Can Dogs Think Something is Funny?

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Introduction

Have you ever watched children play with a dog in the backyard? As you see the little humans interact with the pooch, you may note that through all of the bouncing, screaming, and throwing, at times it looks like the dog is totally in on the fun. More than that, as the kids are having the time of their lives, you may see the canine exhibiting something that looks a lot like laughing! 

People are not the only creatures who have a sense of humor. As it turns out, dogs and many other animals have a sense of humor, too!  Just as we enjoy having fun and finding humor in situations, it seems that our dogs do as well! Studies are even identifying the breeds with the best sense of humor.

Signs Your Dog Thinks Something is Funny

The dog-and-human bond is such that we share more than our living quarters, food, and time. Our dogs share in a capacity to experience emotions - one of which is the ability to have a sense of humor. If your dog thinks something is funny, they will show you in their playfulness, expressions, and vocalizations. As you engage in playful ways with your dog, you will be able to laugh along with them. They may not snicker like Muttley, the cartoon dog, but they will let you in on their delight in many other ways that you can appreciate.

Show me your teeth! Dogs do smile and when they do, they will grin broadly and even show you their teeth. When dogs are happy, they will wag their tail to the right. When dogs are inviting humans and other dogs to play, they will go into the play bowing position. The play bow is one in which the front quarters are extended out and the behind is up in the air. You may see that tail wagging to the right and your dog might even give you a quick little "Yip" to invite you to play. 

Once they start playing, you may find your dog playing "Hide and Seek", "Keep Away" or even swiping something to get the game started. Just as we laugh, your dog may vocalize with happy yelps and yips. Happy dogs will also jump up and dance about in a frolic of fun.

Dogs actually do laugh, as well! The size of the laugh can even go along with the size of the dog. When your dog is laughing, look for signs that include the head up, a wide toothy grin and an exhalation with a broader frequency than panting. 

The dog's sense of humor is often expressed through playfulness. When your dog is thinking something is funny, you will see your dog romping and frolicking about. Just as we might jab someone to get someone to join us in some fun, your dog will give you a jab too, only they will do it with their nose. If your dog is making you laugh, then you know the humor is being shared.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog thinks something is funny include:
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Exposed teeth
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

More signs that show your pooch is definitely having some laughs are:
  • Showing a toothy grin
  • Playing games
  • Romping and frolicking
  • Jabbing with their nose

History of Dog Humor

Psychologist, Stanley Coren, has pointed out that the dog's sense of humor is demonstrated in their playfulness. Charles Darwin wrote about this capacity of dogs in 1872 when he was studying parallels between humans and dogs in their emotions and behaviors. 

Darwin observed the humor of dogs when they add-on to play with humans and dogs. He described the humor as the dog taking a stick or object and running off a few steps, play bowing, waiting for the master to retrieve the stick, then snatching the stick and running around, making a game as if it were a practical joke. Darwin believed that the differences in intelligence between humans and animals are ones of degree, not kind. It is the expression of playfulness that demonstrates to us that dogs have a sense of humor and can think that an activity or interaction is, indeed, funny.

The attribute of humor in dogs is described by the willingness of the breed of dog to engage in playful games, such as fetch, and their willingness to chase balls. Researchers Dr. Benjamin Hart, and Lynnette Hart, at the University of California-Davis, had a group of experts rank 56 different breeds of dogs in terms of playfulness. The top ten most playful breeds include the Irish Setter, English Springer Spaniel, Miniature Schnauzer, Cairn Terrier, Airedale Terrier, Standard Poodle, Shetland Sheepdog, Golden Retriever, and Australian Shepherd. The five breeds rated as the least playful were the Saint Bernard, Basset Hound, Chow Chow, Bulldog, and and Bloodhound. 

The Science of Dogs Finding Things Funny

Scientists have studied the capacity of animals and dogs to have emotions. They believe that human laughter evolved from the panting behavior of apes when they are engaged in rough and tumble play. When the panting or laughter is compared across species of the bonobo, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and humans, there are similarities that align to their evolutionary relationships. 

In 1997, Jaak Panksepp of Bowling Green University observed that rats emitted a sound like laughter when playing. They decided to tickle the rats and the rats emitted the same chirping sounds of pleasure or, if you will, rat laughter! The same sounds were emitted when they stimulated the reward centers in the rat brain. 

What about dogs? Humor in dogs is a social behavior. Humor is when we expect one thing and then something else happens - but it is not threatening. Humor conveys social information. This is the pattern that is observed in dog play that leads us to believe that they think they are funny.  

Dogs have the emotional sophistication of a human child around two and a half years. At this age, there are capacities to experience excitement, distress, contentment, disgust, fear, anger, joy, suspicion, and affection or love. Studies have shown that dogs communicate their humor and emotions to babies, making them giggle. Absolutely, the capacity to find humor and to think things are funny will be found in your playful best friend.

Training Your Dog Appropriate Humor

Animal behaviorists appreciate the playfulness of the dog. However, some of the behaviors that humans perceive as funny are actually attention-seeking behaviors that are a sign that the humans need to develop improved skills as trainers and masters of their pets. 

If your dog is stealing your underwear, you may be rewarding a behavior that you really do not want to see repeated. Teach and use the command, "Drop It" or "Leave It" and reward the dog for dropping the item. Then, provide appropriate playtime toys and reward the dog for playing with those objects.

If your dog is a little too playful or doing tricks on you, consider how you can use obedience work to teach your dog what is allowed for play and when to play.  Use the "Finish" or "Sit" command to end playtime and reward your dog for remaining calm.

Some of the attention-seeking behavior may mean that your dog is bored and needs more interaction with you. Check your routine and how you are spending your time. You may need to schedule play time with your dog, take more walks and make sure your dog is getting enough appropriate stimulation and exercise.

Now that you have some thoughts about keeping behavior in check, you can teach your dog to laugh.

Step 1. Round your lips to make a "huhh sound" but do not voice the sound.

Step 2. Now spread your lips into a grin to make the "hahh" sound - breathe it but do not voice it.

Step 3. Make the canine laughter sound. It should go like this: "hhuh-hhah-hhuh-hhah".

Your dog should follow along and may approach you, wag their tail, smile, and show other signs of happiness. Don't forget to reward your dog for laughing along with you!

How to React to Your Dog Finding Things Funny:

  • Speak in a happy and inviting tone with your dog.
  • Listen to the tone of your dog's vocalizations.
  • Reward the dog for playing with appropriate items.
  • Teach basic commands to keep play times in control.

Safety Tips When Joshing with Dogs:

  • Do not initiate "keep away" games with your dog.
  • Do not allow others to taunt your dog.
  • Dogs that are teased can become frustrated.
  • The teased dog may learn to not trust humans.
  • A frustrated dog is more likely to be provoked to bite.