Although we could swear our dogs have a good belly laugh while at tug-o-war, actual dog laughs have not been specifically identified by animal behaviorists as other vocalizations like growls and whines have, according to vet behaviorist Dr. Sally J. Foote. Dogs can make short panting “huh, huh” sounds and grunting as they play with toys or with other dogs while enjoying themselves.
“They are having fun. So, you could think of this as a laugh in this situation. Otherwise, it may be that they need to pant and have something in their mouth making the grunt noise,” Dr. Foote says.
Austrian zoologist and founder of modern ethology, Dr. Konrad Lorenz, believed dogs express smiles and laughter-like behavior in play. In the book Man Meets Dog, he describes how dogs laugh based on his observations: a mouth stretched from ear to ear followed by excited panting.
Do dogs have a sense of humor?
Could laughter-like sounds mean our fur friends have a sense of humor?
“Our dogs know what gets them attention and will mix play with mischief,” says Dr. Foote. They also will play tricks on each other to get dogs or cats to play. “There is no proof, but I do think dogs have a sense of humor.”
How do dogs smile?
Smiling is easier to see in some breeds like the Golden Retriever. Dr. Foote describes a smile as:
- the lips are drawn back with a relaxed face
- the upper teeth are covered
Many dog breeds will “smile” as their head is massaged or during petting. Be careful it’s not a snarl, she cautions, where the upper teeth are showing and the forehead wrinkled.
While pinpointing laughter in dogs is problematic, there’s little doubt they have fun and can find things funny and just might flash a grin.