In these days of uncertainty and frustration, we all could use a few laughs. You might wonder, do dogs laugh like humans? In a word, sorta. Dog laughter comes in different forms, but I’m fortunate to live with three furry comedians. Bravo especially enjoys making me laugh, while Shadow-Pup is a hopeless tease. Karma-Kat watches from his cat tree, aloof and above it all (literally).
Do Dogs Laugh Like Humans?
We know that no two dogs are alike, and their personalities range from stoic to goofy. But do dogs laugh, too? We know that dogs often learn to mimic the human smile, in part because we love it so much and reward with lots of attention. For many years, scientists believed laughter only happened in humans, but that perception has changed.
Veterinarian and ethologist Michael Fox reported in 1998 that dogs used a breathy exhalation during play that might be compared to the human laugh. He noted this sound appeared to be exclusive to play and friendly greetings, and was used to signal the concurrent behavior was no threat. They often describe such signals as a calming signal that relieves stress in other anxious dogs.
Konrad Lorenz, a Pulitzer prize-winning Austrian zoologist and ethologist, also believed dogs had the capacity to laugh. He wrote about it in his book, Man Meets Dog (Routledge Classics, 2002). He agreed with Fox that the “dog laugh” most often happened during play with a beloved human, with the canine somewhat mimicking the human with open mouth and stretched lips in a dog smile or dog grin. But he also pointed to a very specific “doggy laugh” sound that was described as a huffing breathy “laugh pant” behavior.
Research Into Laughing Dogs
More recently, researcher Patricia Simonet followed Lorenz’s speculation with experiments. She recorded dog sounds during the early 2000s in various situations to see how they differed. She recorded dogs while they played at the park, and later analyzed the sounds they produced.
Simonet said the dog laughter sounds like panting, sort of a “hhuh, hhuh” sound. But once she analyzed the recordings, the sounds were quite different than normal panting. Dog laugh-panting included a broader range of frequencies than everyday dog panting produces.
To further test her theory, Simonet played the doggy laughter sounds to a group of fifteen puppies. The sound made them frolic and romp with joy, making her speculate they recognized the laugh-pant as a play signal.
She followed these experiments in 2005 with studies in an animal shelter environment. When recordings of dog laughter played in the shelter, the listening canines acted calmer. We already know that some kinds of music can help calm our pets. Simonet suggests that such positive dog sounds can help relieve stress and help make shelter dogs more adoptable. And that’s a benefit that makes us ALL laugh!
What Does Dog Laughter Sound Like?
So yes, dogs laugh! And you can laugh back at your dog, and inspire more happiness. Here’s how to do it.
A dog laugh sounds similar to a human saying, “Ha-ha-ha-ha!” but without sounding the “a” vowel. It’s simply a breathy exhalation. Experiment with reproducing the dog panting laugh sound to see how your dog reacts. Researcher Stanley Coren says his own dogs respond best to a “Hhuh-hhah-hhuh-hhah” with the “hhuh” made with slightly rounded lips. I found one YouTube recording of various dog laugh examples here.
There’s also research that points to a dog sneeze in certain circumstances as being similar to a “canine giggle” of delight. Trainer Turid Rugaas of Norway categorizes a “play sneeze” as a calming signal that tells other dogs the current behavior is no threat but meant in fun. I tried this with my own dog, Magic, and when I sneezed he looked at me with surprise—and then immediately dropped into a play-bow and then danced around the room. The current furry crew reaction in the same way, how neat is that?
Sneezing can prompt a reciprocal sneeze in your puppy, too. After all, laughter is catching and good medicine. Try it! We need all the laughs we can get.
Are Dogs Ticklish?
I don’t consider the leg-kick reflex in dogs as a ticklish response. Dogs might enjoy the contact and respond in predictable ways but they don’t giggle and laugh uncontrollably like people. Whether or not dogs are ticklish depends on the definition of the term. Here’s my take on why dogs leg-kick when scratched.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!