Can dogs laugh?

April 13, 2012

Ho! Ho! Ho! is the signature laugh of Santa Claus. Children were made to believe that a long drawn out shrill and high pitch laughter is that of a witch’s. The booming and carefree laughter of the person sitting beside you in a movie house can either irritate you or make you laugh as well. A baby’s laughter is certainly music to the ears of the loving parents. What about the pet? Do you believe the theory of animal behaviorists that a dog can laugh? Life is funny and no matter what cynics say, it is fun to be alive. Babies have been laughing even before they can talk. Dogs and other animals would like to share in the fun… they laugh too.

Dog behaviorists have differing opinions regarding the theory that dogs can laugh. Some would say that the bark that resembles a laugh is just that… a bark. Other dog behaviorists though believe that dogs can actually laugh. This theory was supported when a recording of a dog’s vocalization that was believed to be a dog’s laughter was played in an animal shelter. The recording has a significant impact on the behavior of other dogs. The response was not seen when a recording of the normal barking of the dog was played. Surprisingly, the vocalization has calmed down the raucous barking of the animals in the shelter. Moreover, it was noticed that the sound has elicited the dogs’ eagerness to play. Some dogs have picked up toys; others have approached people as if asking them to play. Further studies on the vocalization have shown that what was considered as the dog’s laughter have different frequencies as compared to a dog’s panting.

It is common for people to give their four legged friends human characteristics. Dogs are social animals. Dog owners tend to believe that their pets also possess some human characteristics. This was attributed to the dog’s long association with humans. Dogs are capable of feeling and showing varied emotions. Similar to humans, dogs can be sad or happy. Notice how a dog will pine for a departed master. Again, notice how a dog left at home for the better part of the day would jump in excitement as soon as the family enters the door. A dog reprimanded for filching the steak would have a sheepish look and a repentant demeanor. Dogs are intelligent creatures. Would it be surprising if they show their excitement and happiness by laughing?

A dog’s laughter is different from human laughter. It is a forced breathy exhalation not unlike short panting. The vocalization is pretty much similar to the laughter of humans with the bowels removed. Humans would laugh at slapstick comedies, at knock, knock jokes and at amusing situations. It was noticed that dogs produce this sound only at play or during encounters with other dogs and with people the dog is familiar with. The vocalization is viewed as the dog’s way of communicating its intention to play or its happiness and excitement to see its favorite people.

Whether the dog can actually laugh is still a topic of debate among dog behaviorists up to this very day in spite of the extensive studies made on canine behavior. However an owner wise to the ways of the pet would know when the dog is laughing. With the glint of happiness in the dog’s eyes, the exuberantly wagging tail and the excited and enthusiastic jumping, the dog owner would know that the pet is happy and excited to see its favorite person. When the dog lets out a breathy exhalation sound, the pet is laughing and asking the master to play.

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