We often wonder how “human” dogs can be. How they look at us, the behaviors they engage in, the sounds they make. But the truth is, it’s not just our view. Studies have shown that animals feel many of the same emotions that humans do, but they often communicate in ways we do not understand.
Take laughter as an example. In the early 2000s, psychologist and animal behavior expert Patricia Simonet conducted groundbreaking research on vocalizations of dogs. She then found out that dogs can probably laugh. When playing and when dogs are happy, their emotions can be expressed in four different ways; they bark, they dig, they whine and they make a specific exhalation (similar to a dog laugh).
So is it really true that dogs can laugh? While Simonets and other researchers make a compelling case as to whether some skin lesions can be called “laughter”, it is still an issue that is debated among animal behavior scientists. “Admittedly, researchers Konrad Lorenz and Patricia Simonet have claimed that dogs can laugh,” says Dr. Liz Stelow, a behavioral specialist at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “I’m not sure I can confirm or deny that this is actually happening. Although Simonet’s research is convincing about how sound is affected by members of the dog’s species. ”
Dr. Marc Bekoff, a dog expert and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, is also cautiously convinced by the research in this area. “Yes, there is a sound, which many call laughter,” he explains. “I think we have to be careful, but I do not think there is any reason to say that dogs do not do what we can call functional equivalent or the sound of laughter.”
Observation of “Happiness” in Dogs
To better understand “dog laughter”, we must first consider the idea of the dog’s “happiness”. How do we know if a dog is happy – and can we ever really know? “The key is to look at a dog’s body language and how it behaves,” explains Stelow. “Relaxed body language indicates commitment and a ‘jumping’ body language indicates excitement for most dogs,” she says. But “happiness” is less commonly used as a scientific description of mental states, because it is quite anthropomorphic [meaning it attributes human qualities to non-humans]. ”
Bekoff and Stelow point out that if a dog does something voluntarily (not forced or offered any reward), we can reasonably assume that the activity likes it. If the dog voluntarily engages in a game or lies down next to you on the couch, follow his body language. Is his tail in a neutral position or turn to the right? (Research has shown a “right wag” is associated with “happier” situations.) Are the ears up or relaxed rather than strapped to the head? While we can not be 100 percent sure, our experts note that these signs indicate happiness.
The Dog Laughter
Your happy dog can sometimes utter what Simonet calls a “dog laugh”. But how does it sound then? “It [dog laughter] consists of an inhalation and exhalation,” says Bekoff. “Not much has been studied, but many species do. You use it as an inviting game against other species, or animals do it during games. ”
Stelow adds that this way of playing is often accompanied by an expression that “the lips are pulled back, the tongue is released and the eyes are closed slowly”… in other words, a dog’s smile. She emphasizes that the connection is all in the distinction between a possible dog laugh and another type of vocalization. “Body language should suggest that it is an invitation to play or to continue playing, and not another message.”
Apart from Simonet’s work, Bekoff explains that there are other studies of animal laughter that give us clues about these existences. “There are some very rigorous studies that show that rats laugh. “When you look at the recordings of that sound, it’s like the laughter of people,” he says. He also quotes Jaak Panksepp, a neurobiologist whose most famous study showed that when tickled rats, they emitted a sound that is closely related to human laughter. And there have been similar studies of non-human primates, who have come to the same conclusion: that they laugh.
No Two Dogs are Alike
A tough thing about identifying a possible dog laugh is that every dog is different. “The actual sound is quite dog-dependent,” says Stelow.
“Dogs are as individual as humans,” says Bekoff. “I have lived with enough dogs to know that even littermates have individual personalities.” This is important to remember when making any claims about dogs in general, he notes. “Some people have said things like – dogs do not like to be hugged.” Well, that’s not true. “Some dogs do not like it and some dogs do. And we should just pay attention to what an individual dog’s needs are. ”
Every pet owner wants to make their dog as happy as possible. But the best way to do this is to get to know the dog and observe what he likes and dislikes. Dog laughter is just a small indicator. “Some dogs are never happier than when they have to chase a ball or run through an open field. Others like to wrestle. Some prefer pillow time on the couch. Whatever the dog prefers is the best way to make it “happy”, says Stelow.
Still More to Discover
While Simonet and others have begun to explore “dog laughter”, Bekoff notes that there is much more work to be done to get to know the sound and emotions of our dog mates. “What I find exciting about this is how much we know and how much we do not know,” he says. “People should really pay attention to the kind of research that still needs to be done before they say ‘Oh, dogs do not do this or can not do this.’