If having a sense of humour means ‘having the ability to make others laugh’, we can conclude that most of our dogs are well equipped! The canine enjoyment of life and humorous antics they display are one of the main reasons that we enjoy living with dogs.
Puppies are particularly playful and while they may calm down a little with age, most dogs can be easily persuaded to have fun their entire lives. Indeed, certain dogs just seem to be born to have fun and treat every interaction as a potential playtime. Dogs do vary in their personalities, however, with some being more serious individuals than others. Breeds such as Bloodhounds, Bassett Hounds, Rottweilers and Chihuahuas are often considered to be less playful than other breeds, with many exceptions of course. Airedale Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Poodles and Schnauzer Miniature are among the most playful.
Not so funny
Since dogs tend to look after their own needs whenever they can, it has been suggested that their humourous behaviour is merely attention-seeking behaviour. This could, to some extent, be true in that dogs will repeat behaviours for which they are rewarded with attention.
This repetitive behaviour can be to the dog’s detriment, when owners inadvertently reward behaviours that may have disturbing consequences for their dogs. Tail chasing, for instance, can look like fun and we may be tempted to laugh at our dog as it becomes dizzy chasing its rear end. This can, however, go on to become an obsessive compulsive disorder which can be difficult to treat. Only reward behaviour that is good for your dog.
The cheeky dog
Again, looking after their own needs, dogs have been known to, extremely cheekily, distract others from their purpose. When dogs in a multi-dog household have been offered food treats from their owners, some dogs have been known to create a diversion and run towards the door barking. When the others race to the door to investigate what disturbances are apparently happening, the cheeky instigator quickly returns to secure all the treats!
While we may not be able to state definitively that dogs do have a sense of humour, see if you can spot the following signs of pooch playfulness:
The wagging tail
Most owners consider their dog to be happy when the tail wags and often we will see their entire body sway with glee when they are looking forward to a walk or playtime with us. Watch out for the stiff or waving tail, however, as this can be more of a sign of canine assertiveness.
When your dog is attempting to get you or another dog to play, they may perform a playbow, where their front end is lower than their back end. This is an invitation to play or a sign that their boisterous behaviour has no malicious intent. Enjoy!
Many owners are convinced their dogs smile. Dogs have the ability to pull their lips back, thereby showing their striking white molars. While this does indeed resemble a smile, it is thought to be more of a submissive gesture. Your dog is telling you that you have nothing to be worried about. It is common in Dalmatians and some other breeds. Dogs often do this when we are returning home, much to their owner’s pleasure.
The entire repertoire of behaviours
When a dog is unsure what you are asking them to do but is motivated to get a reward, you will often see them running through a whole repertoire of behaviours. These antics can be fun to watch as dogs will roll over, shake hands, beg and attempt all sorts of other playful activities and tricks to get the desired result.
Bringing toys to us
Many dogs will bring play items such as toys or a ball and drop them at their owner’s feet to signal that they would like to play. For some this becomes a little obsessive but for most dogs, it is simply them indicating how much they enjoy interacting with us.
The underwear thief
Again, perhaps as an attention-seeking behaviour or a self-soothing gesture when alone, many dogs have been known to thieve items that belong to us. Commonly, much to their owner’s distress, is the dog who, when ignore during a dinner party, will run through the house with the owner’s underwear in their mouth. The dog may have a sense of humour but it is not very funny for the owner of the undies!
Like young children, dogs can sometimes have pent up energy that eventually is released in a flurry of activity which could almost be termed the ‘madhour’. Here the dog may race around the house or yard, perhaps knocking over, or swerving to avoid, everything in their path. You can almost see the grin on their faces.
If your dog is a little too over-the-top with playtime, encourage your dog to play when it is appropriate to do so but also practice methods of calming them down when you need a little less energetic behaviour. Commands such as “Finish” or a simple “Sit’ may do the trick. Then, reward them for calm behaviour.
Enjoy your dog’s playful behaviour. Playtime is important for dogs and a sense of humour is also recommended for owners.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au