Can Dogs Understand Humor?

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Introduction

You know your pup better than anyone, so you're pretty well-acquainted with his quirks, likes, dislikes, and of course, his very unique personality. You're pretty sure you can tell that your dog feels happiness, sadness, loneliness, delight, and is capable of understanding a lot of what's going on in your life, but have you ever wondered if your dog can understand humor? 

While there are no proof-positive studies that your pooch understands and participates in canine humor, it's hard to deny that there's something particular going on with your dog's emotions. Researchers have found that dogs can laugh and express their happiness when playing with other pooches or humans. 

Signs Your Dog Has a Sense of Humor

Scientists and researchers have stated that there are no proof-positive studies indicating that dogs have canine humor that matches the spectrum of humor that humans have. While that's true, there are also significant signs that point to dogs laughing and expressing their happiness and other emotions with other pooches or their humans. 

If you're not quite convinced, look out for specific signs that your pup may be giving you to signal that he not only understands your humor, but wants to play along with your joke. For example, it's not uncommon for dog's to smile at you. Dogs can even laugh, too. Unlike their usual pants that come after running, exercising, or playing, a laugh is a pattern of longer, breathier pants. These pants, according to researchers, elicit a positive response from shelter dogs when played over a recording. 

Additionally, your pooch will wag his tail - the ultimate form of clownery and jest. You may also notice your pooch plays, frolics, bounds, and intrudes! These are all signs that they certainly understand that they're getting in the way and playing practical jokes on their owners.

Body Language

These signs could very well mean your dog is invested in getting a laugh out of you:
  • Barking
  • Head tilting
  • Listening
  • Panting
  • Howling
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Raise ears

Other Signs

Keep the above body language cues in mind, but also consider some of the following signs that may indicate your pup knows exactly what's funny:
  • Doggy dancing
  • Howling, barking, or communicating
  • Being bashful or playful
  • Playing, frolicking, bounding around
  • Intruding
  • Panting, laughing
  • Smiling
  • Tail wag

The History of Doggy Humor

The question of dog sense of humor dates back all the way to Darwin times. In fact, he was probably the first researcher to question whether or not your pup could understand what's funny. It appeared to Darwin as far back as 1872 that dogs might have a sense of humor, and he began drawing parallels between animal and human emotion. 

According to him, dogs show distinctions in sense of humor that are different from mere playing, implying they understand humor and the idea of a practical joke. In his example, he looks at how dogs will carry a stick a short distance back to their owner, squat down, wait for their owner to come closer, then dart away in triumph. 

In short, dogs can play practical jokes on their owners, why wouldn't they be able to understand humor? It's also been proven since Darwin's time that dogs can laugh, and their laughter is associated with the same situations that make young children laugh.

The Science of Doggy Humor

Two animal behaviorists from the University of California, Davis even went as far as ranking 56 different breeds of dogs in accordance to playfulness and found the dogs that had the most playfulness and "sense of humor" were Irish Setters, English Springer Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and Poodles. Among the lowest were Bloodhounds, Bulldogs, and Basset hounds. 

More than that, the cues that we associate our dogs' humor have some science behind them. Take, for example, dog laughter. According to the Stanford University's Science News and Michigan State University reports, dog laughter is different than panting, and it was found that dog laughter, played over audio in shelters helped to calm anxious dogs and increase their confidence to interact with other people and shelter pups.

How to Train Your Pup to Keep His Humor in Check

It goes without saying that there's nothing wrong with dog humor - it's cute, hilarious, and brings a smile to everyone's face. We'd never advise you to train the practical jokester streak out of your pup! Let him love and live his hilarious, happy life. 

If you're interested in making sure your pup doesn't border the line of destructive or out of line behavior, though, here are a few ways to gently encourage him to keep his playfulness light and friendly. 

Enforce a life full of play with your pup, but make sure he understands commands like "drop it," "leave it," and "gentle," so that he's always easy, gentle, and sweet. If your dog gets too aggressive in his playfulness and starts to mix in signals like barking, growling, and nipping, make sure he knows that that's not a part of a humor-filled play. If he begins to do these things, leave him be for a while and ignore your pup until he's calmed down. 

Make sure your dog understands that gentle, funny play means a treat and lots of praise! 

How to Handle Your Dog's Humor

  • Roll your eyes at his intrusions, then give him a good pat on the head.
  • Let him play his practical jokes on you.
  • Smile back at him.
  • Encourage his playful antics.
  • Laugh along with him.

Tell Us All About Your Pup's Sense of Humor!

Ruby
3 Years
Australian Shepherd
Thumbs up on story for Can Dogs Understand Humor?
Definitely Funny on Purpose
Signs
Head tilting
Wiggling

I have no doubt that my Austrailian Shepherd has a sense of humor. When my fiancee and I play tricks on each other, my dog Ruby immediately begins panting, tilts her head and wiggles over to where we are standing.

an hour ago