We have all seen photos of a husky seemingly grinning at the camera, or of dogs that seem to be laughing at a joke. Some pet owners swear that their dogs are able to understand jokes or know when something is funny – that they have their own peculiar sense of humour.
This naturally makes us ask: do dogs have a sense of humour? Our dogs can be such a part of the family that, at times, they seem to understand inside jokes or participate in funny moments. Can dogs experience humour as we do? Can they understand a joke or, better still, play one on us?
In this article, we explore whether dogs have a sense of humour. We examine the psychology behind canine emotions and what it is that makes our dogs seem like they are laughing.
Do dogs have a sense of humour?
It is obvious that dogs experience a range of emotions, just like humans. It is easy to see when your dog is scared, as they often cower, or when your dog is sad, as they are more lethargic and generally withdrawn. It is definitely easy to see when your dog is happy, as they express their emotion through licking you, barking and jumping on you with joy.
But does your dog have a sense of humour? The short answer to this question is ‘probably not’. While dogs do experience the range of emotions we’ve described above, they tend not to experience more complex emotions, such as shame or contempt. This includes humour.
This is not to say that a dog’s mental and emotional health is simple and straightforward. Dogs can experience anxiety just like us, and they can grow frustrated just like us. Both of these emotions need to be handled to ensure your dog is happy and healthy both emotionally and mentally. To know more about your dog’s emotional states, read ‘Understanding your dog’s body language’.
Humour does contain a certain complexity that is probably beyond dogs. Humour requires one to understand the context in which the joke is said, which is difficult for dogs to do.
But why, then, does it seem your dog is laughing at certain times?
Why it seems your dog has a sense of humour
While dogs may not understand the jokes exchanged between us or even know whether a certain situation is funny, they are extremely playful animals. They are also very sensitive to our moods and to the moods of the family they are in, and enjoy making us happy.
Thus, if we seem to be in a laughing mood or if a moment of humour is being shared among family members, it is natural for your dog to grow alert and playful. They will often want to join in, by running from one family member to the other when we are laughing or by barking excitedly. They will probably be enjoying themselves.
This is why it’s easy to believe that dogs have a sense of humour and are laughing at the joke. What is evident, however, is their strong sense of playfulness and their happiness to belong and make us happy.
How do you know when your dog is being playful?
Often, your dog will seem amused on his own, without you having cracked a joke. Sometimes, he will come to you and seem to be teasing you, as if pulling a prank on you. This, again, is your dog’s sense of playfulness.
Dogs are naturally playful and love spending time with those they love. When they want to play, they will often approach you and show you certain signs of eagerness to join in a game. Look out for these signs and always encourage your dog when he seems excited to play.
- The play bow: This is the most obvious sign that your dog wants to play. Your dog will place the front of his body on the ground, with his rear end in the air, wiggling. This is your dog’s signal that he would like to have some fun.
- The ‘laugh’: Dogs often have a peculiar sound they make when they are feeling playful. This is usually termed as ‘the laugh’ and has contributed to speculation regarding the question: ‘do dogs have a sense of humour?’ When your dog is feeling playful, he may make a few deep panting sounds – a particular type of breathing that sounds like low-level laughing.
- Bring a toy to you: When your dog wants to play with you, he will often pick up the toy he wants to play with and bring it to you. This is his most clear sign of what he wants to play. It is his way of asking for your attention.
Encouraging this sense of playfulness
Playfulness is a crucial characteristic in all dogs and should be encouraged. Your dog’s sense of fun is what makes him so naturally likeable, and it should be nurtured.
The easiest way to encourage your dog’s sense of fun is to play with him repeatedly. Make sure he is not bored during these play sessions. Constantly play new games with him, so that he is both intellectually and physically challenged. This will make sure he is always interested in the game and is constantly learning.
‘Hide and seek’ is an especially great game to keep your dog’s sense of playfulness at high alert, and to develop a deep bond between the two of you. Introducing new toys is also a great way to keep your dog interested and to develop his sense of fun.
As this article shows, the short answer to the question ‘do dogs have a sense of humour?’ is ‘probably not’. But this short answer does not take away from your dog’s sense of playfulness and fun. You should encourage these characteristics every opportunity you get, and watch your dog blossom.