On October 6 2019, the following post spread rapidly on Facebook, concerning wolves and dogs in the movie industry and how they may sometimes need computer-generated editing to make them look less happy or excited:
Beneath an image of a dog, text read:
Maybe not mind-blowing, but sometimes dogs/wolves in movies need CGI tails if they’re supposed to be acting mean bc they’re so excited to be doing a good job that their tails can’t stop wagging.
Comments on the post typically took the claim at face value:
“oh my heart”
“such good bois”
“we truly do not deserve dogs”
Text at the start of the meme contained a clue involving the source of the claim, as it began “maybe not mind-blowing, but …” The exact same text appeared in a number of blog posts based on a popular Reddit thread, as a number of sites exist solely to transcribe individual Reddit thread comments into standalone posts.
One such site called “22 Words” didn’t include the text of the meme in an August 2019 article, “A Father Asked for Simple, Fascinating Facts to Tell His Daughter and the Internet Delivered,” but it cited a thread in which the comment appeared:
Shared to r/AskReddit in April 2019, the voluminous thread featured a number of unsourced, purported facts the original poster could reference each night while putting his four-year-old daughter to bed. At the time the thread was active, u/janello710 replied:
Maybe not mind-blowing, but sometimes dogs/wolves in movies need CGI tails if they’re supposed to be acting mean bc they’re so excited to be doing a good job acting that their tails can’t stop wagging. 🙂
That person did not provide a reference or citation to support their claim, nor did most users participating in the thread. That comment only received 23 upvotes and two comments, the latter of which read:
“Still true: we don’t deserve dogs.”
“This is the happiest fact!”
When this claim first showed up in a more generalized thread, readers became emotionally affected to the point they were not likely to question this “fact.” When it moved to Facebook, all comments we saw were in the same vein.
It didn’t take long for the former comment to make its way back to Reddit as a meme, shared to r/MadeMeSmile on the same day it appeared on Facebook:
But the meme was far more popular when shared to r/wholesomememes the following day:
On March 10 2018, a Twitter account made a similar claim, but only about one cast in one film:
That person claimed that the White Witch’s wolves in the film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all had “CGI butts,” “because the huskies being filmed couldn’t stop wagging their tails.” She further stated that the tail-wagging made the huskies appear friendlier, which “detracted from the whole ‘menacing’ appearance the movie was going for.”
Galef did cite a source in a subsequent tweet. That source was a 2005 ANW.com post, which was part of a series on the making of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that piece, Jim Berney of Sony Pictures Imageworks said:
We had live-action wolves to match in our effects shots for certain kinds of action and when the wolves have dialogue. They had cast Maugrim and Vardin with dogs that were half-wolf, and there were some random wolves that would run around with them, that had to move and be militaristic. We filmed as many shots as possible with the real dogs, but pretty much every plate we shot with a real dog had to be covered as a visual effects shot after the fact. [We would] work with the second unit director for five hours to try to get a shot of the wolves searching the beaver hut for the kids. But in reality, you get half a beaver hut set, hide meat everywhere, let the dogs go and all you see are a bunch of dog butts pointing at the camera. The dogs are happy, their tails wagging, tongues hanging out. Theyre not thinking about the drama, theyre not wondering where are those kids? So, we had to replace their wagging tails in a bunch of shots to make them look more menacing. What helped was that we had to make our CG wolves look exactly like these two wolves, which is hard and scary, but at least you have a clear direction and know where to go. The two main wolves were different breeds. Maugrim had a big head with weird spiky fur. Vardins kind of a Malamute, black-and-white. For the other wolves, wed kind of blend the two six different ways so wed have variations on their look and color. Once we really got into editing, and Andrew saw the live action and CG wolves cut back to back, like, literally, heres their wolf and heres our CG shot of the same wolf, it was nice to see that it looked just like the real wolf. I have so much faith in these guys at Imageworks, I was confident that we could get it done in time.
According to VCA (formerly the Veterinary Centers of America), tail wagging is not solely a “happy” indicator for dogs. The site lists “preparedness or agitation,” “negotiation, “aggression,” “submission,” “curiosity,” and “happiness” as emotions indicated by a dog’s tail position. With respect to the rate of tail wagging, VCA cites “excitement,” “insecurity,” “friendliness,” and “aggression” as factors in reasons behind “wagging speed.”
A 2011 Psychology Today article about tail wagging notes:
Just as there are different dialects to a human language, such as a southern drawl or a New England twang, there are also dialects in dog tail language. Different breeds carry their tails at different heights, from the natural nearly vertical position common to Beagles and many Terriers to the low-slung tails of Greyhounds and Whippets. All positions should be read relative to the average position where the individual dog normally holds its tail.
Movements give additional meaning to the signals. The speed of the wag indicates how excited the dog is. Meanwhile, the breadth of each tail sweep reveals whether the dog’s emotional state is positive or negative, independent from the level of excitement.
Wolves or dogs on screen are not simply selected at a local animal shelter then put to work. An entire sub-industry in film has long involved the training and handling of dogs, and tail-wagging is one behavior training can affect.
According to HollywoodPaws.com, dog owners interested in canine acting careers should know that the training can be intensive:
A dog can never be too well trained for the film business. To be considered for film, TV or even a photo shoot, an animal must be solid on all off-leash basic obedience – with distractions. The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship test is a good measure; a dog with CGC certification has a foundation to begin training for entertainment. Hollywood Paws classes emphasize specific behaviors that are not found in your basic obedience school, which is why it’s the perfect place to prepare your dog for possible work in film, television and commercials.
When it comes to rapidly-spreading claims about “doggos,” readers are inclined to put aside all critical thinking in favor of animal love. A factoid about CGI tails due to “good boys” and incessant wagging ticked all users’ boxes for dog-related excitement, rapidly spreading the claim regardless of accuracy.
It is true that computer-generated tails were used to counteract excited dogs in at least one film (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and it seems a Reddit commenter remembered the anecdote but not its specificity. We did find a 2005 interview substantiating that it happened at least once, but the comment assumed that dog training and handling in films is not as well developed as it is overall. Finally, not all tail-wagging is indicative of happiness or excitement.
Regardless, the comment languished in obscurity with a mere 23 upvotes until a number of Reddit-cannibalizing sites mined that thread for “fun facts” in August 2019. In September 2019, someone took a screenshot of the Reddit-comment-turned-fun-fact, and dog-loving readers spread the claim far and wide.