Do dogs laugh?

Dog laying in arms Photo by Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock

Every dog owner knows that dogs love to play. Whether it’s roughhousing with other pups or engaging in games with humans, dogs know how to have a good time. This begs the question: do dogs laugh? Well, you might be surprised at the answer. We’re here to let you in on some dog playtime secrets.

What is play panting?

Dogs make all kinds of vocalizations when they play, including barks, whines, and growls. But have you ever heard your dog panting in the middle of a game? Turns out that’s not from exertion. Research from the late Patricia Simonet showed that the breathy panting dogs do while playing is special. When Simonet analyzed the sound waves of play pants and compared them to recordings of regular pants, there was a distinct difference.

But does that mean anything to dogs? Yes. In fact, play pants can initiate fun and games. When dogs hear a play pant from another dog, they respond with playful behaviour, such as making a play face (a relaxed open mouth), giving play bows (bum up and chest down), or chasing. Dogs will even engage in these actions if the play pant comes from a human! To further explore the function of the play pant, Simonet played recordings of these sounds to shelter dogs and found that they lowered the dogs’ stress levels and encouraged them to be more social.

Do dogs laugh?

So, does the play pant qualify as dog laughter? Simonet thought so. And what else would you call it? Unlike barks, whines, and growls which dogs use in many contexts, play pants only occur when a dog is having fun. Plus, just like human laughter, it seems to be infectious, eliciting play behaviour when dogs simply hear the sound. If we giggle and guffaw when we’re having fun, why shouldn’t dogs?

How can you encourage your dog to play?

Can you use play pants to strike up a game with your dog? Absolutely. It sounds like a forced and breathy exhalation. To make a play pant, you need to laugh without the vowel sounds. So a simple “Hah, hah, hah” but instead of pronouncing the “ah” at the end, just expel air. Try it with your dog and see how they respond.

To be even more playful, you can learn to speak your dog’s body language as well. But be aware, research from scientist Nicola Rooney found that many of the commonly used play signals humans give their dogs are the least successful at getting the dog to play. For example, kissing your dog, picking up your dog, or patting the floor are unlikely to start a game. Instead, try one of the more effective signals from Rooney’s study. Bow to your dog so your torso is parallel with the ground. Or get on the ground and give a doggie play bow. Or how about a quick forward lunge towards your dog? Finally, try a chase signal by moving rapidly towards or away from your dog. All these signals, especially paired with a play pant, are sure to get your dog laughing.

Featured Video