Dogs bring us so much joy and happiness in our lives that it wouldn’t be surprising if dogs were gifted with the ability to laugh, just as we humans do. Last time we checked though, we never saw our dogs chuckling, giggling, or burst out laughing even when they were tickled or were told an irresistible joke. Max Eastman though seemed to be on the right track when he coined his famous quote “Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails. ” Just because dogs don’t laugh as humans do, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’ enjoy a nice chuckle. A study conducted by Simonet, a Cognitive Ethologist and Animal Behaviorist, has actually shown that dogs do have the ability to laugh, and if we pay close attention, we can hear them “laughing” too.
A Different Laugh
While humans tend to laugh when they are tickled, told a joke or when watching a funny movie, in dogs laughter seems to occur in different contexts. Dogs tend to “laugh” mostly when they are playing. When dogs were observed during play, they were found to use several different vocalizations: the familiar high-pitched barks, several whines and playful growls. Among these vocalizations was also a fourth type: a breathy forced exhalation that Simonet refers to as “the dog laugh.”
According the study, dogs used these doggy laughs to initiate play and the other dogs responded to them with a play face, game of chase or a meta-signal such as a play bow to invite to play. Interestingly, these dog laughs were found to take place exclusively for play encounters or friendly encounters with people and dogs. What does this dog laugh sound like? According to Simonet, it’s somewhat similar to a human laugh, but with the vowels removed. So instead of the quintessential “hah, hah, hah!” it would sound more like a “hhh, hhh, hhh,” with the same amount of forced air released. For those who wish to hear what it sounds like, they can found a brief clip on Simonet’s Laughing Dog Website. The website also has a clip on a dog panting so one can differentiate between the two.
Did you know? A study by Rooney et al. back in 2001 revealed that humans were more successful in initiating play with their dogs by whispering to their dogs rather than mimicking a play bow. It’s likely that the whispering was perceived by dogs as an approximation of the “doggy laugh.”
Calming Dogs Down
Have you ever noticed how listening to people laughing on shows has the power of influencing your mood and brightening your day? American sound engineer Charles Douglass was the first to introduce the sound of audience laughter in several prime-time sitcoms aired between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. In honor of his invention, this fake laughter was referred to as the “Douglass laugh track.” Well, it appears that dogs seem to exhibit a similar response when listening to “doggy laughs.”
Interestingly, when recorded and played back using a recorder, the “dog laugh” has been shown to reduce stress in dogs kenneled in an animal shelter. On top of exhibiting lower levels of stress, the dog listening to the play back also manifested pro-social behaviors such as approaching and tail wagging. This is important considering the considerable stress dogs in shelters go through due to confinement and being in a poorly stimulating environment. There are therefore chances that the exhibition of pro-social responses manifested as a consequence to the play backs could lead to reduced residencies at the shelter before adoption. Happier looking dogs make for happier adoptions, a win-win!
Just for Fun: Five Dogs Who Broke Up Laughing
These dogs may not be “laughing” in the real sense of the word (who knows what they were really thinking!) but we thought these funny expressions might cheer you up and brighten your day.
- Simonet, P. Versteeg, D. and Storie, D. (2005). “Dog-laughter: Recorded playback reduces stress related behavior in shelter dogs” (PDF). Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment.
- Rooney, N. J.; Bradshaw, J. W. S.; Robinson, I. H. (2001). Do dogs respond to play signals given by humans? Animal Behaviour, Vol 61(4), 715- 722.
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Jelly Dude, My bloody Valentine, Shorty laughing his head off at the latest 3D horror flick, CCBY2.0
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Rachael, Laughing dog, hehehe…funny 🙂 CCBY2.0
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Jack Berry injun laughing, the plan worked hehehe :O) CCBY2.0
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Danny Ayers, Basil hears a good one, CCBY2.0