According to animal behaviorist Patricia Simonet, dogs most certainly can laugh. She describes it as “hah hah hah” but without the “a” and she has the briefest of sound clips on her laughing dog page. Beacon doesn’t make this sound much, but playful Haven dog-laughs frequently. My impression is that this isn’t a funny/humor laugh such as laughing at a joke, but rather a fun/excitement laugh like how little kids laugh when you chase them or play peek-a-boo.
Dog-laughing is more than just a nifty curiosity – it’s a form of canine communication just like human laughter. Since we’ve “designed” dogs to interact with us, it’s important that we understand dog-laughter as much as we understand barking, whining, howling, and other canine vocalizations. Ms. Simonet asserts that in a dog’s world, dog-laughing is used to initiate play, often in conjunction with a “play bow”.
Ever listen to the Bob and Tom Show on the radio? Their morning show is quite entertaining and I’ve noticed that they heighten the jovial mood by laughing extra hard (or playing pre-recorded laughter) at key moments during their jokes. Interestingly, even though I believe the laughter to be forced, I still find that it works – I find myself chuckling along to the entire comedy sketch.
I don’t know if Ms. Simonet is a Bob and Tom fan but apparently she had a similar idea. One her site is a her research paper on using dog laughter in shelters. She was able to show that dogs in a shelter exhibit less stress-related behavior if recorded dog laughter is being played over speakers in the kennel! Does the sound of other dogs laughing help improve the mood of dogs in a shelter? Perhaps this is analogous to long-distance airliner flights playing a comedy movie for the passengers.
Having fostered almost 50 dogs in the past couple years, my wife and I have noticed how the stress of a shelter environment can cause dogs to become what we call “kennel crazy” – a personality of high stress, high anxiety, lots of fear and shyness, etc. Most dogs are able to re-adjust to our stable home environment within 48 hours, but some need more than a week to recover from shelter life, especially if they’d been kenneled for a long time. Foster homes can allow a dog’s true personality to emerge, a necessity for making a good match with a future adoptive family.
Sadly, many dogs in shelters are so stressed out by their prison-like environment that when potential adopters come to meet them, they don’t get to see the dog’s true personality. A fear-stressed dog may appear calm and quiet, but once adjusted to their new home it may prove to be too energetic for the laid back family that adopted it. I’m happily intrigued by the possibility that broadcasting dog laughter in a shelter could relax the tenants enough that enough personality remains for when they meet the family that just might rescue them and provide a home full of love and laughter for both the humans and the dogs!