By Dr. Leslie Ross BSc.; D.V.M.
Try some boisterous play with him, or maybe a tickle or two…
A host of well-respected researchers of animal behavior, psychologists and neuroscientists from all over the world have successfully convinced the scientific community that dogs and some other non-human species of animals (like rats!), will indeed laugh during play or chuckle and laugh even if they are just being playfully tickled!
A dog’s laugh sounds similar to a breathy pant without cadence that can be intensified to a more guttural Ah …Ah sound. (For those desiring a virtual experience, a visit to youtube.com and search for “dogs laughing” will prove to be worth your while).
In humans, laughter therapy has been well-researched and is considered to be a natural form of medicine that provides benefits to a person’s physical, emotional, and social well being. These benefits are so significant that laughter therapy is considered to be an effective therapeutic tool that health care professionals can pull out of their toolbox to assist troubled individuals suffering from a variety of psychological disorders. It can also be used to help people cope during particularly stressful times in their life.
If one considers human laughter in simple terms, it is a visual display of an emotional response that is usually very positive, generally indicating joy and happiness. It sends a message of acceptance and trust in a social group, which is definitely an advantage, in evolutionary terms, allowing for peaceful group relationships.
It can easily follow that non-human animals laugh in a similar way to communicate their desire for non-threatening social interaction and to be part of the group. In fact, it is now established by well-documented research that dogs, like humans, do indeed benefit from dog-laughs. Studies have indicated that recorded dog-laughs played to dogs in a shelter setting, can relax and calm them and encourage dog play. This benefit is so significant that for a number of years numerous shelters housing relinquished or lost dogs have been using recorded dog laughs as a tool, since calm, playful dogs are less prone to injury and are more adoptable.
So, this begs the question of whether dogs are capable of other emotions that parallel human feelings, at least in a rudimentary way.
Universally, scientists of animal behavior of modern times are now modifying their concepts of animal minds in ways that would astound scientists of previous eras. As late as the last century, for example it was commonly believed that animals and birds functioned totally at an instinctive level, with no capability to experience cognitive thoughts or emotions.
Now, in our 21st century, the majority of animal behavior researchers support the belief that companion pets and many types of non-human animals and birds are feeling, sentient beings rather than just living creatures that are pre-programmed to react in a pre-determined way to a positive or negative stimulus. As technology advances in the fields of diagnostic imaging, even staunch skeptics are realizing that brain structures responsible for higher brain functions in many higher level animal brains are often quite similar to that of human brain structures.
Take, for example, the fact that the scientific community now agrees in principle that pets can experience some degree of sadness and grieve over the loss of a favored household companion or the loss from their lives of a primary care-giver. This “elephant in the room” concept comes as little surprise to the great majority of pet owners, some of whom may have experienced first hand their pet seeming to grieve or have shared experiences with other astute pet owners that have experienced pet grieving behavior.
Of course, there is always a degree of anthromorphizing that can enter into a discussion of cognition and abstract thinking capabilities of animals and birds, however, as diagnostic imaging technology becomes more refined from year to year it is becoming clearly evident that the bold black line defining animal thought processes as separate from those of humans, is now being erased and redrawn.
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