Several studies have shown that dogs can understand laughter. According to a study by Patricia Simonet, dogs have their own way of laughing, which doesn’t sound anything like ours. Dogs can learn what our laughter looks like since they have the emotion of laughter themselves.
Imagine you’re hanging out with your best friend. Suddenly, this crazy sound bursts out of their mouth. They grab their stomach, fall on the floor, and keep repeating this sound until they’re red in the face.
What would you do? Like the rest of us, you’d probably call 911. Let’s just say that fortunately for both of you, you have paws and not hands. That’s because, in this case, you’re a dog.
There’s no denying that dogs are wonderful animals. They get things for us, keep us safe, even save us from certain death. These are just some of the many reasons the phrase “dogs are a man’s best friend” still holds up today.
But do they truly understand some of the things we do? Things like laughing, for instance. Imagine that moment again. What does your dog do when it happens? Do they truly get what’s going on?
This may seem like a simple question, but as you’ll soon find out, it requires a bit more digging and laughing than you might think.
What You'll Learn
Do Dogs Laugh?
To determine if dogs understand when we laugh, we first need to determine if dogs can laugh. Wondering why this is so important?
Before, you imagined how laughter might look and sound to your dog. Now imagine how it looks to them when you’re paying taxes, answering the phone, or building something. How do they react?
They most likely keep doing the various dog things that they do, which in no way, shape, or form has much to do with what you’re doing.
It’s just human nonsense to them, like how some things our dogs do are just doggy nonsense to us.
The Science of Laughing
To make sense of whether or not dogs laugh, we need to turn to the scientific field of gelotology. To be clear, this is not a field of science that studies the frozen treat, often confused with ice cream.
In Greek, gelos means laughter. One person in particular briefly crossed over into this field with dogs.
Patricia Simonet’s Experiment
Patricia Simonet had a genuine fondness for animals. Before studying whether dogs laughed, she worked as an animal behaviorist at a Seattle animal shelter. She had pets herself, including dogs.
One day, while watching one of those dogs play, perhaps as only an animal behaviorist can, she noticed he was making a sound that was a little different from panting. It made her wonder if maybe dogs had some sort of laugh.
She sought to answer this question, but she kept coming up short. Eventually, it was suggested to her that she might try doing the research herself. So she did.
Along with her team, she recorded dogs while they were playing. She found that sounds that might seem like quiet panting to humans actually showed up differently on their equipment than normal panting did.
When they played those same sounds for other dogs, they calmed down, much like our laughter does for us. It was clear then that dogs did laugh and that their laughter was similar in some ways to our own.
The experiment also added to the proof that dogs feel like we do, which leads us to the next question.
Do Dogs Understand Our Emotions?
Patricia Simonet’s experiment hints that dogs may actually laugh in their own way, but that doesn’t mean dogs understand human laughter. To figure that out, we need to know if dogs understand our emotions.
Laughter comes from emotion, so if dogs can’t understand what we’re feeling, then there’s no way they understand when we’re laughing. Thankfully, several previous experiments help shed light on this.
Can Dogs Put Human Faces and Sounds Together Correctly?
The first experiment comes from a study published in 2016. In their experiment, dogs were tested on how well they could match the emotional sounds people make with how they showed those emotions on their faces.
For example, could they match a person yelling to an angry-looking face? You might naturally wonder why this would be important in dogs’ understanding of emotions. The reason is that if dogs can’t put these two things together in the same way we do, then they can’t understand our emotions in the way that we do either.
In the experiment, each dog was shown two pictures simultaneously, each with a unique expression. In some cases, these pictures were of dog faces. In others, they were human.
At the same time, the dogs were shown the two pictures, a sound was played. The sound would either have no emotion or match the emotion on one of the faces.
To ensure the dogs’ success had nothing to do with how familiar they were with the faces, they only used pictures of people the dogs had never seen before.
In the case of the sounds with no emotion, the dogs didn’t prefer one face or the other. In the case of the sound that matched a face, the dogs stared at that face longer than the other one. That means that, at least in some sense, they know how our emotions should be shown.
Although the study doesn’t specifically mention laughter, we can assume that this would have been one of the sounds played.
Can Dogs Think About Human Emotions Correctly?
The next question is, can they think about that emotion as we do? Just because a dog stares at a face longer than another doesn’t mean they understand it, just that they know what it should look and sound like.
Thankfully, some research from another team helps prove this. They knew dogs turn different ways depending on whether they think something is positive or negative.
This team set out to prove whether the dogs could do this consistently when it came to the sounds humans make. Sounds that showed fear, happiness, and so on.
Based on how their brains work, if the dogs turned to the left, it meant they thought a sound was negative. If they turned to the right, that meant they thought it was positive.
In the end, the dogs turned left for negative human sounds and right for positive ones. And, as you might expect, this also included laughter.
So…Do Dogs Understand Laughter?
All of this brings us back to our original question: do dogs understand laughter?
Although we can’t say with 100% certainty that they understand laughter, it would be hard to deny.
How much they understand could be debated, but they seem to understand laughter to a certain degree.
They can laugh themselves, they understand the way we show emotions, and they can pair the right sounds with the right faces. Most importantly, they react the right way too.
That may be the most telling thing of all. None of this would matter if dogs didn’t do anything about what they were seeing or hearing.
Take cats, for instance. Do they care whether you’re sad or happy? If they do, they have pretty interesting ways of showing it.
Dogs, on the other hand, respond just like we would. Go back to that moment you imagined in the beginning when you were laughing. How does your dog react? Maybe they don’t laugh along with you, but they have their own ways of showing they’re happy.
So the next time you fall on the floor giggling like a maniac, remember that your dog isn’t just coming over to see what you’re up to. They already know, and they’re ready to enjoy it with you.
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