The Hilarity of Hounds – Can Dogs Find Things Funny? 


Research suggests dogs can express sounds of amusement, unique to their species – so, in their own way, dogs can probably find things funny. However, whether dogs are capable of laughing in the human emotional sense, seems highly debatable amongst experts. To find out more about this interesting subject, read our interesting Holidays4Dogs article which asks – do dogs laugh?

As early as 1872, in his book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin postulated that chimpanzees made laughter-like sounds when they were playing. Many years later Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist, described this same laughter behaviour. She described it as a kind of forced panting, or ‘huff’, ‘huff’, ‘huff’ sound.


Whether dogs are capable finding things funny and of laughing in the human-emotional sense, is debatable amongst experts.

However, research carried out by Patricia Simonet from Sierra Nevada College in the United States, set out to investigate laughter sounds in dogs.

The research stemmed from Simonet observing her own puppy. She observed him apparently laughing, as he kicked and pawed at a rotating chair to make it spin. She concluded that her dog did, indeed, seem to be finding something funny.

After attending a conference in Chicago in 2000, Jane Goodall and the eminent scientist Marc Bekoff, suggested Siomonet should conduct her own research into canine laughter.

Laughing like dogs.

Dr Stanley Coren, another notable dog behaviourist, decided to take Simonet’s work further. Coren wanted to see if he could mimic dog laughter, to evoke a response in his dogs. Through trial and error, which initially did not interest his dogs in the slightest, he began to formulate a sound which caused his dogs to wag their tails or, to get up and go to him from across the other side of the room.

He describes this as a, “hhuh-hhah-hhuh-hhah” sound, which is made with rounded lips for the hhuh sound and an open-mouthed expression for the hhah sound. Both are breathy sounds with no actual voice – rather like how a dog pants.

What does dog laughter sound like?

Dog laughter can look and sound very much just like a dog panting – rather like Jane Goodall’s chimps. However, Simonet found, by using sound spectrograph analysis, that the dog laughPolish Lowland Sheepdog. looked very different on the graph to that of the dog pant.

Once these differences were established, Simonet was interested to find out whether playing recorded dog laughter to other dogs, would initiate a response. Dogs were tested individually and responded by picking up toys, or play bowing.

Simonet then decided to play recorded dog laughter to dogs at an animal shelter. This test was to find out what effect, if any, it would have on the dogs in the kennels. Staff at the shelter were highly sceptical about laughing dogs, let alone the response they might get from their canine inmates.

However, they were highly surprised to find, that when the sound of canine laughing was played. Amazingly, all fifteen dogs at the shelter stopped barking within a minute, or two.

Canine metacommunication

We all know that when people laugh, this is often accompanied by other mannerisms such as throwing our heads backwards, covering our mouths, shedding tears, or ‘creasing up’ by bending forward. When we find things funny, the signs are obvious.

If dogs were to find things funny, their mannerisms would look very different.

Bekoff calls these additional behaviours displayed by dogs as, ‘canine metacommunication’. This refers to any non-verbal cue which is related to the expression of the main audible sound.

While many believe that simple tail wagging alone is the canine equivalent of laughter, scientists believe that this is only an accompanying behaviour.


Scientists still have differing opinions about whether the sounds Simonet recorded could be representative of canine laughter. Therefore, it is impossible to know for sure whether dogs can find things funny, or not. However, the effect the sounds have on other dogs does seem to be a positive one. Not least because, it seems to have the effect of calming anxious dogs, like those at the shelter.

Many of us may not be able to tell the difference between a panting, or a laughing dog. Nevertheless, it seems science supports a form of mutually understood communication signals between dogs and humans.