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Do Dogs Really Laugh?

Posted on: June 18th, 2007 by

Posted by Pets Best on 6/18/2007 in Dog Behavior

Patricia Simonet says she found a way to calm down the raucous barkers at her animal shelter: For several hours a day, she plays a recording of dogs “laughing” – a pronounced breathy exhalation through the mouth, sort of like excited panting.

“It sounds like pigs snorting,” some tell Simonet, a cognitive ethnologist at Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service in Spokane, Wash. She likens it to the human “hah hah hah” without the “a.” (Hear a one-second clip at www.laughing-dog.org.)

Which prompts the question: Do dogs really laugh?

Yes, Simonet says.

While researching dogs at play, she came to realize they make at least four distinct sound patterns during play time: barks, growls, whines and “dog-laugh” – that breathy forced exhalation used to initiate play.

“Only the laugh appears to be exclusively produced during play and friendly greetings, and not during other encounters,” reports Simonet. “So powerful is this stimulus, that humans can initiate play with dogs by using an imitation dog-laugh.”

This is not just a laughing matter. In fact, it’s serious enough that Simonet and her co-authors reported on their research at the Proceedings of 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment held in New York in 2005.

Give it a try. Just by hearing you make the breathy sound, your dog may respond by doing a “play bow” – extending his front legs and hoisting his back end in the air – to display the universal canine signal for, “Let’s play!”

(Tip: Another way you can initiate play is by whispering. It works about half the time. To improve your odds, whisper while you’re down on the floor doing a play bow yourself.)

“Perhaps the whisper is a close approximation to the dog-laugh,” Simonet says. “When humans whisper, they produce a pronounced forced, breathy exhalation through the mouth.”

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, a veterinarian and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass., agrees that dogs laugh, but they do it inwardly, he says – not as Simonet proposes.

“Inwardly, they’re thinking: ‘This is wicked good fun. I’m having the time of my life. Tee hee hee, ho ho ho.’ They just don’t open their mouths,” says Dr. Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak: Stories about Pets and Their People (W.W. Norton).

Makes you wonder: who really is enjoying the final laugh – you or your dog?

Laughter Learning

Curious about canine comedians? Check out these references:

* Don’t Look Now, but is That Dog Laughing?

www.sciencenews.org/20010728/fob9.asp

* Dog-laughter: Recorded Playback Reduces Stress-Related Behavior in Shelter Dogs”

www.petalk.org/LaughingDog.pdf

* Compare dog laughter with the sound of dogs panting at www.laughing-dog.org

By Sally Deneen, a freelance writer from Seattle and co-author of The Dog Lover’s Companion to Florida (Avalon Travel Publishing).

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