We all know dogs we describe as amusing, entertaining, or downright hilarious. Dogs can make us laugh. But do the dogs, themselves, have a sense of humour? Do they know they’re being funny? Do canines find things amusing? Do dogs laugh, and if so, what makes them laugh?
Do dogs act silly to make us humans laugh? Since animals must look after their own needs to survive, it’s possible silly or humorous behaviour is a way to get attention. Consider positive reinforcement: your dog does something you want her to do, she gets rewarded. She rolls on the floor, with her tongue hanging out and a goofy expression on her face and you laugh and give her an affectionate rub. It’s possible she’s now learned that this behaviour elicits a desirable response
Dogs have specific behaviour that indicate playfulness. For example, we’ve all seen the play bow. Dogs “bow,” by putting their rear ends in the air and their front legs on the ground, as a way of indicating they want to play and that anything that follows is all in fun. Even more interesting, research has determined that dogs actually laugh! The ethnologist Konrad Lorenz may have been the first to suggest this. In “Man Meets Dog,” he writes “…an invitation to play always follows; here the slightly opened jaws which reveal the tongue, and the tilted angle of the mouth which stretches almost from ear to ear give a still stronger impression of laughing… which become so excited that they soon start panting”.
Perhaps none of this proves empirically that dogs have a sense of humour. For centuries, scientists haven’t even been able to agree on what a sense of humour is. But most dog lovers don’t need empirical evidence that dogs have a sense of humour. We see it in their goofy poses, their sly playfulness during a game of “keep-away,” and their innate ability to make us laugh. Darwin believed that the difference between human and animal intelligence is a matter of degree and, as Marc Beckoff, author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals,” wrote, “If we have a sense of humour, then nonhuman animals should have a sense of humour, too.”