26th August 2001
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When a dog laughs

Silent laughter is a dog's best-kept secret

Dog lovers may have sus- pected it all along, but now it is official-dogs can laugh. Not only laugh, but giggle, chuckle and even titter. 

Although we humans cannot hear our beloved pets guffawing as they romp around the garden, that noise they make as they ransack the flowerbed is laughter. 

But owners who think their pets laugh at their jokes may be disappointed. 

Scientists have found only that dogs respond to the sound of laughter, not the substance behind it. "To the untrained human ear, it sounds like a pant, a 'huh, huh'," explained Patricia Simonet, author of the study and a psychologist at Sierra Nevada College, U.S.

Professor Simonet conducted her experiment by standing around in parks with a powerful microphone taping dog hubbub. 

Not an easy task. The dogs were perfectly co-operative, but the human beings hampered the recording by continually asking what she was up to. 

Professor Simonet found that dogs use at least four sound patterns; barks, growls, whines and laughs. Most use all four, but only the laugh is reserved for playtime. 

This dog humour is a sophisticated business. Do not expect to elicit a full-bodied whoop with a feeble joke. 

Man's best friend finds different things funny in different ways. Professor Simonet analysed the frequency of her recordings and found a huge range of nuance and tone. Unfortunately these subtleties are lost on humans since the frequency is beyond our ears. 

Key to the experiment was testing how dogs respond simply to the noise of other dogs laughing. Professor Simonet played the 'huh huh' sound, one by one, to a group of 15 puppies. On hearing the broadcast they picked up toys and romped for joy. Growls brought no response.
The Times, London

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