10 July 2023
A groundbreaking study by the Animal Behavior Center has shed light on a unique vocalization in dogs known as the “dog laugh.” The research suggests that this distinctive sound has the power to diffuse stress-related behaviors and ignite pro-social interactions among shelter dogs, potentially reducing their residency time.
When dogs engage in playful encounters, they communicate through various vocalizations. Barks, growls, and whines are common, but one particular sound stands out—the breathy, pronounced forced exhalation known as the dog laugh. This study found that dog laughs are an expression of joy and serve as a playful invitation. Upon hearing this infectious laughter, dogs respond with a ‘playface,’ engaging in a delightful chase or playful bow.
The researchers implemented a unique approach to explore dog laughter’s impact on stress levels. They recorded the dog-laugh vocalization and played it back to dogs in a high-stress animal shelter. The study aimed to investigate how this laughter-induced intervention could alleviate stress during the dogs’ stay at the shelter.
Stress levels were measured using an ethogram of behaviors, including panting, salivating, pacing, barking, cowering, lunging, play-bows, sitting, orienting, and lying down. Additionally, the ambient noise level of the kennel was recorded. The experiment utilized a within-subjects cross-over design, comparing each dog’s behavior in the baseline condition with no playback and the experimental condition with playback of the dog laugh.
The results were nothing short of remarkable. Dogs exposed to the dog-laugh playback experienced a significant reduction in stress-related behaviors. The laughter soothes the dogs, creating a more relaxed and comfortable environment. Notably, during the experimental condition with playback, the dogs exhibited increased pro-social behaviors, such as approaching others and engaging in lip licking—a common gesture indicating friendliness and non-aggression.
This groundbreaking study holds promising implications for animal shelters worldwide. By utilizing the power of dog laughter, shelters could create a more positive and enriching environment for their canine residents. The reduction in stress-related behaviors not only improves the overall well-being of the dogs but may also contribute to shorter residency times, as happier, more sociable dogs are often more appealing to potential adopters.
While the study focused on shelter dogs, dog laughter can be applied beyond these settings. Dog owners and enthusiasts can embrace the power of laughter to foster stronger bonds with their canine companions. Incorporating play sessions by imitating your dog’s laughter may reduce stress and deepen the connection between you and your dogs, creating a harmonious and joyful relationship.
As we continue to unlock the mysteries of the animal kingdom, discoveries like the impact of dog laughter remind us of the incredible complexity and richness of the canine world. So, the next time you find yourself in the presence of a furry friend, don’t hesitate to share a heartfelt laugh. It may be the key to unleashing their inner joy and forging a bond that transcends words. Let’s fill the world with laughter; one dog laugh at a time.