you get smiling, laughing, andor
play initiation as well). On the other side, a hesitant little
circle with tail down and tip
pointed seems to be trusting uncertainty. If the latter is a
regular behavior, it might be a sign of an underlying
||Errr..they don't have hands, which is supposedly why we rule the planet and they are one step from becoming winter gloves.
||They're left- or right-pawed. Never met an ambidextrous
dog that I know of.
||No sweat. Giving someone useful advice is a rare and happy
event for me. What kind of dog does your daughter have?
||It's not ours; it belongs to my in-laws. We also have
a dog of our own, an English Cocker Spaniel, but the
one she was wondering about was their ageing
||I'm definitely not saying this applies to your in-laws' dog,
but collie breeds (along with spaniels, setters, and
pointers) can develop insecurity complexes that
get...weirder...as they age. It can manifest as distrust of
strangers, territorial behavior (esp. toward other dogs),
extreme reluctance to leave home, and submissive
urination. I see it all the time. Nothing against your dog,
but I've been bitten by more spaniels than every other
breed of dog combined, and most of those were Cockers.
||On the other paw, many of them live happy lives with no
anxiety at all, and they certainly aren't the only purebreeds
that go wonky. You should see some of the St. Bernards I
||I like Beagles, handsome little buggers.